ShareThis Page

Free speech in all its peaceable glory

| Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C.
gsa.gov
Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C.

It was a fine day for protesting at Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., where folks were enjoying their right to free speech in a productive and peaceable manner.

Lafayette Square sits directly across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. The park was packed with a variety of people the Saturday morning I visited nearly a decade ago.

A large group of Hispanic protesters was demanding “living wages,” acceptance of bilingual education and amnesty for illegal immigrants.

A dozen other protesters stood on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue. They called themselves “Freepers,” for “freedom protesters.” Each became a Freeper through freerepublic.com , an online forum for independent grassroots conservatives working to roll back decades of government overreach and to root out fraud and corruption.

“It's not like we don't have other things to do with our time,” said one woman, who told me she drove three hours every Saturday to voice her beliefs. “But someone has to speak up to defend our Constitution.”

Crossing back over Pennsylvania Avenue to talk with anti-nuclear-bomb activists, I was almost knocked over by a roller-hockey player. Two games were going on amid tourists and protesters, but the Park Police didn't care; hockey players have as much right to the park area as any other American citizens do.

Between two anti-nuclear-bomb signs sat an elderly woman with a sunburned face. According to her handout, she came from Spain in the late 1960s, married, had a daughter, got divorced and lost custody of her daughter. She essentially lived across from the White House, protesting nuclear bombs 24 hours a day.

As I chatted with her, two women dressed as ninja warriors approached. They carried a white sheet with a message written in Spanish.

“What does that say?” I asked one of the ninja warriors.

“ No hablo Ingles ,” she said to me.

The Spanish anti-nuclear-bomb woman read the ninjas' sign. She told me they were protesting the evils of capitalism.

Suddenly, the protesters who had been demanding amnesty, living wages and bilingual education began marching toward me on their way to the White House. They were blowing whistles and cheering, while reiterating their demands through a megaphone.

Suddenly, Pennsylvania Avenue was a sea of tourists, protesters of every stripe and hockey players in the heat of competition. The energy, noise and enthusiasm were astounding.

Nobody brought clubs. Nobody fought. Nobody tried to silence anyone else on that Saturday morning. Everyone freely exercised his or her right to speak freely.

One of my history professors at Penn State marveled over the magnificence of our political system.

America, at its best, is organized chaos — in which different opinions continually collide and work themselves out in a peaceful and constructive manner.

Every citizen has the right to peaceably assemble and protest. We can criticize our political leaders with megaphones or in print or on YouTube.

We have the right to stage revolutions. All we have to do is vote.

Every citizen has the right to speak freely — even the right to say things that, to the majority of us, are hateful and ill-informed.

Of course, that is the challenge with freedom.

It opens the floodgates to everything that is good in the human heart — justice and integrity and generosity — but it also opens the floodgates to everything that is bad in the human heart.

In any event, the First Amendment, when properly respected and practiced, is a wonderful thing.

I witnessed it in all its glory in Lafayette Square one sunny Saturday morning not so long ago.

Tom Purcell, a freelance writer, lives in Library. His books include “Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood” and “Wicked Is the Whiskey,” a Sean McClanahan mystery. Visit him on the web at TomPurcell.com. Email him at: Tom@TomPurcell.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.