What about the Rest of the First Amendment?

Last night, people in Fresno decided to “flex political muscle” by walking through the streets in a throng:

They were marching through the heart of Downtown Fresno to demand immigration reform.

. . . The message; today we march, tomorrow we vote.

Many marchers also came to protest recent raids in Valley communities, like Mendota, where federal agents rounded up illegal immigrants and separating families.

Wait, I have an idea. How about instead of just walking around in the streets, yelling, waving signs, blocking traffic, and such, you make reasoned arguments? How about that? Maybe you could do some of these activities:

  • Write letters to your elected representatives
  • Contact your elected representatives and ask to meet with them
  • Write letters to the editors of newspapers
  • Write articles and distribute them to newspapers
  • Participate in online discourse by writing and commenting on blogs
  • Find out how to get a measure on the ballot for state elections
  • Explain your position to people by staging events where you talk to them, instead of just clogging up their streets
  • Speak to an attorney and see if you can file a lawsuit against the government
  • Develop connections with reporters and convince them your plight is compelling enough to be a worthwhile subject of journalism
  • Et cetera

See, the First Amendment to the federal Constitution says:

Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Notice that, aside from your right to “peaceably to assemble,” you also have the rights to freedom of speech, press, and petition. Furthermore, I would argue that your right to assemble is ancillary to those other rights. (Although here is a handy little historical overview that takes a slightly different perspective.) In other words, what is the point of assembling if you are not going to use the power of your assembled numbers to speak, publish, and petition the government for redress of your grievances? Certainly, you have an independent right to assemble, but if you are trying to “flex political muscle,” then is that really the most effective route you have?

Especially in the modern world, where it is so easy to push ideas to people through the internet and other digital telecommunications, the effectiveness of walking down the street en masse seems rather dimmed. There are procedures in place. There are things you can do. Some of them are suggested above.

But mass protests? Really? You can’t communicate compelling or persuasive ideas that way. What are you going to show people? “Look, dear, there are a whole bunch of people who seem to agree that we need immigration reform.” Alrighty. That’s fine. Why do we need the reform? What specific reforms do we need? Are there downsides to your position? Convince me. Convince everyone. If you are not really convincing people, but you are just getting them to jump on your bandwagon uncritically by appealing to their sentiments, then you are not really participating in representative democracy because you are not getting people to think.

The way to make a functional representative democracy is to have an informed citizenry and you do not have an informed citizenry if you are not out there trying to get people informed. Raising “awareness” is not the same as spreading “information.” (E.g., yes, I am aware that we have problems with immigration. But do I have sufficient information to cast a rational vote? Probably not. And a bunch of people walking through the street are not helping me on that front.)

At any rate, my very last final exam for law school is tonight. I should probably get back to studying.

One thought on “What about the Rest of the First Amendment?

  1. david

    The power in shows like this is in the fact that they’re shows: they’re relatively easy to organize, the average IQ can be low, but the visual effect draws attention and (the hope is) mass and momentum to the effort.

    It’s not unlike the Soviets parading their military hardware (a ritual Russia has taken up again), or Shiite fighters marching through Sunni neighborhods they’ve just taken over in Beirut: show people your strength in numbers and they’ll do what you want.

    Your suggestions are excellent ones. They’re just too much work and don’t make for good political theatre.

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