An Obligation for Declaration: A Persuasive Essay

Tensions are primed. Fissures are opening among social lines, be they racial, economic, political, etc. The security of our Democracy is quite literally at stake, and there is a common thread underpinning all of it: The United States Government has failed in its civic duties as described in our founding documents – The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States of America – and as a result, We the People, not only have the ability but an obligation to demand accountability and set right the situation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident…

Anyone who was raised in the American education system should know these words; words that initiated a war for freedom which, against all odds, would conclude in the formation of a new nation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The Declaration of Independence, 1776

The second of the two most important documents involved in the birth of our nation, this establishes the right to revolution as a response to a government failing to protect basic human rights given to all citizens by their Creator. It specifically states that the power of a government is derived from the consent of the governed and such governments are created by its citizens to protect those rights. In fact, this concept was so important to the founding members of our Union that, thirteen years later, they decided to reaffirm this belief in this nation’s most important founding document, The Constitution of the United States of America.

We, the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

-The Constitution of the United States of America, 1789

In fact, peace and justice were the first items on the menu in the pursuit of “a more perfect Union.” Peace and justice. These documents represent the sacred agreement between the State and its citizens. And thus far, our government has failed to uphold their end of this agreement.

On August 11th, 2017, Neo-Nazi, white-supremacy, and other hate groups descended on Charlottesville, VA. They were attempting to “peacefully protest” the removal of a Confederate statue. Of course, in this case, “peaceful” means chants of “Blood and Soil” and “Jews will not replace us” while armed with torches and clubs, and giving the Nazi salute. The following day, demonstrations continued, this time armed with assault weapons, militia gear, and chants of “White Power”.

Let this be clear: this was not a peaceful assembly. This was not a protected assembly. This was a Nazi rally. This was a KKK rally. Even before chemical deterrents started being used, before punches started being thrown, this assembly was violent and a threat to the peace. Violence is defined as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation”. Given the violence inherent to these groups, the government has a sworn and sacred duty to intervene in these types of demonstrations. And yet, they were given legal permits to assemble under the First Amendment. Yet, these groups do not enjoy those protections.

On multiple occasions, the Supreme Court has ruled that threats of violence are not protected by the First Amendment. In 1942, the Court ruled that fighting words – words designed or likely to elicit a violent response – were not protected by the first amendment. And hateful rhetoric is inherently likely to result in a violent response because it is the natural defensive response. Like a cornered animal, targeted people will resort to fighting to protect themselves and their loved ones.

In the light of this reality, how can we be so blind to our government supporting and allowing this threat to the peace and its people? Only by choice does this happen: the choice to remain silent and blind while a government acting in our name enables and supports this hateful rhetoric.

In Charlottesville, the organizers of the hateful “Unite the Right” rally were granted a permit to organize, and after that permit was stopped by an injunction, they were defended by the ACLU on the basis of their right to free speech. A right they do not enjoy. Not because they are statistically likely to encourage physical violence, but because their inherently violent message strips this right from them.

Violence is abhorrent and should be condemned. But when all other voices have been silenced by a system that has proven to mean failure for a group of people in need of help, silenced by a system that operates against the principles of the society it operates therein, then violence becomes the only voice of the oppressed. A voice calling for help through the Darkness. And we must answer that voice.

We cannot choose to sit silent and blind any longer, because “evil triumphs when good men do nothing.” And while many Americans know the values for which this country was formed, it’s important to realize that governments are not immutable, and the United States government is no exception. Democracy can give way to authoritarianism. Capitalism can give rise to oligarchy. Unless We, the People, choose to stop it.

And while principles endeared by a community can change and evolve, that which does not are the inalienable rights afforded to every person by their Creator: Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Therefore

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for a people to alter their government, a decent respect to the opinions of humankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to such change.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal without regard to their race, gender, or identity, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that any credible threat to one’s safety poses a real and present danger to society by infringing these rights therein. To secure these rights governments are instituted among people deriving their just powers from the implicit consent of the governed and whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient reasons, but when a long train of abuses pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism and systemic oppression, it is their Duty, it is their Right, to cast off such oppressors and establish new guards for their future security.

This is the situation we once again find ourselves in. Our government has proven through actions that it no longer espouses the values and ideals for which it once stood, and it no longer seeks to serve the People.

We cannot be complacent, for complacency is complicity. These grievances demand change, and change does not come from inaction, but rather active opposition.

Opposition need not be violent; revolution need not be bloody. Change can be enacted through a revolution of ideas, as much as force. But regardless of the mechanism, change must come.

We, the People, have a right to demand a redress of grievances, and if our government fails in this, we have a duty to redress the government.

Freedom of Speech or Freedom from Censorship?

So, I’m writing this on Saturday night, at 12:40 AM and something terrible happened today: A rally turned violent in Charlottesville.

Now, I’m not going to talk about what specifically happened. I’m not going to talk about how the “Unite the Right” rally was a racist, white-supremacist, Nazi event (but it totally was). Today, I want to talk about something I’ve heard misinterpreted a lot in my life, and especially today.

So, let’s talk about the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. Most people know this as the “Freedom of Speech” amendment. But it’s more than just that. So let’s break it down, talk about what it really means, and gain a real understanding of what it does – and more importantly, doesn’t – protect.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or 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.

The first amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America

Now, let’s skip the first part, because “Freedom of Religion” is another article entirely. Instead, let’s start by focusing on the second part which, contrary to what is proving to be popular belief, does not mean you can say whatever you want. This simply states the government of the United States can not dictate or censor the content of any individuals speech both spoken (freedom of speech) or published (freedom of the press) at its most basic level. This clause essentially protects the public from government sanctioned propaganda (i.e. “The Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda”) or State sanctioned news as a method of keeping the public submissive (i.e. “The Korean Central News Agency”)  It, however, does not protect the individual from the consequences, repercussions, and ramifications of said speech.

On a deeper level, however, not all speech is protected from Government censorship, of which are obscenity, the advocacy of illegal action, and fighting words. ‘Fighting Words’ is defined by the courts as “Words which would likely make the person whom they are addressed commit an act of violence,” and was determined to not be protected by the first amendment (Chaplinsky v New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568). But what constitutes violence? Well, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines violence as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.”

But all of this not withstanding, the bottom line is that the second clause of the first amendment only protects an individuals expression from being silenced by the state. It does not protect that individual from the consequences and ramifications they may incur as a direct result of another individual’s response to said speech. Should a society or community at large determine speech to be reprehensible and hateful, they are in their right to exert the expression of outrage and displeasure toward the hateful individual, within the law, of course. (If you punch a racist for using the n-word, you’re not infringing their free speech, but you are committing assault and battery.)

The second important part of this amendment is the right to peaceable assembly. However, peaceable is the key word. The Government can stop assembly if the assembly threatens the peace.

All this given, the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville was an egregious example of fighting words and violent assembly. White nationalists were heard chanting “Jews will not replace us”. A group of Ku Klux Klan members was filmed telling a black woman to “Go back to Africa” and using racial slurs.

And worst of all, when counter-protesters took to the streets to peaceably march and voice their distaste at this event, they were intentionally struck by a moving vehicle, killing 1 and injuring 19 others.

Freedom of speech does not mean what you think it means. It doesn’t mean you can say whatever you want and I can’t do anything about it. It means you can say whatever you want and the government can not silence you. I, however, can discredit you and your name publicly for being an asshole, and I can ostracize you from my peaceful community. I’m allowed that right and expression as long as my statements are true and based on fact and reason.

And finally, I’d like to exercise my right to petition for a redress of grievances afforded me by the fourth clause of the first amendment. Because I have some grievances. In America these days, the Government has overtly failed in its duty to protect its citizens and ensure the peace. We had honest to god white nationalists and Nazis walking around promoting violence and fighting words in Charlottesville today, and it’s not the only time. That threatens the peace inherently. And the police, government law enforcement, did nothing to curtail the violent behavior. To any and all members of our Government, I’d like to say this: You have a duty to protect those people that put you in office. And you have thus far shirked that duty; An action that has resulted in the death of one and injury of no less than nineteen Americans today alone.

Therefore, I demand a redress of these grievances.