Saturday, February 19, 2011

the value and right of protest

Some on the right have argued that the protesters in Wisconsin are working against democracy by opposing what the state legislature (and the governor) are trying to do. They say,"elections have consequences" and "the will of the people" must be respected. They are willfully ignorant of basic principles of our representative process and of our constitutional rights.

The first issue is with representatives. The founding fathers (who they often refer to -like gods) envisioned a democracy where the people would elect certain individuals to represent the whole population and make decisions about the nation's business. They did not intend to have "rubber stamps", but rather wise leaders who would do what was right for the whole country, not just what was popular. Popular does not always equal moral, ethical or wise. Segregation in the South was certainly popular (at least with the white population) but none would dare call it moral.

The majority rules, but minority rights are protected ,has always been a mantra for our system of government. The Bill of Rights was set up to guarantee that certain freedoms were never left up to a popular vote. Opinions can change, passions can run amok, and people suffer as a result. The right to free speech, free press, free assembly, freedom of and from religion (no establishment of religion means you don't have to believe anything) are protections aimed at unpopular opinions. Popular opinions don't need protection, the masses will ensure that.

Thus the protests in Wisconsin are like the protests in Cairo,Tunis, Yemen, Libya, etc...they are the voice of the people arguing against establishment actions. In the other countries the protests are because a democracy does not exist. In Wisconsin they are an expression of democracy in the context of a wider democracy. Please review carefully the last clause of the First Amendment ..."Congress shall make no law ..prohibiting...the right of the people to peaceably assemble and petition their government for a redress of grievances"...they have a grievance with the legislature and governor and they are petitioning for redress (relief/correction).

I know that many will have problems with the views of the protesters. That is fine, we all have the freedom to disagree and to do so publicly. But to say that protest is undemocratic is to demonstrate a clear ignorance of democracy itself. I have severe differences with the Tea Party on issues, but I fully support their right to speak those opinions, individually, and in groups- protests of their own (most widely seen during the healthcare debate townhall meetings).

And finally, why is taking advantage of a rule designed to protect minority rights a bad thing? The GOP certainly had no problem with the filibuster rule in the Senate for the past two years in their quest to defend their minority position. Why should the Wisconsin Democrats be any less valid in their use of the quorum rules to defend their position on collective bargaining for state employees? Democracy can be messy, but it is our way, and has been working well for over 200 years. I certainly would not trade it , not matter how "efficient" some other system might be.

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