• 77°

Gary Pearce: Will basic right to protest be protected?

By Gary Pearce

In an America bitterly divided over protests and politics, the least-familiar part of our Constitution’s First Amendment may be the most endangered: the right to peacefully protest.

That right is guaranteed in the last 18 words of the amendment, which say Congress shall make no law abridging “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The 14th Amendment makes that apply to states too.

Most all Americans affirm and actively exercise the First Amendment’s right of free speech. Many Americans swear by the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. But “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances?” We’re less certain about that one.

Pew Research Center this month reported a decline in how many Americans say “it is very important for the country that people are free to peacefully protest” — from 74% two years ago to 68% now.

Pew said the decline has come entirely among Republicans: “Only about half of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (53%) say it is very important for the country that people are free to peacefully protest, while 33% say this is somewhat important; 13% say it is not too or not at all important. Two years ago, 64% of Republicans said that it was very important that people are free to protest peacefully.”

Ponder that for a moment. Barely a majority of those Americans say it’s very important to protect the right to protest and petition the government for change.

The picture is very different among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, Pew found 82% said the freedom to peacefully protest is very important. That’s the same as two years ago. But only 43% of them believe the country does a good job of protecting that freedom, down dramatically from 68% two years ago. Among Republicans, 79% said the country does a good job protecting the right.

The Pew study interviewed 11,000 adults July 27-August 2. The results no doubt reflect attitudes about protests against police brutality toward Blacks.

Democrats see peaceful, justified protests that sometimes are marred by violence and vandalism, whether caused by protesters or right-wing vigilantes. Sometimes the problem is overzealous and even hostile police.

Republicans see lawlessness and disorder. They see it constantly on Fox News. They hear President Donald Trump’s dire warnings about allegedly rampant rioting in “Democrat cities.”

Throughout history, Americans have had an uneasy attitude toward protests, even though our country was born out of protest.

Labor strikes were brutally broken. Suffragettes were arrested. In 1932, when veterans marched on Washington demanding bonus legislation, President Herbert Hoover sent Gen. Douglas McArthur and the Army to expel the marchers and burn their camps.

In the 1960s, protests erupted over civil rights for Blacks and the Vietnam War. Our feelings about those protests then, pro and con, still shape our politics today.

Today’s climate can lead to overreaction and repression. One free speech group said 82 bills have been considered or adopted by 32 states to criminalize assembly and speech. Some were motivated by environmental protests as well as Black Lives Matter protests.

Critics say such bills have a chilling effect on protests and aren’t needed; there already are laws against violence and vandalism.

Conservatives who don’t value the right to protest should think twice. What about the Tea Party protests in 2010? Or gun-rights protests? Or this year’s “Reopen NC” protests?

Already, we’ve let political differences divide us. Will we let them threaten our most basic rights?

Gary Pearce blogs at www.NewDayforNC.com.



RSS budgeting for tens of millions in federal COVID-19 relief funding

East Spencer

‘Back in full swing’ for the spring: East Spencer community gathers for food, fun and fellowship at Spring Fest


Rowan native Lingle among those honored with NC Military Veterans Hall of Fame induction


Former pro baseball player, Tar Heel standout Russ Adams finds new career with Trident Insured


Profoundly gifted: Salisbury boy finishing high school, associates degree at 12


Cheerwine Festival will stick to Main Street, stay away from new park in September


Celebrating Rowan County’s early cabinetmakers


Service Above Self announces youth challenge winners


Economic Development Commission creates search tool for people seeking Rowan County jobs


Amy-Lynn Albertson: Arts and Ag Farm Tour set for June 5

High School

High school baseball: Mustangs top Falcons on strength of hurlers


Biz Roundup: Application process now open for Rowan Chamber’s 29th Leadership Rowan class


Keith Mitchell leads McIlroy, Woodland by 2 at Quail Hollow


States scale back vaccine orders as interest in shots wanes


Major US pipeline halts operations after ransomware attack


NC budget dance slowed as GOP leaders differ on bottom line


Judge limits footage that family can see of deputy shooting


People receiving first dose of COVID-19 vaccine grows by less than 1%


Rowan-Salisbury Schools brings Skills Rowan competition back to its roots


Weak jobs report spurs questions about big fed spending


Judge limits footage that family can see of deputy shooting in Elizabeth City


Woodland, two others share lead; Mickelson plays much worse but will still be around for weekend at Quail Hollow


Former NHL player to open mobster themed bar in Raleigh


California population declines for first time