The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States states:
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. Emphasis mine
This past week Edward “Noche” Diaz, about whom you have read on this blog here, here, and here, appeared in court. He had literally been plucked out of the peaceful march protesting the police killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson in August of last year. He faces up to a year in the prison on Rikers Island for exercising his Constitutionally guaranteed right to speak freely, to assemble peaceably, and to seek redress of grievances from the government.
Ray McGovern, former employee of the CIA, now an antiwar and anti-torture activist whom you can read about here, here, and here, holding a $50.00 ticket to a speech by retired Gen. David Petraeus to be given at the 92nd Street YMCA, was not only not allowed to enter (presumably because he might ask undesirable questions during that part of the event), but was arrested and put in jail. He will have a court appearance on Wednesday, 4 February.
If we in the US think that we can exercise the rights that the Constitution puts forth, we are deceived. If and when the “authorities” choose to, they now refuse to allow us these rights and even put us in jail for trying to exercise them.
What does this mean to us? How many of us think it could never happen to us? How many of us never try to exercise our right to speak our minds or assemble with others who hold similar views to begin with? Do we think we would be able to if ever we chose?
The 27th of January was the seventieth anniversary of the closing of the Auschwitz Death Camp where the Nazis executed some 1.1 million people as well as torturing those who were not actually executed. Some people at the time did not think it could happen to them, but learned that it could.
The Nazi state, under Adolf Hitler, held all power. Any opposition to it was violently and ruthlessly suppressed. Members of opposition parties and “undesirables” were killed, imprisoned, sometimes tortured or exiled.
This state of affairs did not happen overnight. The Nazis came to power during the Great Depression and by using government as well as private measures that they encouraged were able to end mass unemployment. But not all human beings were allowed to share in these good developments. Only the right ones were. Many Germans were not concerned by this, but many of them learned that when some people can be deprived of their rights and dignities as human beings, anyone might be. It is only when there is rule of fair and just law for all people that anyone is truly free.
In the United States right now, some people, Noche Diaz and Ray McGovern being examples, are excepted from the laws, such as the First Amendment quoted at the beginning of this post, that should protect all of us. Not only were Noche and Ray not engaged in any criminal activity, they were engaged in constitutionally protected activity.
As long as anyone can have his or her rights to free speech and assembly or of any of the other Amendments set aside, no one can be assured of having these rights.
The Germans, as the people in the US are doing right now, saw their country invade other countries. They saw rights of certain citizens abrogated. Ultimately, they saw the concentration camps built and saw their neighbors disappear. But, they did not rise up and stop such things at any stage along the way. Other countries did rise up to stop them. Are US atrocities going to have to be stopped by other countries or are we going to rise up ourselves and demand an end to US wars and torture abroad and to the abrogation of rights here?