The Right to Peaceably Assemble and Petition the Government

Oftentimes lost in the First Amendment with its speech, religious and press freedoms is the right of assembly and petition. America has a proud tradition of assembly and petition whether it is women’s rights, civil rights, abortion rights or religious rights. 2011 will go down as the year in which the assembly and petition section of the First Amendment was again validated as this year became known for protest- Tea Party protest, Occupy Wall Street protest, Middle East protest, middle class protest. It seems that we now live in an age where to use a phrase from the classic movie Network – people are mad as hell and they are not going to take it anymore.

What people are mad as hell about may vary from country to country and protest to protest, but usually it is brutal, corrupt, incompetent or inept government; sometimes all the previous descriptions apply. Here in the United States the protest is divided. There are those supporters of assembly and petition who are sick and tired of big government spending taxpayer money, regulating corporate and personal life and pushing this country further and further into debt. Then there are those who are sick and tired of big corporations and banks ripping off the middle class, using government for personal and institutional gain and pushing this country into an ever widening income gap between the rich and the rest.

There is no right or wrong in these two avenues of protest, both have solid foundations in reality; both cry out for reform, maybe even a peaceful revolution. But the wisdom of the founding fathers and the governing traditions that have developed since the ratification of the Constitution point clearly to the value of compromise, consensus and good faith bargaining as the only way to make our complicated and oftentimes exasperating governing system work. The memory of our civil war when compromise, consensus and good faith bargaining failed should remind us about how this country must work or fall to pieces.

The protestors of 2011 should be commended for their beliefs and their courage of convictions, but they must all remember that ideological purity, stubborness, illegality, petty grudges, and political grandstanding have no place in the America that right now needs statesmen and stateswomen, deal makers, bi-partisans, and most of all leaders who exhibit common sense, honesty and most of all patriotism- defined as love of country, not love of political party or political ideology.

2012 is not just another year, it is THE year to settle these disputes and get on with the governing of this great country, and the only way to do that is to remember the value of compromise, consensus and good faith bargaining. It’s the American way.

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