First Amendment rights in action

  • Photo by Seth Farmer—

For the Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, January 26, 2017 11:25AM

“I am just trying to understand.” This quote from an onlooker summed up the feelings of many last week. This past election compelled thousands to the streets of Washington D.C. to exercise their freedom of speech. Students from Conant High School heard a variety of viewpoints.

While interviewing supporters at Trump’s welcome ceremony the night before his inauguration, two men from Denmark spoke about the loss of national pride in their country. One said, “Think of Mexican food and Chinese food. They are both good flavors but when mixed things become flavorless”. He was incredibly happy for the election of Trump and felt it will “help Europe regain its former glory.” The man said that many more in Europe felt the same way. “Immigrants are ruining Europe.”  A woman nearby said she had heard an Italian reporter tell her “If Trump does not win, Europe is lost”.

Another man was wearing a red shirt that read “Blacks make racial slurs and commit crimes too”. He was spotted arguing with an African American woman. After an interview with both the man and the woman, it was clear that he was angry with a “corrupt government.” He was upset that in his eyes the black community protested for equal rights yet they did not care about those truly struggling in other countries. He also felt that by giving the poor welfare assistance, the black community had become “lazy.” The woman was eager to let us know that she disagreed with what the man was saying and that she was proud to be an educated black woman.

At the same event one man spoke of the similarities between the story of Shrek and President Trump. “Shrek threatened to build a 10-foot wall to get the fairy tale creatures out of his swamp, Trump did the same.” Many had more personal reasons in supporting Trump. One woman was especially concerned with the loss of work in America. “My community is damaged because the factories got bought out by foreign companies.”

The city was full of Trump supporters the night before the Inauguration, but afterward protesters went to the streets with signs saying “No KKK, no fascist USA” and “Not my President.” A man passed by the a sign saying “Pay politicians minimum wage.”

One protest in particular caught much attention. An interracial group of religious protesters, who had a permit to protest that day, carried signs reading “God Hates Abortion,” “America time for you to bless God,” and “The only real Muslim is a jihadist.” As the crowd of onlookers grew restless, a military truck blocked the road and a group of nearly 20 members of the National Guard created a barricade around the group for protection. The protesters had a man on each side of the street with giant speakers under their arms screaming into a microphone. A few of their signs read fake Bible verses which would receive reaction from the crowd. One man yelled out to the protesters “You guys are messing with people’s perception of Christ! Come on, you know Jesus is Lord, you are not reaching the people” and “You are not preaching God’s will in love” to which a protestor replied “You don’t know the meaning of love.”  A Trump supporter in the crowd told this reporter, “It’s freedom of speech, but these guys are idiots.” Another man supporting LGBT rights commented, “This is amusing but a waste of time.” One man was especially upset with the group’s comments against Muslims and immigrants saying, “I am pretty sure Christians killed more people than Muslims”. About 15 minutes into the protest, one of the protesters threw an LGBT flag on the pavement and stood on it, causing an uproar in the crowd. Throughout the day and night, one could hear the constant sound of police helicopters and see trucks full of National Guard zooming down the street.

Saturday was a huge contrast from the Inauguration. The sea of red Trump hats changed to a sea of pink as thousands of women and men gathered in D.C. They were marching for many different reasons – equal rights for everyone, the right to choose abortion, and a few who simply were upset that Trump won. One man wearing a Trump shirt in the midst of these protesters said, “I am glad they are protesting; it’s their right. I just hope they stay safe”.

In general, although people did not always agree, there was a common appreciation for acting on the First Amendment.

Joe Wiley is a senior at Conant High School.