The trouble with free speech seems to be that people only care when it is THEIR views being protected.
I was a legal observer for the immigration rally today in Pittsburgh. About 250 people marched through downtown, ending up at Senator Specter’s office. Not bad for Pittsburgh, which doesn’t have a very large (or organized) Latino community.
There was one lone counter-protestor. He was a fairly young guy–still probably in college. He had made a sign out of cardboard that said ‘Seal the Borders’ and stayed at the front of the march so that he would be seen by passersby (and interviewed by the media, which he was).
There were also a group of young demonstrators in the march–maybe ten of them, none of them Latino–that kept harassing the guy. They kept shoving him and his sign, and finally at the end of the march they took his sign forcefully and ripped it into pieces before him.
After his sign was ripped up, the guy walked away from the crowd. I went over to him. He was really upset and emotional–I even saw tears in his eyes. We talked for a little while and he asked me ‘What about my free speech?’
I wished that I could have helped him or given him a good answer, but the ACLU only deals with government violations of civil liberties. I just offered to give him the pictures that I had taken of the incident, if he wanted them. To their credit, a number of demonstrators apologized to him for the actions of some of the participants.
I had very fixed feelings about it. I hated everything the guy had been screaming during the march. He was definitely a bigot, and even seemed a little nutty to me.
But I knew that the kids who tore up his sign expect THEIR free speech to be protected; in fact, that was precisely what they were exercising. But for them, freedom of speech only applied to the speech they liked.
It all seems very human and natural–the desire limit freedom of speech to that with which we agree; it’s not restricted to any one part of the ideological spectrum. And maybe that’s why that inclination needs to be fought so hard–it is just too tempting to want to shut up and shut down people we don’t like.
Lisa in Pittsburgh