The 4th of July has just passed, and all around my small town in Colorado you can still see flags flying. The patriotism was tangible last weekend. People donned their flags across their chests, or symbolically strapped on their red-white-and-blue Crocs, and gladly took a day off work to watch parades and eat watermelon. What is it about this weekend that brings us all together?
The hubbub of pride got my mind whirring about America in general, and the freedoms this country provides us. We’ve come a long way since 1776, but still some challenges remain evident. We Americans are free. We can practice the religion of our choice, arm ourselves against danger and we rest comfortably knowing we won’t be stripped of our life, liberty or property without due process of law. Yet, in our current political and social environment, each of these freedoms is being called into question on some level. Should we allow members of a certain faith in our country? Are citizens really entitled to own weapons capable of producing mass casualties? Does each citizen enjoy comfort and protection of the law, or does that depend on the color of one’s skin?
Through all the turmoil, I can literally hear and see one of our American freedoms at work. I hear voices rising in protest, I read carefully constructed arguments in newspapers and online, and I see political leaders sit on the floor of Congress in support of pertinent causes.
It’s the 1st Amendment in action.
Amendment I: 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.
Of all our freedoms, I believe those outlined in the 1st Amendment are the most precious. Freedom of expression is paramount to a writer, of course, yet it’s more than that for me. Forgive me for taking a few liberties with this particular liberty, as my understanding of the 1st Amendment has expanded a bit since I first learned of it in 20th Century American History. My experience of the 1st Amendment is based on my layperson’s understanding rather than the knowledge of a political expert, but it is valid nonetheless.
Freedom of speech encourages the expression and exchange of ideas. Isn’t that the fundamental basis of our existence? The exchange of ideas spurs education and spreads knowledge throughout the world. Where would we be without communication?
While other areas of life are certainly important – health, for example – the power of free speech often intersects with the importance of other issues. What good would it do if someone found a cure for cancer if s/he wasn’t allowed to tell other people about it? If a tree falls in the forest without anyone there to witness it and tell others about it, did it really happen? In virtually any area of life, it’s our ability to talk about it that gives the idea life.
And talk, we do. We Americans talk, and shout, and write snide comments on message boards. Our chatter seems to have increased during this latest political race, with voices on both sides shouting their opinions at the top of their lungs. Whether I agree or adamantly disagree with what is being said, I appreciate the fact that conversations are happening.
To say I’ve been scared and saddened by some of the comments coming from Donald Trump’s supporters is a vast understatement. I’ve been terrified by some of the declarations of xenophobia, racism, sexism, homophobia and more. The depth of rage has startled me and chilled me to the bone. Are people really that mad? Are things really that bad? Do people really feel this way?
And if they do, aren’t they allowed to express it?
I can see both sides of the P.C. debate. Though I appreciate the importance of political correctness, I can also understand the backlash against the P.C. movement. The P.C. movement seems restrictive, and people rebel against restrictions and rules. I believe in kindness and treating fellow creatures on earth with compassion, so it makes sense that we should require communications among each other to be civil and respectful. I also understand that restrictions in communications can break down communications as a whole and allow us to get sidetracked and misled rather than see and solve the big picture issues we should instead be focusing on. Regardless of anyone’s opinion on political correctness, just the ability to have the argument – just the freedom to express ourselves on one side or another – demonstrates how powerful and important our right to free speech actually is.
Trump has famously been quoted as saying that political correctness is killing America. He’s said it loudly and he’s said it often. In doing so, he’s seemingly opened a floodgate of expression. I may not agree with what Trump supporters are saying, but I appreciate the fact that they have things to say.
I’m horrified by some of the comments coming from Trump supporters, but on some level I’m glad I know their rage exists. We can’t put our heads in the sand and pretend that sexism, racism, xenophobia and homophobia don’t exist. Have some of the comments gone overboard? Have been crossed some lines? Yes, absolutely. Yes, and it’s bone-chilling. Yes, and now that we’ve heard their opinions, what are we going to do about it?
The 1st Amendment gives all of us Americans the right to use our voices to change the world. I don’t agree with hate, violence and greed, but I have a voice. I have a loud voice.
Let’s shed some light on the problems that face our world. Let’s hear all the voices.