EDITORIAl: Two Protests Show a Marked Contrast
There's a right way to protest and a wrong way. We saw examples of both this past week -- one here, one in Chapel Hill.
Those providing the positive example were the hundreds who turned out for a noisy but peaceful "TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party" Wednesday at the post office in downtown Southern Pines, one of many such spirited observances around the country.
The ones who should be ashamed of themselves, on the other hand, are those at UNC who disrupted a speech by former Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado.
You may or may not agree with all the opinions expressed at the TEA Party here. (It is easy to have problems with a couple of them.) But that's beside the point. When the Constitution of the United States proclaims "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances," right there in the First Amendment, it doesn't add any qualifiers or conditions.
Such gatherings are not just tolerated as an inconvenience. They are a proud tradition, enshrined in the very tissue of the political process that resulted in our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, and our very Republic itself.
Were some of Wednesday's participants motivated less by the stated purpose of protesting high taxes than by a general dissatisfaction with the results of the recent democratically conducted presidential election? No doubt. Did a few of the signs they displayed verge on the inflammatory? Sure.
But that's the nature of the beast. Better a populace secure enough in its liberty that it feels free to express robust opinions than one cowed by fear of a repressive governmental regime. Despite a few disconcerting overtones, our TEA party was mostly a bracing exercise reminding us all that a true democracy is a living organism that needs to stretch its muscles and give out with a growl once in a while.
The regrettable events the previous day in Chapel Hill were a different story.
Tancredo has some extreme opinions, to be sure -- many of them rather violently anti-immigrant. But when he got up in a classroom to express them, as he had been invited to do, the vocal rudeness of a hostile and intimidating crowd, along with the breaking of a window by a fist-pounding protester and the use of pepper spray by the police, forced him to flee the stage with his speech unfinished.
This is not free speech. It is political hooliganism that leaves a dark blot on what should be a citadel of enlightened debate and civility. For shame.
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