As George W. Bush rallied his republican constituency for the upcoming campaign, activists marched on New York City.

Hoping to take advantage of the hoards of reporters at the convention, tens of thousands of Americans fought for their causes in what has become the quintessentially American way to promote social change – peaceful protesting. Despite the legality of their actions, almost two thousand of these activists were arrested, some even held for days without charges. In a country whose citizens are “innocent until proven guilty,” these arrests are startling.

The founders of our country attempted to ensure that Americans could always engage in peaceful political action. The First Amendment not only refers to the right of free speech, but also to the right “peaceably to assemble.”

Because of this aspect of the amendment, Americans should never have to fear speaking out against the government.

In effect, the Bill of Rights emphasizes peaceful protesting as an essential means of citizen-government interaction.

Protected by law, Americans have used non-institutional tactics to promote social change frequently and effectively. From women’s suffrage to desegregation, peaceful protesting entrenches itself as a cinderblock in our nation’s foundation. Throughout history, it has been one of Americans’ most effective options to get the attention of the government, the media, and our fellow countrymen.

If this part of our foundation wasn’t crushed at the Republican National Convention, it was certainly chipped and cracked. Protesters were arrested without due cause, for the simple fact they were exercising their right to assemble peaceably. Our forefathers did not make an exception to this rule – they did not include an “unless the protests are contrary to the message the president wants to send at his convention” clause.

Activists were arrested from the sidewalks, where they were doing no harm to anyone. There is a fine line between crowd control and violation of the right to congregate, and the New York Police Department broke it.

Many of the arrests at the Republican National Convention were unconstitutional, and made in complete disregard for the principles this nation was founded on.

Imagine if attempts to silence Martin Luther King Jr.’s message had met with success. Where would this country be now if his message of civil liberties had never gotten to the masses? Activists are initiating a political discourse that is essential to the advancement of our government and our country. America was established so that we could all – regardless of political party or agenda – have a voice.

Our democracy has always emphasized political discourse, and that must be protected. Actions like those taken at the Republican National Convention taint our feeling of true freedom. If we are not outraged as a country, we are sadly numbed to all things unilaterally important.

Our troops are at war, fighting for what we, as Americans, have decided are basic human rights. Those rights are defined in such documents as the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.

To violate those rights in our own country is to undermine the efforts of our soldiers abroad.

We cannot let what happened at the Republican National Convention go unchallenged. By letting our activists be silenced, we are watching the foundation of our country crumble from beneath our feet.

Kaskey can be reached at

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