Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Freedom of Speech

I attended a presentation by a semi-retired federal judge who lives in our building on the subject of the First Amendment, or freedom of speech. Of course I believe in this freedom, and yet it occurred to me that I have often had doubts about it. What about the "Occupy Wall Street" protesters and their offshoots in Chicago and elsehere? Where do their rights stop and the rights of ordinary pedestrians and workers begin?

I am too old to have belonged to the protest movements of the 1960's and 1970's. In fact, I remember being "saved" on the street during a Chicago "Days of Rage" protest back then by an Abraham Lincoln look-alike when I was merely walking home. Those times were scary to me, and I've never had any desire to protest anything. Does this make me too complacent? Perhaps. Of course I see, and have seen, inequities in society, but other than writing letters, I've never felt empowered to change things much.

Another factor: I remember my late husband, who worked in one of Chicago's federal buildings, remarking that there were some protesters around his workplace. When I asked him what they were protesting, he said he didn't know. Somehow, that made me feel that protest was just an empty gesture. Is protesting just to make the protestor feel good, or does it have a more positive effect? I don't know. Aside from the civil rights marches, with their clear and just cause, I don't recall many, if any, positive results from protesting.

I admit to being old and steeped in law-and-order society (although I don't relate to any political party). While I feel a bit guilty for saying so, I guess I've always felt that protest marches and sit-ins were a waste of time. I'll always believe in individual rights and free speech, but I just don't know how they can best be implemented. Fortunately I'm not a judge, and won't have to make such decisions. With many of my peers, I can just sit back and watch, for better or worse.