Peaceful New York protests?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Freedom of speech is an interesting phrase. Peaceful protests is yet another. Dissent, not danger or destruction due to another’s rights is an American right.

The question, then, is where does one draw the line between a protester’s right to protest and use their freedom of speech and their invasion of another person’s right to utilize their own?

Protesters stood in the streets of New York City at the recent Republican National Convention holding signs against President George W. Bush and all Republicans.

Their right? Absolutely – this is America.

A right to hit on a shuttle bus and shout obscenities at Republicans (or anyone else for that matter) attending a private function to promote their candidate and express their freedom to peacefully assemble? No.

Having my own opinions and beliefs does not infringe on anyone’s right to have their own.

However, protesters hitting police officers, knocking them unconscious, crowding the sidewalks so that tourists cannot get by, protesting without legal permits, standing naked in the streets, blocking and delaying traffic is not a peaceful protest.

It is not their right.

They must not infringe upon the freedom of someone else in order to maintain their own. This is America, after all. Everyone enjoys the same freedoms.

Shouting obscenities and displaying vulgar gestures is not peaceful. Being passionate about one’s beliefs is not a rational reason for such behavior, much less an excuse to keep others from having their own. However, that’s what many protesters do and did in New York.

Many times ,when people cannot defend their own positions peacefully, they protest.

When they cannot debate the issues, they protest. When they can not lead, they lead protests.

When they cannot promote positive change, they organize negative efforts – the types of protests we saw in New York during the Republican National Convention.

The right to protest is American. Dissent, when not causing danger and destruction is American.

It’s a freedom. However, a protester’s freedom and right to protest is no greater than the persons against whom they are protesting.

And if their protests are not peaceful and lawful – then they are using and abusing their own freedoms and interfering with the freedoms of others.

There is nothing American about that.

Beth Chapman serves as Alabama’s state auditor. She resides with her husband and two sons in north Shelby County and can be reached at