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Speak your mind; it’s the American thing to do.

November 16, 2011 - Art Smith

The First Amendment is something Americans take for granted because we have always had the opportunity to speak our minds.

Last week African-born author Alexandra Fuller reminded those attending a lecture at Marietta College of that fact, and it is something that has been eating at me ever since. We do take it for granted, and we shouldn’t.

Most of the world is not free to speak their mind, to publish what they think is right, to openly criticize leaders.

We, of course do, and lately we have been exercising that right like never before. We have always been a nation of opinions; it seems lately we have kicked it up a notch.

I was in Washington, D.C., a few weeks ago; several of the parks there are filled with tents in the Occupy D.C. movement. As is the case in many cities this fall, the campers in D.C. are there exercising their right to have an opinion about the excesses of the 1 percent of the population they feel are over paid.

Cities are starting to crack down on the protesters not because of their opinion, but because of their overnight use of the parks. As the city manager of Oakland pointed out, the parks are still open for protests; they are just not open for lodging.

The web has made it extremely easy for people to exercise their First Amendment rights. Between Facebook posts and Twitter tweets, Americans are quick to judge every nuance of American society, frequently without regard to facts or complete information. Stories can move completely through the “opinion cycle” before all the facts are even known.

People are leaving comments on online stories at a record pace. Everyone has an opinion, and they want everyone to hear it. We have become a nation of sharing what we think, even when it’s not all that appropriate at the time.

Fuller was at Marietta College to talk about her book “The Legend of Colton Bryant.” The book is a moving account of the life of a young man who lived and died on the oil fields of Wyoming. It was the campus reading for the school this fall. Hundreds of students, faculty and staff members read the book. In addition to bringing the author to campus, there also have been forums about the book and it has been integrated into classes.

During a question and answer period, a student told Fuller she did not like the book that had clearly been a very emotional journey for the author. Fuller looked a little taken back by the student. I found it an interesting illustration of the First Amendment at work.

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.

Don’t take free speech for granted. It’s a special right we as Americans have.

Remember, you don’t really have free speech without a free press. Only 16 percent of the world inhabitants live in countries where the press is free to print and broadcast what they feel is right, without a free and open press it’s very hard for any opinions to be heard by many.

 
 

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Being heard is part of being an American.