Constitutional Fail: 7 Ways the Left Abuses the First Amendment
Posted on March 23 2011 6:00 am
5. Freedom of Assembly to Block Traffic, Disrupt Business, and Disturb the Peace
Last month, The Nation’s Johann Hari pined for a so-called “progressive Tea Party.” He saw its potential manifestation in the public employee union protests then developing in Wisconsin. Hari saw a model for the movement in the activities of a British group called UK Uncut.
Hari’s description of UK Uncut’s activities centered around protests of private business, storefronts of the communication company Vodafone, who owed millions in back-taxes according to the protesters. UK Uncut claimed that social services endangered by lack of revenue could continue at current levels if companies like Vodafone were forced to pay for them. Whether that claim was true is a separate matter from the methods UK Uncut justified with it.
People were urged to gather at 9:30 am on a Wednesday morning outside the Ritz hotel in central London… More than sixty people arrived, and they went to one of the busiest Vodafone stores—on Oxford Street, the city’s biggest shopping area—and sat down in front of it so nobody could get in.
Hari represents such a “protest” as if it were rightful assembly, petitioning government for redress of grievance. However, the tactic transcends mere assembly to become something insidious.
Alex Higgins, another protester, explains, “… we broke the frame that people expect protest to be confined to. Suddenly, protesters were somewhere they weren’t supposed to be—they were not in the predictable place where they are tolerated and regarded as harmless by the authorities. If UK Uncut had just consisted of a march on Whitehall [where government departments are located], where we listened to a few speakers and went home, nobody would have heard of it. But this time we went somewhere unanticipated. We disrupted something they really value: trade…”
The freedom to assemble does not cover such tactics. The disruption of trade is accomplished by force. How else would it work? Protesters no more have the right to bar entry to a store than I have to bar entry to your house. Hari and Higgins point to what is – in essence – violence, and openly advocate its practice. Their evaluation does not consider what is right and wrong, only what is effective. “We disrupted something they really value…” That is to say, they deprived others of that which was theirs by right, the freedom to associate in peace.
Of course, that’s precisely what leftist revolution is. Unfortunately, some professing libertarians affirm the Left by overreacting to efforts by law enforcement to preserve the rights of the public while respecting the rights of protestors. Someone else’s grievance does not demand your attention. They are not entitled to block your way, disrupt your business, or disturb the peace. It is important for advocates of liberty to remain cognizant of its actual nature, rather than become irrationally caught up in romantic notions of persecution.