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Protest is one of our most American rights; we should never be denied of it.

Manahil Nadeem, Perspectives Editor

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Tell me what democracy looks like… this is what democracy looks like,” the protesters shouted. Fingers numb, feet frozen and voices loud and clear, 400 people, myself included, marched on Butler University’s campus in the common name of unity and peace. I marched to the rhythm of our chants—chants of freedom, chants of love, chants of America. That cold February afternoon, for the first time in my life I truly experienced the essence of the freedom to protest. In that congregation of people, I felt empowered, my opinion validated and my voice heard. That day I marched for the people from the nine countries banned from entering the United States by Donald Trump’s executive order and I was proud of it. That day I used my most American right: the right to protest.  In fact, I have never been prouder to call myself American than when I was marching with 400 people that day.

A bit of silver lining at the onset of the Trump administration has been the groundswell of activism by hundreds of thousands of Americans taking to the streets to face off against a president, and a Republican establishment, they see as reckless, divisive and destructive.

While I am overjoyed our voices are being heard, Republicans have started introducing measures in at least 18 states to intimidate free speech by criminalizing it.

I feel the Republican government is using fear tactics to get their political message across, and limiting the right to protest is just one example of this. Protest is the most American right, and we should never be denied it. While Republicans say the initiatives are aimed to ensure public safety, the fact of the matter is these efforts would crush a key American principle when it is needed the most.

A bill in Colorado seeks to intimidate environmental activists who oppose the expansion of oil and gas drilling in the state by making it a felony, punishable by up to 18 months in prison, to “interfere with the action of any equipment used” for oil and gas extraction and distribution. In Indiana and Iowa, lawmakers have proposed stiff punishments for demonstrators who blocked roadways. One lawmaker in North Carolina recently sought to make heckling elected officials a crime. While none of these bills appear to have enough support to pass, the fact Republican lawmakers are trying to pass these bills is demeaning to the American public.

Many opponents of protests state that it never works. This idea is innately false. According to the London School of Economics and Political Science, who conducted a study on the effectiveness of protest, found that demonstrations can directly change political agendas by disruption. In an attempt to settle the issue of protest, politicians put  it on the political agenda.

Instead of seeking to penalize their critics, lawmakers have a duty to listen to them, perhaps make an earnest effort to find common ground and address the root causes of the grievances that have so angered and mobilized Americans.

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Protest is one of our most American rights; we should never be denied of it.