The First Amendment

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In America the Amendment 1 of the U.S. Constitution gives the American people the right to peaceably assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Most notably Amendment 1 is known for and most often cited as giving the Freedom of Speech. Even before this amendment was ratified people in the U.S. were protesting, as in the Boston Tea Party. Protesting has been a way to effect change in America. A question to ask is this: is there a right way or wrong way to protest.

Others protest that has had an effect on America since the Amendment was ratified are protest against war such as Vietnam and Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Civil Rights Movement, and more recently the protest of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle. Also the many strikes and pickets labor union have been involved in through out history. There are differences among these gatherings. The most striking difference is typically if the protest is violent or non-violent. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Henry David Thoreau referred to the use of civil disobedience. In the movie, ?Breaking the Spell? protesters felt they were not being violent since the items they damaged belong to big business.

King and Thoreau?s approach to civil disobedience is a more civilized way to protest than those at the WTO. King in his letter of response to the Birmingham clergy, ?Letter from Birmingham Jail? he list four basics steps to a non-violent campaign: collection of the facts to determine if injustice exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action (174). In his letter he points out that the individuals involved in the campaign attended a series of workshops on nonviolence. During the workshops individuals were to ask themselves if they were able to accept blows without retaliating and if they could endure the ordeal of jail (174). Thoreau?s approach is slightly different at an individual level but yet was nonviolent. He refused to pay his poll tax, which he felt was unjust. The result was he was arrested and jailed. He applied a type of civil disobedience without eliciting violence.

As for the protest of the WTO it was a prime example of how not to organize and conduct a protest. Although no individuals were seriously hurt or killed, property damage and the shut down of the city cost millions. On the first two days of what was supposed to be a three day meeting of the WTO they were prevented from meeting by the protesters.

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