Protesters are exhibiting free speech

Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are fundamental pillars of our democracy.

Last Saturday, about 250 protestors gathered outside of Governor Walz’s residence in St. Paul to protest the current stay at home order. Very few worse masks. Fewer engaged in the Center for Disease Control’s recommended 6 foot social distance. Some even sneered at nurses and doctors who protested against the crowds on behalf of the state’s medical institutions. These were bad mistakes and the protest’s message was significantly clouded and devalued by them. Yet while many Minnesotans rightfully disagree with protestors’ message, to suggest that their efforts should not have been tolerated is to go against the 1st Amendment rights of speech and assembly.

Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are fundamental pillars of our democracy. They prohibit the government from censorship and allow the people to both voice their opinions and maintain transparency and fairness in the world of politics.

Speech and assembly have the power to change minds.”

Critics of the recent protest argued that the protestors were disobeying Governor Walz’s stay at home order, but no government order should be allowed to restrict our 1st Amendment rights. While it does seem like a misjudgement to simply ignore CDC recommended social distancing and use of masks, all of the 250 protestors last Saturday knew what they were getting into. By attending the protest, the protestors arguably acknowledged the risks in attending and subsequently made a conscious decision that their right to make their beliefs heard outweighed their personal risk from the COVID-19 disease.

Nurses and doctors attended the protest as well. Some marched defiantly through the crowds of protestors. Others simply stood with their arms folded towards the crowd. These images of nurses and doctors standing up to the protestors are further examples of the power of free speech. The nurses and doctors, who did seem to engage in social distancing and were wearing masks, weighed their risks as well and decided that it was more important to assemble and send a message to the protestors with whom they strongly disagreed.

This action showcases the power that speech and assembly give us as well. Speech and assembly have the power to change minds. Two notions of the current COVID-19 crisis clashed in the protest – and this clash likely resulted in two parties walking away more aware and perhaps empathetic to the other side’s beliefs.

For some, the economic struggles that COVID-19 has brought weigh more heavily on their personal lives than the threat of contracting the disease. For others, the threat to loved ones, friends and even strangers weighs more heavily. Neither view is right or wrong – they are simply two different reactions to a communal and crisis. Free speech and the freedom to assemble (preferably if done safely and respectfully) simply help these two sides communicate, empathize with each other, and most importantly learn how to tackle their differences and work together towards a global solution.