Over the past few months, I’ve heard from many Americans who feel they’ve lost the power to be heard by their government. From the repeated assaults on our civil liberties to the financial ruin brought about by irresponsible corporations and government officials, Americans feel helpless and beaten down.
Faced with a government that is not heeding their demands, many are simply giving up. But we are far from helpless, and this is not the time to surrender our rights.
Too often, we forget that America began with a revolution. America was born out of the sheer grit and determination of a rebellious group of colonists. These freedom fighters stood their ground. They knew they had rights. And when those rights were systematically violated, they resisted.
Thankfully, there are a growing number of Americans — what I like to refer to as “teaspoons of resistance" — who have not given up the fight and are choosing to exercise their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
There are many examples. Let me cite a few. In more than 40 cities across the country, growing numbers of Americans have been taking to the streets and staging “tea party protests” to voice their objections to the government’s out-of-control spending and its bailout of mega-corporations and bad mortgages. Once such event recently took place on the Santa Monica Pier. Although no tea is being tossed at these protests, they are gaining in popularity as a way for citizens to express their discontent with government spending gone haywire. In fact, organizers are planning a nationwide Tax-Day Tea Party protest.
Mindy McAlindon of Franklin, Tennessee, is taking a slightly different approach in voicing her discontent about the economy. She plans to bombard the White House with actual tea bags and protest notes. Protesters in other cities are planning to do the same for members of Congress.
More than 10,000 demonstrators in 100 locations across the country recently gathered at the offices of major banks whose behavior both before and since the government bailout “epitomize an era of CEO and corporate excess at the expense of broader prosperity that has weakened the economy.”
And then there is Concepcion Picciotto, a small woman in her late 60s who has carried on the longest continuous act of protest in the United States. Since 1981, Picciotto has staged a round-the-clock peace vigil across from the White House in Lafayette Park in the hopes of ending U.S. interventionist wars and banning nuclear weapons. She has thus far managed to outlast four presidents — Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush — and she’s planning to outlast Barack Obama.
We could use more tireless freedom fighters such as Concepcion Picciotto today. Yet she is merely one of a long and historic line of Americans to stage populist protests in the form of sleep-ins, sit-ins and marches to oppose government policies, counter injustice and bring about change.
Clearly, this is no time to stand silently on the sidelines. It’s a time for anger and reform. Most importantly, it’s a time for making ourselves heard. And there is no better time to act than the present.
What can ordinary citizens do? Instead of sitting around and waiting for someone else to change things, take charge. Never discount the part that everyday citizens play in our nation’s future. You can change things, but there can be no action without education. Get educated about your rights and exercise them. Start by reading the Bill of Rights. You can do so online at www.rutherford.org. Or, if you want a copy to keep with you, e-mail me at email@example.com and I’ll send you a free one.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re protesting the economy, the war, the environment or something else altogether. What matters is that you do your part. As that great revolutionary firebrand Samuel Adams pointed out, “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brushfires in people’s minds.”
Take some time right now and start your own brushfire for freedom. In the words of one Tea Party organizer, become “10-minute citizens. Take 10 minutes, six days a week and learn about the issues, and then call politicians, or email them, or call talk radio, or write letters to the editor and make your voice heard.”
It’s midnight in America right now. But the real question is, will there be a dawn? That’s up to you and me. The future is in our hands.
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.