Monday, October 3, 2011

Freedom to Speak

I was walking home along Church Street in Lower Manhattan, past Liberty Plaza Park (Zuccotti Park) where the Occupy Wall Street protesters were settling down to another night of encampment, past St. Paul's Chapel where George Washington prayed after delivering his first inaugural address, and past Ground Zero, where Freedom Tower (One World Trade Center) was standing watch over the city.

I stopped to gaze up at the tower, look behind me at St. Paul's historic facade, then mentally re-trace my steps a couple of blocks to the protesters. The symbolism surrounding me sank in, one puzzle piece at at time, as if the shapes were appearing from the drizzly mist . . . Liberty Park, Occupy Wall Street, George Washington, Freedom Tower.

Prior to that moment, I had given the protesters little thought.  News reports explaining their cause, along with vague images of cardboard placards, paraded past my attention with a slew of other headlines.  Perhaps this is because my understanding of economics and the debt crisis would fit comfortably on the surface of a penny.  Mention the Federal Reserve, and my eyes glaze over.  But it was their right to protest which I more fully began to appreciate that evening.

Never having been a protester myself and wanting to feel what it's like to be among a few hundred, I walked back to Liberty Park the next day.  Needless to say my grandmotherly white hair didn't fit in with the predominantly 20 and 30-year olds , but I was cordially invited to "come in, walk around, ask questions."  I was surprised to see organization --

sign-making station,


                                      food co-op                                                                                                                          

                                                                       technology area

-- calmly held conversations,
communities bordered by sleeping bags, backpacks, and belongings.

People free to assemble, peacefully,
to speak, openly,
in opposition to their government.

This freedom was not part of the U. S. Constitution when it was signed in 1787;  it was added as the first amendment in the Bill of Rights, ratified 4 years later.  Freedom of speech, press, religion and petition.  Amendments advocated by George Washington  in his first inaugural speech at Federal Hall - today's address, 26 Wall Street.

Washington on the steps of Federal Hall

Whether or not I agree with, or even understand, the issues that the Occupy Wall Streeters are challenging, I must recognize their right to do so. Michael Douglas, through the writing of Aaron Sorkin, passionately espouses this philosophy in one of my favorite films, The American President:

"America isn't easy.  America is advanced citizenship.  You've gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight.  It's gonna say, "You want free speech?  Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours."

A protester's sign says it even better. . .





  1. I bet that was an amazing experience!

  2. Thank you again for another interesting post. Keep them coming!

  3. Really nice post. I "liked" your page on Facebook and a link to this posting popped up this morning.

  4. Collen, thanks for reading. I enjoyed reading your blog postings, as well. Your profile says that you are in the field of education. Are you still a teacher, or retired?

  5. I just re-read this of my favorites...

  6. Yes, when I read that quote at the end, written by Aaron Sorkin, I think of you because we probably both have that memorized. :-) Thanks for taking the time to re-read!


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