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Mass 'die-in' an odd, yet appropriate example of citizens' right to protest

March 21, 2003

By Adriana Garcia

I recently read an article in The Daily Texan about a student protest against the potential war in Iraq. This protest was a little different, though. The Campus Coalition for Peace and Justice organized a 'die-in,' in which about 90 students lay on the ground in death poses for five minutes. According to the event's coordinator, the die-in was meant to symbolize the potential deaths that could occur if bombs were dropped in Baghdad.

The first thing that really caught my eye, though, was an image included in the article that showed some of the protesters in their death poses. I thought, 'How ridiculous! Protesting a war by lying down when we all know that these people are not physically hurt.' At second glance, the significance behind this protest made me think twice.

While I do see 90 people taking time out of their day to lie down in protest of war a bit humorous, I must admit that I respect these individuals for exercising their right to assemble peaceably. According to the First Amendment, the people of the United States are guaranteed that right, and the mentioned protest first should be seen as the work of free people.

No proud American should look with disdain upon any peaceful protest where citizens voice their similar or conflicting opinions. Most protest subjects are controversial such as abortion, human rights or a possible war, but some even have the ability to infest anger in the public.

For instance, in the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case Texas v. Johnson, the issue of flag burning was raised. Should an American citizen have the right to burn this nation's flag in protest? The Supreme Court decided that to deny a citizen the right to protest was unconstitutional as it violated the First Amendment. Justice William Brennan wrote in the opinion of the court, '...nothing in our precedents suggests that a State may foster its own view of the flag by prohibiting expressive conduct relating to it.'

Whether the message behind the protest stirs anger in the majority of the nation should not be the question, but let me set something straight before I get accused of being anti-American. I am completely against the idea of burning the American flag because I see it as a symbol of this great country that we choose to live in. With that said, it is also a symbol of the freedom the people in this country possess. When any person chooses to protest the actions of individuals, organizations or the government in a peaceful manner, he is exercising the rights of American citizens.

In short, while I do not agree with Johnson's actions, I commend him and others for exercising their constitutional right to protest. The only situation in which I can't offer any respect is when a protest begins, a crowd forms, a debate ensues and a shouting match is the result. Screaming one's point of view in another individual's face does not accomplish anything, so when I read about such an event it makes me laugh more than the first glance at the image of Longhorns lying on the Main Mall of the Austin campus.

The right to assemble is a privilege granted by the United States of America, so I believe people should take it seriously and act accordingly -- not like children. So for all the grown-ups out there who have a bone to pick, a peaceful assembly is always an option rather than just sitting back and watching -- just don't yell.