The State Continues To Debate How To Curtail Our Constitutional Rights

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Steven Cates lectures schoolchildren on the evils of peacable assembly
  • Steven Cates lectures schoolchildren on the evils of peacable assembly
While I have my concerns about Occupy "Let's undermine our good points with a slave auction" Nashville, the greatest service they're doing for the state of Tennessee is revealing that our state government doesn't actually put a lot of stock in citizens' right to assemble to let their government know what they think.

Right there in the state constitution, it says, "That the citizens have a right, in a peaceable manner, to assemble together for their common good, to instruct their representatives, and to apply to those invested with the powers of government for redress of grievances, or other proper purposes, by address of remonstrance." Agree or disagree with them, is there any doubt that the Occupy Nashville people have been peaceable, that they believe they are working for the common good, that they want their grievances redressed, or that they've been earnest in their presentation of such?

And yet, now we hear that the head of General Services, Steven Cates, is whining to a legislative committee about how he might need laws to help him keep long-term protesters off War Memorial Plaza. Honestly, could there be a more chicken-shit move? Oh God, don't answer that. I don't even want to contemplate.

Tennesseans have a right to assemble together. There's not a time limit on that. The very first thing our state constitution says is that "all power is inherent in the people." In other words, it's not the state legislature's place to decide to "give" protesters the right to congregate on public property according to rules Steve Cates wants to be able to make up to suit him and we should all just go along with it. In fact, Article 1, Section 2 makes it pretty clear that Tennesseans have an obligation to reject exactly this kind of thinking — "That government being instituted for the common benefit, the doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind."

Got that? Not resisting arbitrary power is absurd and destructive. And what are Cates and this committee talking about? How to codify the arbitrary power they wish they had into law.

We should all be bothered by this. Sure, it's not you down there this time. But what about the next time an income tax discussion happens? You really want to be told that you can only protest between these certain times after paying this amount of money? Do you really think they're only going to use this against people you disagree with?

Here's my proposal. We all make it clear that we insist on having our right to assemble and protest recognized and not curtailed just because people don't like it. If you work in the state government and you don't like having to hear from people who disagree with you, go home. We'll get someone to do your job that understands that dissent is vital to a functioning democracy.

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