Dissent. Nobody stops to think of it, but dissent may very well be the one word that best defines us as citizens of the United States of America; that may be the essential character of who we are as a people; that is woven like a silver thread through the fabric of our culture; and serves as the cornerstone of our societal institutions.
Our right to dissent from the policies and programs of our government, to argue with each other over our future as a people and a nation, is enshrined in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech … or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Our right to discuss and debate any topic is fundamental to our conception of ourselves. It is what makes us unique.
Dissent is who we are, and are about.
But, the right to dissent is not a license to threaten those with whom we disagree, nor is it a license to engage in acts designed to intimidate them. The right to dissent is not a license to silence other voices, thereby making a mockery of our freedom of speech. And, certainly, the right to dissent is not a license to run away from your responsibilities as a State Senator.
Unfortunately, here in Wisconsin where I was born, raised, live, and work, there are those who are not able to confine themselves to legitimate expressions of dissent. Instead, they choose to make phone calls containing thinly veiled threats of death, engage in disruptive and intimidating behavior at the public functions of those with whom they differ, threaten businesses large and small, and scare small-business owners with threats to close them down. This is not democracy in action, it is mob rule.
It is a long-standing rule that our freedom of speech is not absolute. One may not stand up in a crowded theater and yell, “Fire!” when there is no fire. There are laws against incitement to riot. And one may not engage in “hate speech” without drawing vehement denunciation from the self-appointed arbiters of political correctness in the news media, while at the same time subjecting oneself to enhanced penalties if one is adjudged to have committed a “hate crime.”
It would be comical if it were not so sad that those who most adamantly object to “hate speech” in others are now those who engage in the most disgusting forms of it themselves. Comparing Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker to Hitler and Stalin, issuing threats against his life and the lives of his family, issuing similar threats against the lives and families of the Wisconsin State Senators who voted for the Governor’s budget repair bill, are all forms and examples of speech that would be the subject of much controversy, and of condemnation, if engaged in by conservatives or Tea Party members.
Vile as their speech has been, those who engage in such behavior have not been content to leave it at engaging in hateful speech. Rather, they also have chosen to try to prevent the normal operation of the democratic process by engaging in bullying and intimidating tactics in an attempt to forestall those who are circulating petitions to recall the Democrat State Senators. The very same Democrat State Senators who abandoned their positions of responsibility and public trust, and fled to Illinois.
My life has been threatened; several local Tea Party group leaders have received threatening and harassing phone calls to the point that one of them felt compelled to warn her children’s school about the threats, Democrat State Senator recall petitioners have been physically interfered with, and those wanting to sign the petitions have been prevented from doing so. At one recall petition site, signed petitions were destroyed, a felony under Wisconsin law, while the local police stood by and did nothing.
All of this is merely an attempt by a minority of the citizens of the State of Wisconsin, the public employee unions, to impose their will upon the majority. It is an attempt to maintain the unholy alliance between state politicians, municipal governments, local school boards, and the public employee unions. The public employee unions get impressive wage and benefit packages, and the state and municipal politicians and school board members get funds for their campaigns.
Such an attempt must fail, and such an alliance must be severed. It is incumbent upon us, not just those of us who, like me, live and work in Wisconsin, but upon all of us across this great nation, to fix the problem. The results of our mistakes must not be visited upon our children and grandchildren. Let stopping run-away government spending, and ending government intrusion into our daily lives, be our legacy to our posterity. It is within our power, and must be our cause.