The First Amendment guarantees Americans five freedoms, chief among them freedom of speech and religion. The fourth freedom mentioned in the amendment is the “freedom to peaceably assemble,” essentially ensuring that Americans are free to form protest rallies, provided they do not spill out into violence. This right belongs to everybody in the nation, on both sides of the political spectrum, and is a powerful tool when conducted correctly. In recent years, there are two notable examples of its use, one from of the two prominent ideologies, as well as an interest group which should call for a national rally.
On the conservative side of the political divide resides the Tea Party Movement, the instigator of the increase in protest rallies over the past half-decade. The problems which the Tea Parties brought to the national foreground remain contentious today, largely due to the cause. Tea Party protests must continue to take place if conservatives desire to keep pressure on their elected officials to hold the conservative line. Spending is out of control, the debt is scarcely conceivable. These issues are crucial to the future functioning of the United States government and must be addressed. Despite this, the movement faces an internal threat which it must address if it wishes to regain independent support.
There is a fine line between prompting a political ideal and spewing meaningless—and detrimental—venom at the opposition. A simple Google image search for even as benign a phrase as “Tea Party protest signs” brings up such moderate signs as “You Lie, She Dies. Say No To Obamacare” featuring a picture of a young girl and “Barack Hussein Obama, The New Face Of Hitler” with President Obama’s face superimposed on, you guessed it, the body of Adolf Hitler. These signs do absolutely nothing to further the Tea Party cause; instead, they drive independents, who may agree with Tea Party positions, away due the increasingly radical-fringe stereotype of the movement. Tea Party positions are very appealing, but the stigma which the campaign has undeniably brought upon itself has driven supporters away.
The Occupy Wall Street, along with its numerous offshoots, was the liberal response to the Tea Party. While the Occupy movement has brought issues to the spotlight, these have mostly been in the social sphere as opposed to the political sphere. The famous moniker “We are the 99%” refers to the social injustice of uneven wealth distribution—a social wrong which, besides increasing taxation, is nearly impossible for the government to touch. The degree to which wealth distribution in America is unequal is astonishing. As a society, the United States must rectify this due to the threat it bears towards the stability of the middle-class. The Occupy movement, however, faces similar difficulties as its conservative counterpart.
Although not to the degree of the Tea Party, Occupy protests have provided a forum for venom as well. Again, a cursory Google image search of “Occupy Wall Street signs” displays a sign reading “No War But The Class War. Revolution Now!” which will surely draw independent support, a sign claiming that the 99% were “Slaves No More,” and a sign declaring that Wall Street is home to “No Bulls, No Bears, Only Pigs.” Just like the Tea Party, these signs may provide an outlet for anger, but the moment they are captured by a video camera, independent appeal decreases. Additionally, due to the non-political grievance the movement opposes, Occupy is typically much more fragmented than the Tea Party, offering no clear policy suggestions other than, as one could guess, increased taxes on the wealthy. The stigma which Occupy has received—lazy people with no proposed solutions who simply want handouts—crushes independent support for the movement.
The interest group which should learn from the mistakes of the Tea Party and Occupy and call for a national rally—on ideally the National Mall—is the anti-gun control lobby. While I myself favor gun control, the importance of a rational, moderate pro-gun rally cannot be overstated. For one, it would give gun proponents the ability to wrestle control away from the likes of the National Rifle Association, which could hardly be driving independents away faster than it currently is, and radical right-wingers who seem to believe that every day is one day closer to a Stalinesque crackdown by the federal government. Secondly, it would grant the lobby the ability to show it is comprised of regular, law-abiding citizens. Teachers, doctors, accountants, insurance salesman; anybody who does not either own a gun range or have a conservative radio show. Additionally, a national rally, which would certainly garner extensive media coverage, would allow the interest group to rename themselves. The two terms I have used thus far (“anti-gun control lobby” and “pro-gun”) each have negative connotations; simply hearing them turns people off. “Supporters of civil munitions” has a nice ring to it.
From the Suffragist marches of the 1910s, to the Civil Rights marches of the 1960s, and the immigration reform marches of 2006, political protest rallies have an important place in the history of the United States. Whether or not the Tea Party and Occupy movements will join that pantheon remains to be seen. Those who support the civil possession of munitions owe it to themselves to launch one of these rallies to rescue their message from the grip of the radical fringe.