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Treacherous words: the first amendment in the new age of protests

Congressman+John+Lewis+speaks+at+Inman+park+about+current+issues+including+UVA+protests.
Congressman John Lewis speaks at Inman park about current issues including UVA protests.

Congressman John Lewis speaks at Inman park about current issues including UVA protests.

Chandler Morris

Chandler Morris

Congressman John Lewis speaks at Inman park about current issues including UVA protests.

Chandler Morris

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On Aug. 11 and 12 hundreds of self-declared neo-nazis and white supremacists and members of the KKK and other hate groups convened in Charlottesville, Virginia for a “Unite the Right” rally. The demonstrations attracted around 1,000 counter protesters and the weekend ended with three deaths, 35 injuries, and Charlottesville declared to be in a state of emergency. Charlottesville fit the description of a war zone.

The events at Charlottesville sparked outrage as well as concern for the future, prompting statements from politicians, citizens, and college students in Charlottesville and throughout the United States. The protests were not shut before violence had erupted because of fear encroaching on the protesters’ first amendment rights. How these rights were used has surfaced questions on how far the first amendment should extend to protect protests like these, when words become treacherous.

“This has always been a question in American society, and it’s something I don’t think there is an easy answer to. There is a danger in trying to regulate somebody’s first amendment right,” Stephanie Abbott, Assistant Director of Presidential Studies at the Miller Center of UVA, said.

Despite the fear that the protests created, UVA students joined together to show respect to those affected by the protests. On Wednesday Aug. 16, there was a candlelit vigil held on the UVA campus. In the same place where, days before, confederate flags and Nazi swastikas were held high, candles flickered and UVA community members sang “We Shall Overcome” and “This Little Light of Mine” together.

“It was kept off of social media, thousands of students, professors, and people from the community showed up, completely unannounced,” Abbott said. “… The community and university has largely responded [to the protests] by pulling together and having bigger displays of solidarity, peace, and diversity.”

Congressman John Lewis of Georgia’s fifth district, who was a prominent leader in the civil rights protests in the sixties, encourages citizens to not give up on mending the fracture in society the current political climate has formed.

“There is a saying ‘this too shall pass’, I think it will pass. But I am concerned for how long it will last and whether it is pausing our society, whether we will have hundreds of thousands of people dropping out of the political process and just giving up,” Congressman Lewis said. “We cannot let that happen… We will correct what is going on, but I tell you, I have never seen anything like this, never ever. It is a different world that we live in, but you all can make it better, you can help fix it.”

Chandler Morris
Congressman John Lewis speaks at Inman park about current issues including UVA protests.

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Treacherous words: the first amendment in the new age of protests