Tuesday, February 14, 2017

From Key Biscayne Islander: Ron Goldfarb

The First Amendment is Alive & Well By Ronald Goldfarb

“Congress shall make no law …abridging … the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Living in Washington, DC is a special opportunity and experience. Having worked in DC and lived in nearby Alexandria, VA since 1961 when I came to work for Robert Kennedy in the Justice Department, I have had personal experiences with the First Amendment in real time action, assembling and petitioning my government for redress of grievances. I am reminded of these experiences as I watched the Trump inauguration from long distance in Key Biscayne, FL while two of my children, five of my grandchildren and four of my nieces joined hundreds of thousands of citizens in Washington, DC, and my other son and family did the same in their small town in New York state expressing publicly their criticism of Donald Trump and his political game plan.

There is a context into which my present ruminations fall. In 1963 my wife and I went to the Mall and stood near the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King, Jr pleaded to the world for civil rights for all people, and delivered his immortal “I Have a Dream” speech. About 250,000 people — black and white — peacefully gathered in the nation’s capital to plead for President Kennedy to provide 19 million Afro-American descendants the right to vote, travel, and work.

Fears abounded. Military bases in the area were under high alert. The DC police and FBI were present on the streets. The National Guard trained 2,400 recruits to assist. There were altogether over 8,000 guardians of the peace on the streets. The federal government and many businesses were closed. Liquor stores and restaurants were closed. The Senators baseball game was postponed. Hospitals canceled elective surgery so all beds would be available for riot-related emergencies. Jails were emptied to provide room for predicted arrests. Judges were on around-the-clock standby.

These precautions were not necessary. The assembly was non-violent. People arrived from all over the world and marched with dignity to the Lincoln Memorial. They were orderly, quiet, and earnest. Many swarmed around the Reflecting Pool in a field of humanity that ran all the way to the Washington Monument.

I will always remember that day listening to the greatest orator of his time pleading for racial justice, claiming that the time had come “to lift our nation from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood,” calling for “the fierce urgency of now.”

Mid-speech, King was interrupted by Mahalia Jackson, who shouted: “Tell them about the dream, Martin,” referring to a speech he’d given earlier in Detroit. King departed from his prepared text at that point and segued into his immortal plea, “I have a dream,” that reverberates still in the hearts and minds of all decent people.

The New York Times called the event “the most impressive assembly for a redress of grievances in America’s history.” The Washington Post reported that the assembly was a happy combination of prayer meeting, picnic, and political rally, a crowd “united in a sense of brotherhood and common humanity.” The next year, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed.

Unfortunately, many of the social injustices deplored on that summer day in Washington, DC, have not yet been overcome. But August 28, 1963, was a seminal moment in American history. It demonstrated the power and dignity of democracy in action.

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In 1971, the scene was more fractious when my wife and I joined Vietnam War protests on the streets of Washington DC, a gathering which was rougher and more proactive than the 1963 event. We were gassed, with many others, near Dupont Circle by police overreacting to the noisy protests. It wasn’t pretty, nor were the persistent chants at the White House hectoring LBJ to end that war. Eventually the public demonstrations worked. The war was ended, too late, but it might not have ended when it did without these public protests. Critics of the war hastened the end of it, and resulted in a president leaving politics.

In 1986, my wife, daughter and two human rights activist friends, the late Pat Derian and Rose Styron and their daughters marched on a sunny day near Congress in a sea of women who came from across the country to support the ERA, again peacefully. But this time their pleas were not successful in terms of reaching the goal that gave rise to that march. But peace prevailed and eventually the goals they asserted then have been advanced in major ways.

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Given the history of our family going to the streets at times of perceived national debate I waited in anticipation of the Trump inauguration. Would the demonstrations be peaceful? Will they advance the petitioners’ causes?

On Saturday, January 21, 2017, an estimated half million Americans filled the streets of Washington, as did huge crowds in other cities in America and around the world to claim rights they felt were disparaged by the Trump campaign and election. All the marchers were peaceful. Funny signs were all around - “We shall Overcomb” and “Hell Hath No Fury Like a million Women Scorned.” Visitors to the balls the night before reported that the cameras did not show how poorly attended they were. The Saturday crowds far surpassed Friday’s relatively insignificant inaugural crowds. President Trump, who protested during the campaign about the size of his “hands,” now argues about the relative size of his crowds – those applauding his election, and those crying out against it.

This time, my wife Joanne walked with marchers in Miami, while I wrote this piece. My daughter from Atlanta and her husband and three daughters came to Washington DC as did my son, his wife, son and daughter from Brooklyn. My other son and his family attended a smaller assembly in his small town in Hudson, NY. They all reported a cheering good spirit, upbeat communal behavior, welcoming friendly law enforcement officials, filled bleachers, and an upbeat camaraderie. My daughter-in-law, raised in London and the newest U.S. citizen in our family was touched by the experience, and energized to have been part of this very American process.

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Now what remains after people returned to their homes away from Washington, DC, is the question: how does this experience change the future? Will the energy become harnessed into a movement that changes politics? We all ponder that question, bravo to the people who are trying.

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1071 words

Ronald Goldfarb is a Washington, DC attorney, author, and literary agent. www.ronaldgoldfarb.com

Ronald Goldfarb, Goldfarb & Associates, c/o 177 Ocean Lane Dr.#1101, Key Biscayne, FL 33149-1428

305-365-9089 phone 202-361-1938 cell rlglawlit@gmail.com email

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Once a president's approval ratings drop below a threshold as it has the presidential little handbook says it is time to start a war or conflict to arouse the sheeple.