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Our right to protest: a “fundamental aspect of American citizenship”

There is a long and venerable tradition in our culture which has helped to shape the character of this nation.  The right to protest and peacefully address grievances to our elected officials, the media, and the general public is a fundamental aspect of American citizenship.  The right to peacefully assemble to express concern about all matters of public policy is older than the formation of this country and is the foundation of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution.  When colonists felt the burden of excessive taxation during English rule, their first step as subjects of the rule of law of England was to address their concerns to the magistrates and officials of their day.  The very act of expressing dissent is a hallmark of an engaged community.

I have just returned from two weeks of expressing dissent to the leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties.  My activities, along with those of thousands of other peaceful protesters was aimed at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado and the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota.  As a candidate who is committed to peace and ending war, I hold both major parties accountable for the hundreds of billions of our taxpayer dollars which have been wasted on war and the senseless killing which has taken place in the name of my alleged freedom.  As a citizen, I am outraged at the continuation of policies which have taken the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis and I hold the leadership of both major parties responsible for this state of affairs.

What I encountered in Denver and especially in St. Paul has shaken the faith of my belief in government.  I have always believed that the role of protest was crucial to the American dialogue, and that dissent was tolerated in this country, although not always supported.  I understand the resistance to change and the fear that dissenters create in the general public.  We have always been only marginally tolerated, from the times of the American revolution to the abolitionists to the suffragists to the unionists, dissenters have always taken risks, but the rewards of their efforts have been to the benefit of all Americans, whether it be the right to vote, the forty hour work week, the end of slavery or the very creation of this country, dissent has always played a fundamental role in the creation of those rights.

In St. Paul, Minnesota, during the week of September 1st-4th the right to protest and peacefully assemble was greatly impinged upon by local, state and federal officials.  It was also greatly diminished in Denver, Colorado but to a lesser extent.  At the Republican National Convention protests I personally witnessed peaceful protesters demonstrating against war being beaten by police, nearly trampled by horses, dispersed with tear gas and concussion grenades, and everywhere treated as dangerous criminals and as a threat to the government.  I participated in a march led by mothers with children in strollers that was blockaded on several occasions by national guard troops in full paramilitary gear.  I witnessed homeless people marching for the right to housing being dispersed by security police in riot gear wearing gas masks and carrying beating sticks that were in excess of two feet long.  I witnessed journalists and legal observers rounded up by the police and detained prior to mass arrests of hundreds.

A government that cannot tolerate the dissent of its citizens is a terrible burden upon freedom and democracy.  The right to dissent plays a healthy, vital role in the national dialogue.  It is only through dissent that we can often see the ugly face of actions which the wealthy and powerful would prefer to remain hidden.  The victims of war deserve to be heard and the rights of the people should not be infringed upon by any force to express their dissent from policies which are morally abhorrent.  It is my sincere hope that I never again witness state, local and federal police and security officials engaging in violent and intimidating gestures against the citizens they are suppose to be protecting and whose rights it is their responsibility to protect.

As a candidate for federal office I do not and will not support such excessive use of force and the wasteful spending of tens of millions of dollars in order to intimidate and suppress dissent.  I will support the active and engaged expression of the concerns of citizens which is the hallmark of the democratic process.

For more information and archival coverage of the DNC and RNC protests please visit:


Chris Lugo
Chris Lugohttp://www.chris4senate.org/
Chris Lugo is a peace activist who has been involved in the movement for peace and global justice for twenty years. He is currently seeking the Green Party nomination for US Senate in Tennessee.


  1. You make a very valid point. Protest was vital in the founding of this nation. The current power structure has manipulated the American mind to view protest as something unnatural and un-American. The truth is it is the most natural political thing an American can do.

    As a society and a people need to remember some words of wisdom: “Criticism in the time of war is essential to the maintenance of any kind of democratic gov’t. ” Robert A. Taft, US Senator (R-OH) Senate Speech, 1942.

    “The key to security is public information.” Margaret Chase Smith, US Congresswoman/Senator, Reader’s Digest- March 1972.

    But most relevant to today’s situation:
    “Men in authority will always think that criticism of their policies is dangerous. They will always equate their policies with patriotism, and find criticism subversive.
    Henry Steele Commager

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