Every foreigner knows the U.S. for being the “land of the free and home of the brave”. Although the U.S. government avoids ratifying many specific human rights treaties they are still one of the top countries when it comes to upholding their citizen’s human rights. Freedom is a huge theme in America and everyone always talks about what their rights are, and they are quick to speak up when their human rights are being abused.
Maybe I should learn to speak up, too. Let me try.
Spending ten days in Ohio, I’m here to report that I’ve seen many public signs that violate basic human rights found in the U.S. Constitution. Some of them are hilarious, if you ask me. The very first Amendment, for example, is breached in most libraries across the country. How can one exercise their right to free speech when they read signs that demand ‘Library Silence’. I was shushed at in a university library the other day when trying to express a scholarly thought – not only was my right of free speech violated but in the shock of the experience robbed me of myintellectual property – that’s a double right violation right there. See what I mean? And that’s not all.
Another set of signs that violates our basic human rights begins with signs prohibiting people from littering. Every time we are not allowed to throw our burger wrapper or coffee cup on the ground because there’s a sign saying ‘Do not litter. Use the bins provided.’ we are forced to go out of our way to dispose of our trash which takes away from our precious free time and wastes our energy that could be used for more productive activities like watching TV – this sounds very much like involuntary servitude, to which the only exception is as punishment for a crime. So if you’re not a criminal, you are being cheated out of yet another human right. I protest!
Finally, it is frustrating to see signs demanding that people wash my hands with a description of how to do it – these signs that are seen most commonly in restaurants, schools and hospital bathrooms. Free people living or traveling in the land of the free should be free to choose to be dirty and bacteria-ridden if they chose so to be. Granted, I haven’t been able to find an Amendment to fit this particular crime against human rights, but I feel violated anyway. As if a bathroom door or mirror has any right to dictate any man, woman or child’s level of cleanliness. I protest again!
Then again, maybe I shouldn’t protest too much. After all, the second Amendment allows citizens to keep and bear arms…
On Monday, May 4th in 1970 some students went out to gather by the bell despite the threat of tanks on their campus and being surrounded by the National Guard. They were asked to leave for their own safety, but they didn’t move until they were attacked with tear gas. They threw tear gas canisters as well as rocks back at the armed men that were advancing towards them. Once there, several of them got down and aimed their guns at those protesters who were the bravest and most vocal. The National Guard ended up the gathering and leaving and the students believed that they had won. They didn’t get a chance to celebrate for long, because out of nowhere a group of the guard looked back at the students, turned themselves around without provocation, and began to fire.
Are We Actually Free? was originally published on an expired domain created for the Kent State and Anglo American University‘s Journalism Program sponsored by Prague Freedom Foundation that I participated in during the Winter Semester of 2014-2015.
Kent State University students thought they knew the answer to this question when they gathered on campus grounds to protest America expanding the Vietnam War to Cambodia on May 4, 1970. It was the promise and illusion of freedom that led them to fearlessly stand up to the National Guard and make demands to talk to the governor and to the president. But just like on the internet, not everything that you read on paper is 100 percent true, even when it’s written in the Constitution.
The students used their right to free speech and peaceful assembly as stated in the First Amendment as a shield against the government forces but this was not enough to protect them from tear gas and violence. The government wasn’t happy that these students, who were privileged enough to go to school on this beautiful government-funded campus, had the nerve to question and go against their political decisions.
Even though the protestors were facing violence and were treated unfairly and had their basic rights breached, they still believed that certain rights would hold up. On Monday, May 4th in 1970 some students went out to gather by the bell despite the threat of tanks on their campus and being surrounded by the National Guard. They were asked to leave for their own safety, but they didn’t move until they were attacked with tear gas.
Although the tear gas made them retreat they were not done protesting and they made this very clear. They threw tear gas canisters as well as rocks back at the armed men that were advancing towards them. The National Guard split up to chase all the students away from the grounds they had previously occupied and towards the parking lot. Once there, several of them got down and aimed their guns at those protesters who were the bravest and most vocal.
The students were taken back by such a display, but they continued protesting, believing that this was just a scare tactic and that the guns were not even loaded. The National Guard ended up the gathering and leaving and the students believed that they had won. They didn’t get a chance to celebrate for long, because out of nowhere a group of the guard looked back at the students, turned themselves around without provocation, and began to fire.
The students had no idea that the guns were loaded, and those who were too far to see and only heard had believed the sound to be of fireworks. But the sound was of death. Out of over seventy shots fired, thirteen hit victims – killing four, paralyzing one and injuring eight. None of them could have predicted that this would happen. They had false security from the words they read in their constitution and that they recited in their national anthem.
Forty years of so-called development later we see this sort of phenomenon repeat itself regularly worldwide. We hear the word democracy and we instantly feel safe without looking deeper into our situation. But we need to think and question to be able to decipher the truth. We need to be assertive individuals instead of a herd of sheep and only then will we have the ability to transform the system and create the ideal government. Freedom is more than just a state. It is ever changing and having freedom is an ongoing process that we must constantly work on in order to keep. The four students died in an attempt to regain their freedom for which we must commemorate them, and use them as inspiration to keep fighting so that we never lose ours.
This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.