Five for Friday: Putting First Things First

In this very special Five for Friday, on a day when so much is at stake and so much uncertainty is to come, we ask you to put First things first--the First Amendment, that is. The First Amendment provides five primary protections. Here's how each is being threatened, what's being done to protect it, and some ways you can help.

I'd like to give my thanks to the wonderful Larry Bachman (may he rest in peace) for ingraining SPARP on my brain. SPARP is a catchy mnemonic device for remembering the essential protections of our First Amendment: Speech, Press, Assembly, Religion, and Petition. We'd all do well to keep these in the front of our brain as we head into a fraught four years.

  1. Speech - Free speech is probably the part of the amendment you think of first when you think of good ol' 1A. It's a mixed bag because it protects the worst kind of bigotry along with ensuring an individual or organization can speak out for what's right without fear of persecution. We here at Apparatus support everyone's right to be offensive and offended. If you use your First Amendment rights to be the former, be prepared for us to use ours to tell you why we're the latter. How it's threatened: Where to begin? What's being done: The ACLU is the best example of an organization that monitors and protects free speech. They're a watchdog and action-dog (if such a thing exists) whose name has become synonymous with protecting one of our quintessential freedoms.

  2. Press - Never before has the freedom of the press to report and publish both facts and opinions been more important or more under attack. The freedom of the press is the difference between free society and autocracy. It is the backbone of an informed populace, the means by which citizens gain the knowledge and platform necessary to hold the government accountable. If single party control of all three branches of the federal government plus the erosion of federalism trigger a constitutional crisis, our ability to know its coming rests with the press. How it's threatened: This election (and the aftermath including right up to last week's press conference) has been plagued by fake news and "fake news." There have been both rightful and wrongful accusations about what's real and what's not and it's approaching somewhat of a fever pitch as the next administration moves into 1600.The President Elect calling a recognized news agency fake in the White House Press Room because he was having a tantrum about it rightly reporting facts is a pretty good example. What's being done: News agencies are fighting back. Slate says it refuses to normalize Donald Trump. CNN and Buzzfeed have all but taken off the gloves in order to come out swinging against accusations of their fakeness. NYT and Vanity Fair have basked in being on DT's bad side. Even Fox news stepped up to defend its competitor. That said, we should not forget that mainstream media has and will continue to perpetuate bias of the white privileged nature. It remains critically important to read and support news and media produced by people of color.

  3. Religion - One of the founding principles of the United States was to be a place of refuge from religious persecution. Over our history, we've attracted immigrants from around the world who are seeking a safe place to live in their faith. How it's threatened: Most notably during the election cycle was the discussion of targeting and limiting the rights of Muslims as a way to combat extremism. Ideas have been bandied about including lists, limited visas, border control (to keep out would-be immigrants as well as our neighbors), it goes on. Additionally, there's the rhetoric of America, despite its constitution saying otherwise, is a "Christian" country that needs to put its Christian ideals at the fore-front. This concept can already be seen in some of the early fights unfolding to defund Planned Parenthood and to bring someone in to run our Department of Education who wants to "advance God's Kingdom". What's being done: Southern Poverty Law Center's project, Teaching Tolerance, is tackling this freedom and helping educate Americans on their rights and protections.

  4. Petition - The most elusive of the First Amendment guarantees, in my opinion, is the right to petition. (The Bill of Rights Institute offers some court case summaries to help elucidate.) Essentially, this is the freedom to gather signatures in order to show representatives you have support for what you want them to do. It also, importantly, paves the way for lobbying. How it's threatened: There's never any guarantee that an elected official will take a petition into consideration; however, like anyone, they're likely to be swayed to at least listen when a groundswell of constituents asks for help. Obama's White House probably had the most reputable petition system (it verified email addresses and promised to get the President's consideration if it passed X signatures) but I would venture it's unlikely to remain as such. What's being done: A lot. Constituents are calling their Congresspeople like never before. A former staffer posted a how-to that went viral shortly after the election. There are organized calling, letter-writing, and protesting events that are popping up every other day. I've signed my fair share of petitions but nothing beats picking up the phone and telling your representative-- who represents you--what you think.

  5. Assembly - The right to assemble is one I've been thinking about a lot this week, particularly coming off Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this Monday. The right to assemble is pretty straightforward: a group of people may come together to promote, defend, or otherwise express support for an idea. How it's threatened: Assembling, especially on a large scale, requires a certain amount of bureaucracy. Limiting permits, adding complexity, ordering officials to retire while their teams will be protecting citizens, and finding new ways to say 'no' is an easy way to limit organized, large-scale assemblies (or worse, allow them to become unsafe). *Important note: Making it difficult does not mean the right goes away. ACLU has a good summary of how groups can still assemble without a permit. What's being done: Tomorrow, millions of people will assemble across the country to show our shared belief that women's rights are human rights, and that we fight together for the most marginalized among us. The Women's March on Washington will take place alongside marches happening in cities throughout the country and beyond. The Apparatus team is proud to assemble alongside marchers in both St. Paul, MN and Washington, D.C. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or our new Instagram page as we document our day, and follow us here as we document the ongoing fight.

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