The power and beauty of the First Amendment’s protections of free speech, public assembly and the right to petition our government will be on full display at the state Capitol today as the debate continues over immigration policy.
Immigration reform advocates are scheduled to repeat their 2006 march from Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix to Wesley Bolin Plaza. If all goes according to plan, they will be greeted by immigration enforcement supporters who will be serving apple pie and ice cream at a counter rally. Side by side, the two groups will make their arguments to state policy makers and to the rest of Arizona through the media that will be on hand.
As the Tribune’s Sarah N. Lynch reported Monday, organizers of the immigration march expect only a 10th of the 100,000 people who filled Phoenix streets in April 2006 to show their support for changes in immigration laws that would allow more foreign workers to legally enter the U.S. and recognize millions who reside here illegally but otherwise haven’t harmed anyone. Of course, some of these organizers have woefully underestimated turnout for other, similar events, so Phoenix officials need to be prepared this time to handle larger crowds, if necessary.
Meanwhile, past counter-protests by those who want strict enforcement of current immigration laws have been rather small. But these activists are more organized this time and are pushing two new initiatives for the 2008 ballot, so it’s likely they will attract a bigger crowd as well.
Previous behavior of the various groups behind these two political demonstrations gives us every reason to believe today’s events will live up to the true spirit of American democracy on display. The protesters will be loud, they will be passionate, they will chant and sing and make speeches and pray. Some of their arguments will be wise and powerful; some of their statements will be inane and illogical.
But they will, or at least they should, be peaceful and be respectful of public and private property as well of each other, even when they know with all of their hearts that the other side is absolutely wrong.
One of this country’s strongest traditions is a boisterous clash of ideas about how our society is governed. Many of the debates take place these days in forums our founders never dreamed of: direct mail fliers, radio waves and television studios, Web chat rooms and blogs.
However, as long as we remain loyal to the First Amendment, there always will be a place for marches and rallies in the public square, on the steps of town hall and to the state Capitol grounds.