A truck with a digital display advocating school vouchers parked itself yesterday in front of the home of Democratic Texas State Representative Philip Cortez of San Antonio.
The picture above is of the truck as Tweeted out by the Texas journalist Scott Braddock. Mr. Braddock used the word "harass" in describing what the people with the truck or the people paying for the truck were doing regarding Rep. Cortez.
Many might agree with Mr. Braddock that protesting at the home of public officials is harassment. Fine.
At the same time, it is a First Amendment protected activity. There have been, for example, many protests outside the Houston home of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. That type truck you see in the picture has been sent to Senator Cruz's house.
I'm not saying it is a good or a bad idea. I'm not encouraging or discouraging such protests. I'm just making the point that it is legal and it is our right.
I question Mr. Braddock terming a First Amendment protected activity as harassment. Mr. Braddock appears to view Rep. Cortez as wronged by being the subject of the protest. Mr. Braddock should be mindful of calling First Amendment freedoms into question in a state run by authoritarians. It is journalists and those most concerned with civil liberties who will end up with curtailed rights while the far-right proceeds unimpeded.
It's likely Rep. Cortez was annoyed by the protest. You can't blame him. But it is not the role of elected officials to define how to protest. I've been to many protests in Houston. Democratic Party run cities send a lot police to peaceful protests. Political establishments are reflexively wary of autonomous political actions. The right way to peacefully protest is up to each of us. Elected officials have access to state violence and state power to arrest. We don't.
I've written here that I'm part of a weekly protest outside the office of Senator John Cornyn. We've been out there for 347 weeks and going strong. We are on the sidewalk out in front of the building where his office is located. Below is a picture of Week 347. There have been many complaints to police about this peaceful and law-abiding group. We've seen a lot of cops. What has kept police from ending the protest or hassling us all the time is the First Amendment.
Whatever your view of protesting at people's homes, be hesitant to disparage a right you might someday need. The First Amendment demands aggressive protection. Elected officials and Austin insiders are not a reliable judge of our freedoms. They are more consistent judges of their own self-interest.
In an authoritarian situation, there is plenty reason to imagine that a more privileged or connected class will look for outcomes separate from those inflicted on rank & file citizens and on the most marginalized. Mr. Braddock had every opportunity to mention the First Amendment aspect of the protest at Rep. Cortez's home while still calling the action dumb and unnecessary. His focus though was on the inconvenience to the elected official.
Don't willingly give up any rights. 18 months from now there could be a Trump Justice Department along with Ken Paxton as Attorney General of Texas. Don't cede an inch of freedom. If you don't want to protest at the home of an elected official--then don't. If you think the practice is bad--then say so. But recall that people in power or connected to power are rarely out front when most needed. Our freedom is up to each of us.
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I'm Neil Aquino