The First Amendment in action

Between the protest and counter-protest occurring on T-Hall lawn yesterday (and continuing today), any number of memorable images and spoken phrases could emerge to stick in the minds of passersby: The enormous graphic posters featuring pictures of aborted fetuses beside those of holocaust victims, the passionate counter-protesters waving “honk for choice” signs at passing cars, the student rushing past the display, holding up a book in an attempt to shield the images from her view.

But after speaking with people on both sides of the proverbial fence and literal barricade placed there by the police, what stuck in my mind the most were the words not of a protestor, counter-protestor, or passerby, but those of a neutral observer. This is not to say I was not moved by the conviction of activists on both sides of this issue, but merely that one man’s observation struck me as the most interesting commentary about the events unfolding before us.

In addition to the passionate students expressing their views on abortion and those confused and curious onlookers, many members of the University of New Hampshire Police were present in case things got out of hand. Approaching one of them, I asked how it had been going so far. UNH Police Chief Paul Dean replied that things had been pretty calm, but acknowledged that there was still plenty of time for things to heat up as the day wore on. We paused, and looked on in silence for a moment.

“This is the raw first amendment,” he said.

Yes, yes it is. As offensive as many find the use of these gruesome images to be, it is absolutely the right of those with the Genocide Awareness Project to freely express their views, just as it is undeniably the right of those who disagree to protest against them. Many question whether using such images is an effective use of GAP’s right to free speech, considering that both pro-choice and anti-abortion activists have voiced opposition to their methods, and still more would question whether the GAP protestors truly comply with university policy in that they are not supposed to create a disturbance.

However, these questions aside, they are undoubtedly creating a buzz. All day, in the dining hall, in classrooms, on sidewalks and in dorms, people were talking about it. As members of a demographic that is constantly criticized for being unengaged and apathetic about modern issues, often with abysmal representation in the polls, I think this dialogue, however heated, is a positive thing. For all the negative emotions that the GAP display may generate, the fact that we’re all talking about it is great.

The New Hampshire University of New Hampshire U-Wire