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  • Writer's pictureDouglas James Troxell

The illusion of Free Speech

If you told me five years ago that millionaire athletes kneeling during a song would become a symbol of First Amendment rights in America, I would have been like, "Uhhh...what?"

And yet here we are.

What started with a second-string quarterback kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police violence against POC has blossomed into a national conversation on first amendment rights. It doesn't help that the President of the United States is calling people who protest "sons of bitches." Typically people don't like that and will then do the opposite of what you want them to do.

This is nothing new. The question of free speech was buried in the foundation of our nation. Hell, it's the FIRST amendment. It was so important it got top billing over all the other amendments. Even guns had to take a backseat to free speech! The problem with free speech is the same today as it was at the beginning. It's an illusion. A fallacy. A mirage.

No one understood this more than my personal hero, Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau popularized non-violent protests in America in his famous work, Civil Disobedience. He inspired non-violent protesters throughout history including Martin Luther King Jr. and even Gandhi. He refused to pay his taxes in protest of the Spanish-American War and ended up in jail because of it. What Thoreau understood was that actions have consequences. Freedom of speech gives one the right to say anything one wants, but that freedom doesn't come consequence-free.

Colin Kaepernick, the original kneeler, is no longer employed by the NFL. Why? Because he's a sub-par quarterback? No. It's because of his protest. 100%. No doubt. And that's the Catch-22 of freedom of speech. NOTHING is free. He's paying the price for his actions. Just as Trump paid for his "sons of bitches" comment. He was free to say it and the NFL owners and players certainly reacted. Trump ended up expanding the protest far beyond anything it would have reached on its own (even if its meaning is convoluted and unclear now). Every action comes with an equal or greater re-action. Words have consequences. Actions, too. That is a truth we can never escape.

Writers have always known this. They are the keepers of words, the keepers of Truth. That's why today, more than ever, the written word must remain sacred. In the era of "alternative facts," the Truth needs a sanctuary but only the words can reside there, not the writer. The writer will always be subject to the slings and arrows of the mob.

Now excuse me while I take a knee...

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