Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Wednesday, April 24, 2024 75° Today's Paper

Rights of APEC protesters are not about ‘them,’ but us

I am a member of the silent majority. I am a member of Hawaii’s middle-class. I lead a comfortable life raising my children in paradise. Who could ask for more?

But I write today because I am fearful that the security measures surrounding the APEC conference will have a very harmful effect on the rights of all citizens. And what scares me the most is our indifference.

It is expected that there will be protesters in the streets while the APEC members meet. Law enforcement agencies, both federal and state, are gearing up to meet this supposed threat. Extra tear gas has been purchased, vehicles bought to transport those arrested, and court proceedings revised and moved to unusual and distant locations to "process" those arrested. Roads are scheduled to be closed and areas around the convention center designated off-limits to the public. All this while areas where American citizens can protest are severely limited and restricted. And while our law enforcement agencies ready themselves to face the menace of street protesters, these limitations on our individual liberties have been met with almost total apathy by most of us. And it is that apathy, that indifference that scares me.

The police will do what they do best. The protesters will protest — and they and their message will be crushed, distorted and ridiculed should they step a foot outside the narrow boundaries prescribed to them by our indifference. But you and I, we are being led to believe, will be safe from these horrible people, and isn’t that the only thing that matters?

And who are these protesters? They are your sons and daughters. They are you. They are us. They have always been.

We are and have always been a nation of protest. Of dissent. The Boston Massacre, widely accepted as the spark that began the American Revolution, was a street protest — the last of many held by peaceful citizens protesting against the abuses of government and the power elite. Unions were formed by years of protest against labor abuses. The Vietnam War was brought to an end largely by massive street protests.

And while conservatives often conjure up the images of our Founding Fathers and the Constitution to support "returning" to a more limited and narrow view of government and society — usually for the goal of limiting governmental oversight so that the wealthy 1 percent can have an even freer hand to do as they please — these same right-thinking people totally ignore who and why the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, were created in the first instance … and how our Founding Fathers became our Founding Fathers. Peaceful street protest, but protest nonetheless.

Our country’s entire history is based upon the concept of individual freedoms, and the core principle of those freedoms is the ability, indeed the right, to voice one’s dissent by protesting. It is who we are as a nation. It is who we are as a people. But those in power, through control of the media, control of our education system, and through the cultivation of mass indifference in the general population, mask this simple but extremely important truth. There is nothing un-American about street protests; if anything, it is the American thing to do.

I write this not to those in power, not to politicians, not to Democrats or Republicans, but to you, the silent majority — the true power in America. Spend some time learning about APEC, about why people may protest, and what your local and federal security forces and government are doing to ensure that your inherent inalienable right to protest does not become another victim of our 9/11 paranoia. For if we lose the right to protest, or it is curtailed to such a degree that it becomes meaningless and powerless, then the dreams of our Founding Fathers will truly have been lost, and we as a nation will be lost.

Alexander Silvert is a Kailua resident with more than 24 years of experience as an attorney specializing in the practice of criminal law in federal court.

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