Commonly heard in discourse throughout the United States is an immense pride and sense of privilege in the Constitutional right to exercise freedom of speech. When operating properly, freedom of speech gives anyone in the U.S. the right to express their opinion without censorship or restraint. To this end, the First Amendment of the Constitution asserts that “Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise or abridging the freedom of speech.”
Pride in diversity and acceptance is, perhaps, a more widely contested concept. The U.S. projects an image of welcoming more immigrants than any other country, praising diversity and respecting others, and to many U.S. citizens and residents, these values are essential. Those who consider that respect, equality and diversity are at the core of our civilization trace these principles to the language of the Constitution. And when a nation feels that its core values are being put at risk, retaliation is all but inevitable. On Jan. 21, retaliation manifested in 673 marches that took place all over the world.
The Women’s March was a worldwide protest to protect policies regarding human rights in the new Trump administration. While the phrase “human rights” in this context and many includes racial equality, LGBTQ rights, environmental protection, just immigration policy and accessible healthcare, the protests that unfolded on Jan. 21 were specifically targeted toward protecting women’s rights, which intersect with several of the forms of human rights mentioned prior. The protests aimed to tell the world that “women’s rights are human rights.” In the United States, the largest protests took place in Washington, D.C., New York City and Boston.
At the Women’s March in Boston, protesters reported feeling a sense of unity with their fellow participants. Members of the movement spoke of a desire to stand up for the shared values of a democracy among fellow citizens and chanted sayings like, “When people are united, we’ll never be defeated!” “Love, not hate, will make America great!” and “Tell me what democracy looks like–This is what democracy looks like!”
The Women’s March exemplified how citizens of the United States may exercise their right to free speech by protesting. Participants also evidenced a sense of safety in their organization; populated primarily by white women, the Women’s March in Boston received no threat of violence or suppression by law enforcement. This demonstrates a freedom often taken for granted, as globally, not all individuals have access to this protected right.
Connecticut College aimed to support student free speech by providing transportation for some students to the Women’s March in Washington, the focal point of what became an international movement. The drive to promote a women’s rights movement makes sense for Connecticut College, given that the institution was originally established as a women’s college and has only been co-ed since 1969. Of course, despite this likely correlation between values, the College remains an institution without a stated political affiliation, and did fund another group of students’ travel to Washington for Inauguration Day.
A wall in Shain Library reads, “Our freedom to say or write whatever we please in this country is holy to me. It is a rare privilege not only on this planet, but throughout the universe.” This declaration echoes the sentiments and messages voiced at the Women’s March in Boston late this January. •