5 Ways to Fight for Your Rights (That Don’t Break the Law and Get You Arrested)
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By Sadie Rothman
There’s been quite a bit of upset in the news lately, and some of it for good reason. When people feel their rights are being infringed upon, it’s natural to find yourself somewhere on the scale between miffed and furious. But what’s great about this country is that we have the right to protest and a right to free speech. We can speak our minds about those things that have us angry, and we can even take action. Unfortunately, sometimes passion gets the better of us and our constructive protesting turns into destructive law-breaking, which can land a well-meaning demonstrator to the slammer. Here are some suggestions on how to exercise your right to dissent while staying out of jail.
1. Recently, activist Mona Eltahawy, took action against some pretty offensive signage in the New York Subway, armed with spray paint. I’m with you, Mona: ads calling Muslims savages are not okay with me either. The issue is this: the American Freedom Defense Initiative, creators and proponents of these signs, went through all the right channels to get them legally posted in ten stations around the New York Subway. As such, when Mona painted over them, she was inarguably defacing public property. Alternative option: Organize a teach-in. Mona (and friends!) could have stood near these offending signs, offering explanations for why they are harmful and degrading. Sometimes educating people on why something needs to be protested is the most effective protest of all.
2. A petition could have been a useful tool in this case, and others. A petition is like a sit-in without actually sitting, and therefore without the possibility of being arrested for any number of reasons, from disturbing the peace to trespassing. The recent past has seen great success with petitions. It was thanks to this protesting tool that Bank of America recalled its plan to instate a new $5/month banking fee, among many other victories. The website change.org is a great tool for promoting a petition.
3. Another option would be to boycott public transit. It may be inconvenient, but no more inconvenient than finding yourself incarcerated. And if you can inspire enough people to join you, protests like boycotts can be incredible powerful and effective.
4. Broadening the scope a bit, if you’re looking to be an active and engaged citizen, one of the greatest things you can do is write your local representative. Find out who your representative is and how to best reach him/her here.
5. Last but not least, if you’re finding that your rights as a humanist are being encroached upon, contact the American Humanist Association. Our legal center provides legal assistance to defend the constitutional rights of humanists, atheists and the non-religious. We encourage you to be vigilant when it comes to supporting your rights and freedoms and to report any violations against those rights and freedoms to us.
Do you have more ideas for ways to peacefully protest or otherwise stand up for what’s right? Leave thoughts and suggestions in the comments.
Sadie Rothman is the field coordinator for the American Humanist Association.