A First Amendment Primer (Since Some of Y’all Are Confused)

A First Amendment Primer (Since Some of Y’all Are Confused)

The number of adult humans who don’t understand how the First Amendment works and what censorship truly looks like is sad, astounding, and expected all as the same time. This isn’t a Millennials/Gen Z problem, nor is it a Boomer problem (us Gen Xers are doing just fine…no we’re not). This lack of ability to grasp the First Amendment’s meaning and application spans every living generation in the United States. I can’t even blame poor schooling for this. People from public and private schools, from Ivy League and State universities are all spouting off right now about how Donald trump’s de-platforming is somehow “censorship” and a violation of his free speech. I HATED Social Studies in school. It was the most boring class at all levels of my education, in all the forms it took. And STILL, I understand exactly what the First Amendment says, means, and how it applies (or at least SHOULD apply) to my life in this country. So since you possibly didn’t comprehend what you should have learned in your 7th grade Civics class, let us break down what the First Amendment, what it entails, and what censorship actually looks like.

The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States says:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

In a nutshell, this means worship how you like, say what you like, write what you like, assemble how you like. You are not barred from that. You are even allowed to say negative things, whether It’s about Steve across the street or about the government. All of that is protected under the First Amendment.

HOWEVER, your free expression ENDS when it infringes on another person’s ability to freely express. The most common (boring) example is yelling, “FIRE”, in a crowded theatre when there is no fire. Doing that infringes on the rest of the audience’s ability to enjoy the show, it potentially sows panic in the crowd, and it could potentially kill someone as the panicked crowd tries to escape the theatre. By yelling “FIRE”, you just infringed on about 100 people’s own First Amendment rights.

Another example is negative speech. If I hate my neighbor Steve, I can express that hate. But the second I try to stop Steve from living his life, or if I tell others to infringe on Steve’s right to live his life, I not only have I crossed the boundary of my own free speech, but I have also infringed on Steve’s

PROTECTED SPEECH: Steve sucks.

NOT PROTECTED SPEECH: I am going to kill Steve, because he sucks.

PROTECTED SPEECH: Hey guys, we all think Steve sucks, right?

NOT PROTECTED SPEECH: Hey guys, let’s burn down Steve’s house, because he sucks.

PROTECTED SPEECH: Niggers are lower beings and don’t deserve the same opportunities.

NOT PROTECTED SPEECH: Let’s go punish those niggers for taking opportunities.

PROTECTED SPEECH: This election is a sham, and I don’t recognize it.

NOT PROTECTED SPEECH: I encourage you to drive to the Capitol and block Congress from certifying this election that I don’t recognize.

This is truly not difficult, but I will admit that there are grey areas that people exploit all the time. White supremacists Don Black and David Duke would use ambivalent language when inciting violence to get away with saying the most vile things about non-white people. They would use terms like “If only someone would…”, and “Someone should…”, and then when someone would commit a hate crime after listening to them, they had plausible deniability. Even trump did this during his campaign. He would “reminisce” about how if someone disrupted a speech or conference back in the day, they would leave the conference in a stretcher. Interestingly, the most prescient example of such a disruption was the Madison Square Garden nazi rally of 1939, where a Jewish detractor tried to rush the stage and was beaten by participants and the police. Not much has changed.

It is solely the government’s job to prosecute people who incite violence through speech. No private company has that responsibility, but sometimes a company may be viewed liable for enabling the violence, if not by the government, then by the public, who may not consume their product if they don’t like it. Since they are private entities, they can make their own rules about what is and is not okay to on their products. So trump was not “censored” when he lost his Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Spotify, Youtube, Google, Pinterest, Reddit, and Twitch (???) access. None of these are government entities. Trump has a whole room in the White House where he can say anything he wants to say publicly, and the press will broadcast it. Of course, most press agencies are private, too, so if they choose to not show up and record him, that is their choice. If you would like to see what ACTUAL censorship looks like, look at France, that explicitly prohibits hate speech of any kind, or Germany, who prohibits the display of ANY nazi symbolism and makes Holocaust denial illegal speech. I am completely fine with those limits on speech, but if you don’t like that, then you don’t have to go to those countries.

I hopefully have not lost you. The First Amendment is really a simple rule and concept. Speech is still free in America. You can say anything you want to say. You cannot expect to say everything you want to say and be absolved of people or companies reacting to what you said. If I say something publicly that my boss does not like, I might get fired. Thanks to excessive relaxing of union and labor laws over the last 20 years, that ironically most people claiming “censorship” now heralded, it is even easier for an employer to fire someone, too. Your private company is not obligated to provide you a job.

Speaking of private businesses, a lot of the anti-discrimination laws of the 1960s and ‘70s were opposed by people who claimed that they would violate a business owner’s right to free speech. This line was backed by people like rabid segregationist strom thurmond and jesse helms, and even religious leaders like bob jones and jerry falwell used this to claim that forcing companies to comply with anti-segregation and anti-discrimination laws was a violation of company owners’ “freedom of religion”. Until recently, those arguments were shouted down (barely), as it was established that segregation and discrimination negatively affects the target’s own right to live freely. Today, though, “freedom of religion” is the excuse people use to deny LGBTQ folks THEIR rights. And the excuse is, “Well they are private companies”. However, unless the cake is laced with cyanide, there is no way baking a cake would impinge on anyone’s rights.

If you would like to see what an actual violation of free speech is, please look at the number of times rap lyrics are submitted as evidence in court trials. Men and women are being prosecuted for violent crimes and their fictional words are being used against them, and they are being convicted, despite no real tangible evidence of them committing any crime. Also there is the case of Rakem Balogun, A man who was labeled a “Black Identity Extremist” by the FBI and jailed after posting an unsavory comment on Facebook about a dead cop. These are times that free speech is ACTUALLY violated. Twitter isn’t prosecuting these cases; the US government is. Interestingly, the folks claiming “censorship” today are deafeningly silent about this.

If this is truly about censorship from private entities, then I cannot recall when the “censorship” folks today spoke up about the censorship of Black and Brown folks and Women and Queer folks when they would speak up about violent racism or sexual assault or queerphobia. And most of the time they were relaying things people actually said and/or did to them. How is it that the screenshots of a person threatening one’s life yields a ban, yet the person doing the threatening faces no consequences?

As I said, the First Amendment is quite simple (despite me taking 1,000 words to say it, and a great rule, despite the cost of hate speech existing. The good thing is that the hate can be freely ignored, and no one owes the hateful speaker a platform. They can provide their own soapbox. Also, when the hate speech leans violent, the freedom of it ends. Even New York State understood that when they still allow confederate flags but banned display of nooses even on private property, because a confederate flag says, “I am a racist who likely doesn’t know my history”, but a noose says, “I am going to kill someone, probably a Black guy”.

I will say, it is not lost on me that most of the people I see making claims of censorship and free speech violations are straight white males. Not saying they weren’t in the same Social Studies and Civics classes that I was. Maybe they aced the class. However, maybe you subconsciously know that the rules have always been flexible for them.

About Chris Thompson

(he/his/him) Chris Thompson is an engineer, writer, comedian, and activist who made Rochester, New York his home in 2008. In addition to his role as Contributor for 540Blog he currently writes and regularly posts on his own on Instagram and Twitter at @ChronsOfNon. Chris is also a regular contributor for Rochester City Newspaper. His blog is http://www.chroniclesofnonesense.com

Still thinking about how you can practice antiracism in your every day life? 

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1) Join our growing membership base at patreon.com/540wmain
2) Contribute to our ongoing annual fund at rally.org/540wmain

  1. Visit our blog for over 700 social justice focused posts from our Founding Director, contributing writer Chris Thompson, and various guest writers.
  2. Check out our on-demand class library to learn about structural racism, environmental justice, and more.

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All The Books I Read in 2020

All The Books I Read in 2020

This has been quite the year to say the least. Between navigating a global pandemic, sheltering in place, living and working from home, and trying to balance emotional and mental health amidst a sea of bad news and civil unrest. Reading and consuming content has in many respects been a source of escape and solace during these unprecedented times. For those of you that know me personally, you know that I love reading in all of its forms. Hardcover books, paperback books, magazines, articles, essays, memoirs, e-books, audiobooks, podcasts, papers, pdfs and so much more. Most of books I consumed this year came in the form of nonfiction with memoirs being a top choice. This list includes the books I read (or listened to) over the course of the year. Are there titles from this list that you read as well? What were your favorite books you read this year? Let me know in the comment section and join us in 2021 for our member-only book discussions.

The List:

  1. High On The Hog: A Culinary Journey From Africa to America | Jessica B. Harris
  2. The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health: Navigate an Unequal System, Learn Tools for Emotional Wellness, and Get the Help You Deserve | Dr. Rheeda Walker
  3. Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents | Lindsay C. Gibson, PhD
  4. White Negroes: When Cornrows Were In Vogue…And Other Thoughts On Cultural Appropriation | Lauren Michele Jackson
  5. Everything’s Trash But It’s Ok | Phoebe Robinson
  6. The Meaning of Mariah Carey | Mariah Carey with Michaela Angela Davis
  7. I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying: Essays | Bassey Ikpi
  8. What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays | Damon Young
  9. Heavy: An American Memoir | Kiese Laymon
  10. All Boys Aren’t Blue : A Memoir Manifesto | George M. Johnson
  11. Dying of Whiteness: How The Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland | Dr. Jonathan M. Metzel
  12. I Don’t Want to Die Poor: Essays | Michael Arceneux
  13. The Water Dancer | Ta-Nehisi Coates
  14. Razor Rocks | Toby Neal
  15. How to Be An Antiracist | Ibram X. Kendi
About Calvin Eaton

(he/his/him) Calvin Eaton is a disabled community educator, content creator, and social entrepreneur, whose area of expertise includes antiracism, equity, justice, instructional design, and program development. In 2016 Mr. Eaton founded 540WMain, Inc. a virtual non-profit organization and antiracist education brand that promotes justice for all. The organization encourages individuals to broaden their horizons and learn more about multidisciplinary issues and topics that impact the world. 

Still thinking about how you can practice antiracism in your every day life? 

Your support goes directly to providing new, dynamic & affordable class content, the planning of a rigorous antiracism facilitation training program, and costs associated with maiking all of our classes Deaf accessible with ASL interpreters.

1) Join our growing membership base at patreon.com/540wmain
2) Contribute to our ongoing annual fund at rally.org/540wmain

  1. Visit our blog for over 700 social justice focused posts from our Founding Director, contributing writer Chris Thompson, and various guest writers.
  2. Check out our on-demand class library to learn about structural racism, environmental justice, and more.

Knowledge is power, educate yourself with 540WMain

The Pandemic Exposed All the Inequities & We Still Got It Wrong by Claire Labrosa

The Pandemic Exposed All the Inequities & We Still Got It Wrong

March 2020, the shutdown comes to Rochester.

 

The great equalizer. We are all in the same storm. The memes circulate. Thank you health care workers for being on the front lines, thank you essential workers, we see you, we thank you for your service. Thank you educators for your flexibility. Thank yous all around. Then reality. We are in the same storm, but we aren’t in the same ship. We never have been. 97% of kids in Penfield have homes, have computers, have internet, have breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 97% of the kids in the RCSD live in poverty. It’s been this way for decades.

Suddenly, it’s Fall 2020. Back to school. But only the wealthy can afford to do it safely. The storm turns into a sprinkle for those kids. They hired more teachers, more subs, bought more buses, installed fancy air cleaners. The RCSD laid off hundreds of educators and support staff. The storm turns into a blizzard for the kids in the city, the conditions are hazardous. 

Outsiders and the privileged few who are shielded from most dangers see that something isn’t right. This isn’t fair they say! Like they just opened their eyes to the unfairness that has been here all along. Get those kids back in their classrooms! Then it will be fair! 

 

But…

 

What about the buildings? Old and crumbling 

 

What about the classrooms? Crowded and understaffed 

 

What about our students? Their families? Essential, front liners, at risk 

 

Nearly ALL children who have died from covid are Black or brown. Nearly ALL children in the RCSD are Black or brown.

 

How do we make this fair? Is it putting our students, already at risk because they live in a country that has undervalued them forever, into a classroom that is inherently less safe than the one in Penfield? 

 

Could we demand, all of us, from Penfield to Brighton, to the city and beyond for equity? For the funding to make it safer? For money for families to stay home if they feel that is safest? 

 

No. We didn’t. Addressing inequity is hard. Pretending all things will be equal if the children are just able to be in their classrooms again? That’s easy. 

 

As easy as it’s ever been to ignore the poverty, the racism, the injustice that lives right beyond a border. 

 

No, just stick them back in their classrooms again, and it will all be okay. We can go back to pretending like all things are equal. But they aren’t, and they won’t be, until everyone wakes up and realizes that the fight is about much more than who is in a classroom during a pandemic.

About Claire Labrosa

 

(she/her/hers) Claire Labrosa is an English as a New Language teacher in the Rochester City School District, and a founding member of the Rochester Organization of Rank and File Educators (RORE) a social justice caucus in the RTA. Claire is a lifelong Rochester resident, a graduate of the RCSD, and a passionate advocate for equitable and fully funded public education.

Still thinking about how you can practice antiracism in your every day life? 

Your support goes directly to providing new, dynamic & affordable class content, the planning of a rigorous antiracism facilitation training program, and so much more. 

1) Join our growing membership base at patreon.com/540wmain
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A Tale of Two Protests by Chris Thompson

A Tale of Two Protests 

Yesterday the 6th day of January in the year 2021,  I spent the entire day seeing the United States of America’s hypocrisy on full display domestically in the most explosive fashion I have ever seen. Not happy with the Presidential election results, hordes of Trump supporters descended upon Washington, DC, the day that Congress is to tally the results of the electoral college state-by-state, and officially certify that Joe Biden will be out next President. Fueled by false claims of voter fraud and outright vitriol, they crowded the National Mall. Then they got belligerent, and tore down fences meant to keep them a safe distance away from the Capitol as Congress conducted business. Then they broke into the Capitol, some reaching the Dias, some invading congress people’s offices. They did this with near impunity, with only a few people outside getting a hint of pepper spray as they continued to break the law. This is a group tantrum that will cost people’s lives by the end of it. It is hard to not make comparisons to things like the New York City Draft Riots when looking at the chaos unfold.

I am sure that people will compare these today’s gatherings and those of the summer and claim that they are the same. They are large groups of people, angry at what they perceive is an injustice, angry to the point that they are willing to disrupt daily business. They are angry enough that they will speak directly and loudly to an elected official. Isn’t that what protest is, after all? It is not meant to be convenient. No one calls City Hall and asks the administrator what time would be good for them to occupy its steps. Both of these protests became violent. Property was destroyed. People were coming to blows. So this is just the other side expressing some anger, right?

Since May (and really, all my life), I have been protesting injustice as much and my mind could take it. Even a global pandemic would not hinder me from standing up for my rights and demanding equality after America showed that despite a global pandemic, It would find a way to murder Black men, women and children in the street, and the killers would go free. First it was Ahmad Aubery, then Breonna Taylor, then Tony McDade, then George Floyd. America would not stop killing us. We were sick of it, and we marched. We sang, We yelled. We cried. We demanded that the city and country do better by us, the taxpayers. Then in Rochester we learned of Daniel Prude, who was killed in the street, naked, with a bag over his head, as police officers stood by and laughed about it. We marched some more. Yelled some more. Cried some more. For our efforts, I got a face full of pepper pellets, tear gassed, and crushed under the boots of police in full riot gear. For marching. And that was just on my birthday. I got off easy, though. All I got were some respiratory spasms and an acute case of anxiety. Many were arrested and hit with felony charges, poisoned from the tear gas and pepper pellets, beaten and bludgeoned and bruised by batons and projectiles that were supposedly not rubber bullets, if we are to believe what the Rochester police say. Remember, this was the response to us marching. Most of the time we didn’t even make it to our destination. The police blocked whole streets armed and ready for war. For marching for equality.

The group in DC is marching, too. But they are marching because they are not happy with the results of the most fair and monitored election in the nation’s history, and that is saying something, because try as they might, many southern and Midwestern states tried to tip the scales as much as they could. The group in DC is marching because they refuse to admit that their candidate lost by 5 million votes, that even the southern state of Georgia turned blue. They are mad, and their losing candidate has been fueling their fire since November, disseminating conspiracy theories and outright lies about the election, encouraging people to rise up against this fictional injustice. Well, they are rising up, punch drunk off of whistleblown vitriol and plain bigotry, ready to hang an elected official if they can…I’m not exaggerating. Someone brought a noose. They got all the way to the Capitol steps, and inside the building. A few people were hit with pepper spray, but they were mostly unscathed.

Do not compare these protests. We are not the same. Their cause is to overturn a fair election that they didn’t like. Our cause was to exist in peace. In our ranks, we had Black pastors, LGBTQ activist groups, Women’s liberation groups, Latinx allies, disability rights groups, housing rights advocates. In DC, they have Proud Boys, a known white supremacist group, confederate flag wavers, right wing militias, outright neo-nazis, Boogaloo Boys. We came wearing masks and tried our best to keep our distance from each other, to protect each other from the virus that had already killed some of our loved ones. Many in DC didn’t wear masks, because the sources of election vitriol also told them the pandemic that had killed so many didn’t exist. We were armed with picket signs that aired our grievances. Though some in DC had signs, some also came with firearms and improvised explosive devices, ready and willing to inflict pain on those who would go against them. When we marched, city officials attempted to placate us with flowery words, but then they sicced the police on us like they were hungry dogs and we were fresh cuts of meat. When they marched, they were invited by the president to come and disrupt the fair counting of the election he lost. He invited the violence that occurred today. When we donned gas masks and padding to protect us from the blows of the police officers we protested, we were labeled as “looking for trouble”. When the DC protesters, descended on the Mall in surplus army gear, they were hardly stopped by police, and some even took selfies with them on their way ro ransack the Capitol. We. Are. Not. The. Same.

I’m sure someone will try to bring up the violence and the property damage that occurred during summer’s protests. They will leave out the part where no violence occurred until the police started shooting us and gassing us. I don’t condone any of the violence that occurred during the summer, but I wholeheartedly understand how someone so frustrated, so beaten down by this system, so powerless would lash out. Beside that, despite the lies that the local police said about protesters throwing frozen water bottles and bricks at them being taken as truth, a lot of the people who initiated the property damage were exposed as outside actors, be they undercover cops or white supremacists. Or both.  So we didn’t even make it to our destination, yet the DC protesters danced inside the Capitol.

I am taken aback today. It is not because of the deafening silence to the right wing detractors who have been berating Black Lives Matter activists and applauding violent overturning of the government if Trump didn’t win the election. It is not because Proud Boys and other wannabe nazis got away with carrying bombs and guns into the nation’s capital and destroyed things with barely a slap on the wrist from law enforcement officials. It is not because some people disingenuously called for calm, even though they’ve been feeding the public lies about the election, demonized Black Lives Matter, and dismissed the threat of COVID-19. I’m taken aback, because I didn’t think I would see all of this on display in one day. I already knew how this would play out, but to see it in real life is another thing. Despite all their efforts, we are going to have a new president on January 20th. And we will still march and demand the government recognize our humanity. I just know how our actions will be received.

About Chris Thompson

(he/his/him) Chris Thompson is an engineer, writer, comedian, and activist who made Rochester, New York his home in 2008. In addition to his role as Contributor for 540Blog he currently writes and regularly posts on his own on Instagram and Twitter at @ChronsOfNon. Chris is also a regular contributor for Rochester City Newspaper. His blog is http://www.chroniclesofnonesense.com

Still thinking about how you can practice antiracism in your every day life? 

Your support goes directly to providing new, dynamic & affordable class content, the planning of a rigorous antiracism facilitation training program, and costs associated with maikng all of our classes Deaf accessible with ASL interpreters. 

1) Join our growing membership base at patreon.com/540wmain
2) Contribute to our ongoing annual fund at rally.org/540wmain

  1. Visit our blog for over 700 social justice focused posts from our Founding Director, contributing writer Chris Thompson, and various guest writers.
  2. Check out our on-demand class library to learn about structural racism, environmental justice, and more.

Knowledge is power, educate yourself with 540WMain

When The U.S Government Fails, Mutual Aid Workers Step Up: Part I by Brianna Milon

When The U.S Government Fails, Mutual Aid Workers Step Up

Happy New Year! 

I know we are all so excited to be getting a fresh slate and looking ahead to better days. I wanted to start off this year by showing thanks to local people and organizations who are helping this community get through tough times. 

I, personally, have seen so many people step up to the plate and make it their mission to house, feed, and clothe the most vulnerable in Rochester. Over the next few months, I will highlight some of those groups and organizations. 

(they/them) Ilhan Ali (they/them) runs ROC Food Relief. The group has helped feed thousands of people during the pandemic. Some families had meals on the table during the holidays thanks to Ali and a small group of volunteers. 

Ali says they know firsthand what it feels like to be food insecure. 

“When I was younger, school lunch or breakfast was the heftiest meal I got. I would get dinner if it was a family thing, but my mom just worked a lot,” says Ali. “The frustration of her constantly being at work and their never being enough food no matter how much she worked settled in at a young age.”

Ali first experienced mutual aid when neighbors would look out for them and their family during those tough times. 

Born in Somalia, Ali came to America as a refugee. I wanted to know what made them so adamant about helping those in Rochester when they have no family ties here.

“I felt like I could make this a home,” says Ali. “I noticed how people hated Rochester and wanted to leave, but for me Rochester is nice compared to other places I’ve lived. People take care of each other and there’s a sense of community.”

Rochester is a community. One of the poorest in the country. Those struggling are looking to the government for relief. They are met with a measly $600 check and food pantries that have ableist limitations on pickups. Ali says when it comes to help from local officials, they could do a lot better when it comes to making the food more accessible. 

“The City does a lot of drive-thru and pickup instead of coming into neighborhoods that have the most need,” says Ali. “If you can’t afford food, you may not be able to afford babysitters or transportation and its abelist to assume that everyone can come out and get things.”

Ali and other organizations have created a space where folks don’t have to wait for the government in order to get help. Mutual aid has saved so many from starvation and homelessness, but some still shame people for crowdfunding.

“There’s this stigma around asking for donations,” says Ali. “Like you shouldn’t be begging for money on the internet, but the government is taking our money and no one finds that an issue. When poor people find ways to survive, it’s stigmatized.”

Ali is looking toward the future and hopes the future holds a place for a market where neighbors can help neighbors.

“It would be so cool if we had a free market where neighbors shared with neighbors. A monthly meet up where everyone can share what they can give.”

By supporting mutual aid, you are helping your neighbors. Ali wants people to realize that nothing is guaranteed. Some could very well go from supporting to needing help from an organization like ROC Food Relief.

“There’s always people who have too much and people who don’t have enough,” says Ali.

“Everyone is a day away from losing everything. People should be grateful. Everything you say you have worked so hard for could be gone tomorrow.”

This can be tireless and thankless work. So be sure to support and show thanks to those who do it.

If you would like to donate and support ROC Food Relief:

  • Venmo @momjeans91 
  • Cash app: $NoJusticeNoPeace585
About Brianna Milon

Brianna is local media professional who loves writing, watching Netflix, and playing with her dog, Weenie and her cat, Fancy. She studied Journalism and Broadcasting at SUNY Brockport and was heavily involved in the campus radio station. Brianna also co-hosts a radio show, “Fat, Black, and Femme”, on 100.9 WXIR. You can find out more on Facebook and Blogspot.

Still thinking about how you can practice antiracism in your every day life? 

1) Join our growing membership base at patreon.com/540wmain
2) Contribute to our ongoing annual fund at rally.org/540wmain