Over the weekend there was a demonstration organized by 2nd amendment supporters in opposition to a proposed ballot measure instituting new gun control laws. They held what they branded as a “Liberty or Death” rally outside of Seattle’s city hall.
They were targeted by left-wind demonstrators who showed up and tried to disrupt the rally. Yet, in media reports such as this one from the Associated Press, these two groups were described as though they were two sides of the same coin.
From the AP’s lede:
Right-wing demonstrators gathered Saturday in Seattle for a “Liberty or Death” rally that drew counter-protesters from the left while dozens of police kept the two sides separated.
The right-wing groups Washington 3 Percenters and Patriot Prayer were holding the rally outside Seattle City Hall to protest an effort to launch a gun-control initiative that would raise the age in Washington state for people buying semi-automatic rifles.
The left-wing groups Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity, Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party were rallying at the same site.
One of these groups showed up to speak their minds about proposed public policy.
The other side came to shut them up.
“[T]he left-wing protesters yelled and used cow bells and sirens to try to drown out speeches from the right-wing side,” the AP reports.
One of the right-wing demonstrators was injured when the left-wing demonstrators attacked the demonstration. Three were arrested for misdemeanor assault.
Setting aside for a moment our feelings about the topic of the original protest, can we at least agree that a political demonstration is not the same thing as an organized effort to disrupt a political demonstration?
I’m not talking about a counter-protest. I’m not talking about rebuttals. Those sort of things are as protected as the original demonstration, from a legal standpoint, and should be embraced (if not agreed with) by all Americans.
I’m talking about people who feel those with whom they disagree with should be drowned out. Harassed. Intimidated. Physically assaulted, even.
Treating that sort of effort as though it were equivalent to the speech being disrupted is simply wrong. We saw the same thing during the #NoDAPL protests against the Dakota Access Pipelines, where violence and vandalism from political extremists attacking that lawful project were treated by many in the press as though they were engaging in protected advocacy.
The journalism industry likes to talk a lot about the concept of free speech. Yet are we free to speak if you have to fear a mob descending on you to shout over you? Bully you? Hurt you, even?
I’ve written in the past that democracy is more than just a ballot box. Democracy is an electorate that’s free to speak their mind about ballot issues and vote without fear.
The journalists and editors who produce stories like this might argue that they’re striving for balance. What they’re really doing is creating a false equivalency which organizes the very concept of free expression they’ve organized their careers around.