by Betsy Harvey, MCRP '12
Out of curiosity, yesterday I searched online for the word “streets” in Google’s news search engine. I was surprised that most of the first few pages were dominated by some sort of protest taking place, from the riots in England to protests in Chile and Syria. But I suppose it makes sense. Streets, it seems, have always been the place to stage protests. It’s the one public space that is nearly impossible to control, and you’re guaranteed that you will be seen. It’s important that streets remain open for protests as protests are vital to a healthy democracy. Yes, there will be some that are inevitably senseless and violent like those in England right now, but others will be powerful, decisive moments in a country’s history, such as the Egyptian uprising this past spring. Streets are not only for transportation: they are a country’s meeting place, an arena for the people’s voice to be heard.
The question, of course, is whether or not there is a point at which protests should be restricted or abolished altogether. Should a permit be required, which might prevent all but largest protests from taking place? Are there opinions that one should not be allowed to promote in public? These are broader free speech questions that must always be questioned in a democracy. The street can be an outlet for such a debate, a potent place for all peoples to exercise their right to free speech.
A crowd gathering in London, before clashing with the police. Courtesy of www.dailymail.co.uk
Protesters in Tahrir Square during the Egyptian uprising in 2011. Courtesy of www.guardian.co.uk