Dennis Kucinich at Four Freedoms Monument, Cleveland, Ohio

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.--The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified Dec., 15, 1791.

An open assault on the First Amendment is occurring across America, as college students who are peacefully exercising their Constitutional right to freedom of speech, challenging government policies, are being arrested in droves.

The self-appointed Congressional Overseers of Higher Education, who hauled politically naïve university presidents into their star chambers and publicly castigated the savants for not admonishing their students to be sufficiently sympathetic to genocide, essentially demanded loyalty, not to America, but to the deadly agenda of a country not our own. 

Leading government officials have expressed dismay at the furor which has erupted on campuses and have encouraged the use of repressive tactics. 

What is happening on campuses?  Did the students not get the message? - -   Obey!

Obey, or there will be no graduation. Obey! Or you cannot be valedictorian. Obey! Or be suspended, expelled, even denied employment opportunities. Obey! Or you will be marked for life as a troublemaker, a disrupter. Obey! If you want to get ahead in society.  Obey!  Don’t make demands. Don’t even ask questions. Obey! You are students.  Your lot is to listen, and Obey.

The relative quiescence on campuses in the past few decades has been misread as students being interested in their inner world and not the outer world.  Social media had become a soporific and a grand distraction. Campuses were generally the last places expected to ignite political movements.

Oh, how dangerously wrong America’s leaders are about the energy that issues  spontaneously on campuses, demanding an end to mass violence sanctioned and financed by our government.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, campuses were the flash points from which the Vietnam-era anti-war movement grew. I remember student rallies at Cleveland State University (CSU).  Then, instead of threatening students with arrest, CSU President Harold Enarson created a space for them to gather, spoke to students, encouraged peaceful protest and, as a result, Cleveland State University, still in its infancy, was a catalyst for social and political change. 

The protests focused public attention on the Vietnam War. The  political became personal.  President Lyndon Baines Johnson became the target.

LBJ, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today,” was a chant heard on campuses and on streets where masses gathered to demand an end to the war. 

The protests drove Johnson from the presidency.  He announced on March 31, 1968:

I have concluded that I should not permit the presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year….Accordingly, I shall not seek, and will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.

Then came Kent State University, and four dead in Ohio on May 4, 1970.

Years later, as chairman of a congressional oversight subcommittee, I quietly probed the Kent State shootings and learned (as had others before me) that a suspected FBI asset on campus, taking pictures of protestors, found himself suddenly surrounded by students who believed him to be an informant, and he drew a gun.    

He may have fired shots in the air which were mistaken as an attack on the Ohio National Guard,  (which unfortunately had been ordered to campus by the Governor), and the Guard returned fire, setting off a national tragedy. 

Unfortunately, the FBI did not cooperate with my request for a further search of records to determine the precise role of its informant and my term in Congress came to a close.  Who fired the first shot?  Was it someone acting as an agent of the government?   

Government at all levels must tread lightly in using force against peaceful protestors who are exercising their constitutional right to freedom of speech. 

Agencies and counter-parties to the debate over U.S. foreign policy must avoid sending informants, or worse, agents provocateurs into a campus fray. 

One only needs to be aware of the execrable COINTELPRO gambit of US intelligence agencies which infiltrated, disrupted and derailed protests and causes which challenged the status quo, during the Vietnam era.

 We should view campus protests as one of the few healthy signs in a nation where government spying, support for a genocidal war, abandonment of Constitutional liberties and media complicity has constructed not only an alternate politics, but an alternate reality.

The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears.  It was their final, most essential command,” wrote George Orwell in 1984.

College students are not rejecting the evidence of their eyes and ears.  Thirty-Four thousand dead Palestinians, most of them women and children.  The students know the horrific violence going on thousands of miles away, and they know their government is licensing it.  They are demanding the war cease.  

They are standing on more than two centuries of citizen action challenging the government. Those who misuse their authority to suppress legitimate dissent are undermining foundational Constitutional freedoms, the Freedom of Speech and the Right to Protest. The First Amendment is the cornerstone of the American Republic.

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