We the People: Gratitude for the First Amendment’s right to protest


Hannah Michelle Bussa

Activists in Omaha have spent lots of time in the streets this year exercising their First Amendment right to protest. Photo courtesy of Valeria Gaytan.

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States protects five major rights, though Amy Coney Barrett seemed to forget during her confirmation hearings that the right to protest is one of them.

Sam Petto, the Communications Director for the ACLU of Nebraska, explained the importance of protests.

“The right to join with others in protest is critical to a functioning democracy and at the core of the First Amendment,” Petto said. “We have a right to gather and tell the government how it can do better. The late Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo said the First Amendment is linked to nearly every other freedom. That’s how important it is.”

Clarice Dombeck, a fourth-year double major in Black Studies and Sociology at UNO, actively exercises this right. She has participated in Black Lives Matter protests, the Rally for Trans Lives and the Wake Up West Omaha protest.

“The right to protest is important because it serves as a tool for residents to show displeasure in our political, economic and social systems,” Dombeck said. “It also gives residents an opportunity to hold representatives and corporations responsible for harm they have caused.”

Valeria Gaytan is a junior at UNO who has also attended and organized multiple protests this year. Her focus is speaking against the forced sterilization and abuse happening to immigrants at ICE detention facilities.

“I am a Latinx individual and right now, I represent and am a voice for my people,” she said. “People of color have been targeted since America was founded. It is a crucial time in our history right now, and we must end this cycle of racism, oppression and division.”

Andre Sessions Jr. is a senior at UNO and participated in multiple protests this summer. These protests focused on Mayor Stothert’s policies, abolishing ICE and:the murders of George Floyd, James Scurlock and other Black individuals across the country.

“You may not always be able to make the changes you wish to fight for, but in a lot of cases you are able to alter policies,” he said. “Protesting challenges those in power and this brings about debate, which brings awareness to these issues. Even the great abolitionist Fredrick Douglass said, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand.’”

The First Amendment is not something to take for granted.

“These are rights that constantly take defending because they constantly come under attack,” Petto said. “Your best defense is always knowing your rights.”

The right to protest gives the power back to “we the people.”

“I am grateful for the right to protest because it is how I can voice my disagreement with the government’s decisions and actions,” Gaytan said. “The power rests in the people. The right to protest is an important right that allows our government to listen and take action to our demands.”

Dombeck is grateful for the First Amendment for another reason.

“I am thankful for the right to protest because it has allowed me to become more engaged in my community,” he said.

“I want to encourage those that have been thinking of fighting for something that they are passionate about to just get up and do it,” Sessions Jr. said. “Protesting is just as important as voting. Malcolm X said, ‘A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.’”

Gaytan emphasized the power in exercising the right to protest.

“We the people have the power. Your voice is more powerful than you believe,” she said.