FIRST AMENDMENT TO THE U.S. CONSTITUTION
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.
By the East Village Magazine Editorial Board
To speak truth to power. This is what the press must do. This is what the American press must do. This is what the American press has always been called to do. And now is the moment to stand up for our Constitutional right.
East Village Magazine only rarely issues editorial statements. But today, we join with 100 or more newspapers and journalists across the country to express our urgent support for freedom of the press and a strong reproach to our president for his attacks on the press. This must stop. Our president’s attacks must not curtail or deprive the press of its freedom of speech.
The First Amendment is first for a reason. The United States was born in response to tyranny. We were rebels against a monarchy in which only some voices counted–the voices of a hereditary king or queen. Many of us studied the story of John Peter Zenger, arrested in November 1734– even before the crafting of the Constitution and the First Amendment–for “seditious libel” for what he published that was critical of the king and his colonial government. Zenger was taken to trial where he was defended by Andrew Hamilton and William Smith; fortunately, he was acquitted. His case, many historians think, was influential in the crafting of the First Amendment’s freedom of the press guarantee. Interestingly, the mention of the press is the only occupation, other than political positions, mentioned in the Constitution and given explicit protection. The Founders understood.
Our essential principles of equality and justice, our collective morality, brought us back again and again from the temptations of authoritarianism since the Bill of Rights were ratified in 1791. That’s 227 years. We have not always gotten it right. But for more than two centuries, the country has wrestled with challenging, sometimes raucous, often passionate debates about these ideas — these guarantees. These five freedoms: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble, and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances — all these have set our country apart in the world as a citadel against tyranny– a bulwark of civilization in which there was no tolerance for a dictator, no tolerance for squashing the voice of the people.
We have always had the right to call out our leaders, to criticize the powerful, to halt an unfettered flow of tyranny. To speak the truth, even when it hurts. Even when truth leads us, as it so often does, away from the precipice of injustice, oppression, nihilism, and demagoguery.
East Village Magazine was born out of a moment when Flint citizens sought a redress of grievances. Our founder, the late Gary Custer, and a group of other East Village neighbors were upset about I-475 being built–an action propelled by monied and powerful interests in the city– and which Custer and others believed would disastrously affect the neighborhoods in its path. They were right. The freeway obliterated Floral Park, a longtime African-American neighborhood, a vibrant business section along Lapeer Road, and cut through Central Park. Flint historians like Andrew Highsmith have been writing about the consequences of that decision ever since. Custer’s worries were well founded. The loss of Walker Elementary on Kearsley Street as the neighborhood school was an equally important issue affecting family living in the neighborhood. The intent of EVM from the start was to provide a voice for residents to influence the bureaucratic decisions affecting their neighborhoods before events were irreversible. And while their initial triggering campaigns did not stop I-475, those feisty citizens in EVM’s early years did raise a ruckus. Some would say that was America at its best.
EVM has stood for telling the truths about our neighborhoods ever since — speaking truth to power and exercising our right to petition the government for redress of grievances. It is who we are and who we need to be.
Finally, we mourn the loss of those doing the work of the Fourth Estate, and honor them here — in particular, the five dead at the Annapolis Capital Gazette: Rob Hiaasen, 59, Wendi Winters, 65 Gerald Fischman, 61; John McNamara, 56; and Rebecca Smith, 34, While their murderer did not mention Donald Trump, the hatred toward them struck us as painfully raw, another reminder of what feels like greater peril today for journalists. Those five were community journalists just like us, and we cannot afford to do without them.
It is our constitutional right, our privilege, our patriotic duty to continue this role and to support, with our small but stalwart voice, our call for the president to stop attacking the press–for doing what the Constitution calls the press to do. The country and its values are bigger than the president and his attempts to dismember and silence the free press. We will not be silenced. We will continue to do our job, with dignity and ferocity. In the meantime, we call upon the president to stop endangering us with his fiery, illogical rhetoric. We urge him to know and remember:
We are not the enemy of the people.
We are the people, the American people he took an oath to defend and protect. Our work is to honor and seek the truth.
With all urgency, from our hearts and minds and our love for all the good that this audacious country stands for, we say to the president, do not disrespect us. Do not denounce us. Mr. President, we implore you: do your duty. Honor your oath. Be an American.