Tanya Washington at Atlanta March for Social Justice on Jan. 21

Freedom to Express First Amendment Rights Important Exercise

The Jan. 21 Atlanta March for Social Justice and Women, which was one of hundreds of demonstrations by millions of people across the United States and around the world, was an important exercise in democracy and First Amendment rights.

The peaceful transition of power, which is one of the prized features of our republic, does not mean that citizens may not raise their voices in dissent, even as that transition takes place. In fact, it is a testament to the credibility of our democracy that dissonant voices are protected and respected.

Tanya Washington and John Lewis

Tanya Washington, left, hugs Rep. John Lewis at the Atlanta March for Social Justice.

Meeting U.S. Rep. John Lewis, whose personal sacrifices and struggles enforced and protected the constitutional rights of all Americans, and speaking before such a large gathering of my fellow Georgians was inspiring. Lewis’ courageous and legendary stand in Selma, Alabama, and his relentless pursuit of fairness, justice and equality since then exemplify how necessary the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly and free speech are to the viability of our democracy.

As a law professor who has taught Race Law and Family Law for more than a decade, many of the issues I address in class are of concern to the diverse group of marchers who flooded the streets of downtown Atlanta on Jan. 21. I have often remarked to my students that the true value of the law lies in how it impacts the human condition. Speaking before a sea of people exercising their constitutional freedoms reinforced my belief in the power and value of the law that protects their right to do so.

This march, aside from its cultural and political significance, which should not be underestimated, underscores a quintessential aspect of American democracy and is an expression of the value of the sacred rights of free speech and assembly.

Whatever your political stripe, the demonstration of democracy, more than 60,000 strong in Georgia, confirms that the First Amendment and our liberties under this revered provision of our Constitution are alive and exercised. Though partisanship may create tensions between citizens, the Constitution provides common ground and protection for peoples’ rights without regard for their politics, which is no small feat. This is an accomplishment worthy of our founding charter.

Tanya Washington, professor of law, has been teaching Civil Procedure I and II, Family Law, Education Law and Race and Law at Georgia State for the past 12 years. Her research and scholarship focuses on issues related to educational equity,  domestic relations, race and children’s constitutional rights.

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