OP-ED: Is Loud Counter-Protesting Free Speech?

Paul Minor, Whitman College Senior

This Friday I arrived at the Walla Walla Courthouse to participate in “Where’s Cathy?” an event intended to call attention to 5th District Congresshuman Cathy McMorris Rogers’ disturbing absence from WW. I believe that political representatives should do their best to stay in touch with the communities they ostensibly represent, a claim that I feel is neither partisan nor controversial.

However, a contingent of Harley Davidson riders showed up and revved their bikes in order to drown out the opening speakers. These anti-protesters then rode alongside the march, providing a thunderous motorcade.

I overheard a fellow protester address a group of Harley boys, asking, “I found it very disrespectful that you were drowning out the speakers, why did you do that?” After a significant pause, one responded, “maybe because It’s our Right.” To this she quickly retorted “actually those noise levels are illegal in the city.”

Legalistically, this is a simple case. The protester is right. The anti-protester did not have a legal “right” to drown out the speeches. But laws are often unjust, so I’m led to ask, “are sound laws an unjust intrusion of my right to free speech?” I will posit three analytical points to demonstrate that the answer is No!

The mechanical cacophony produced by these bikes was NOT free speech, because it was not Speech. Rather, it was a sonorous assault. It was a weaponization of sound machines.

First, in a material sense it was not speech, and if they had actually been using their voices, there is no way that a relatively small contingent of anti-protesters could drown out the much larger crowd of protesters.

Second, in a linguistic sense it was not speech, and if they were actually saying anything, then well, they would have had to have had something to say. They would have had to think. This brings me to my final point.

Because its our/my right” is not a reason. It was the Harley riders right to spend their entire bank account on lollipops, or, for that matter, join in harmony with the protesters. Whether or not someone can or should be able to do something, offers no reason why they would be motivated to do it in the first place!

The problem goes deeper. “Because its our/my right” is defiant, reactive, and defensive. It assumes that the question “Why did you do that?” is an attack! “Why did you do that?” is not an attack, or at least it doesn’t have to be. Instead it ought to be viewed as an invitation for communication, but these Harley boys had nothing to say except “I CANT HEAR YOU I CANT HEAR YOU I CANT HEAR YOU,” like an elementary school kid with his fingers in his ears.

Maybe if the anti-protesters had actually tried justifying their answers they would have realized they had no reason to be out there except hate.