In our Sunday and Monday editions last week, the Journal Star profiled six new political activists.
They included a 79-year-old professor who says “it’s odd” that he now has to defend science, a disabled Air Force veteran who organizes rallies to support President Donald Trump and the health care worker behind the “Make Lincoln Kind Again” Facebook page.
Over the last several years, more residents of Lincoln and the state as a whole have begun to expand how they present their political beliefs. The west steps of the Capitol, where the city’s namesake has stood for more than a century immortalized in bronze, have become the rallying point for more events involving more Nebraskans of all political stripes.
As of June, Lincoln officials have received 21 permit requests for marches and rallies — up from 18 year ago and a 250 percent increase from the six requests in all of 2007. And that steadily climbing figure only accounts for those that have approached the city in advance, not those that popped up spontaneously in response to the news of the day.
Obviously, Lincoln isn’t alone in experiencing this rise in activism and public expression of political speech. But its continued growth is a positive development regardless of partisan affiliation.
John Hibbing, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln political science professor, noted that former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama plus Trump were all “polarizing figures,” sparking a wave of activism that doesn’t yet seem have to crested.
The actions and choices all three have made in the Oval Office created controversy at the outset. The continued ramifications of these — such as Trump’s travel ban, Obama’s eponymous health care law and Bush’s war in Iraq — have been the inspiration for countless demonstrations.
As UNL student Natasha Naseem, the Lincoln-raised daughter of Pakistani immigrants and advocate for Muslims in the United States, told the Journal Star: “You become the unlikely activist because these are unlikely times.”
Though the ultimate mode of expression remains the ballot box, Americans must not share their beliefs only when the next election nears.
As we often say of the First Amendment in this space: Cherish and exercise your rights, which are far from guaranteed in too many countries. While free speech, peaceable assembly and petition are American staples, global citizens have been injured, imprisoned or killed trying to exercise those very same inalienable rights.
Residents of Lincoln and Nebraskans of all viewpoints are joining voices to ensure they’re heard. That chorus has reached a crescendo that shows no signs of stopping — and the growing number of displays is proof of a more involved electorate across the political spectrum.
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