Our duty is to exercise our rights

Charles Nystrom as the United States enters its second week of war, a mixture of emotions bombard daily lives on the University campus. Many of these feelings seem negative. Fear, anger, sadness, dismay and disgust are a few that come to mind. Mixed somewhere in among them are hope and optimism, and for a few, excitement. The causes of these feelings are clear and in many cases mutual. And the reactions to these feelings are demonstrated in a variety of words and actions.

A relatively small but persistent and well-heard voice of protest enters the air from the steps of Northrop Auditorium, and echoes around campus. This voice of anger and sadness appears to represent, in some form or another, the feelings of many more less-vocal students who nevertheless share similar feelings. Similarly, it coincides with the dismay of millions of others around the country in opposition to the war in Iraq. In response, a smaller call for optimism and support can be heard as well. Although apparently more representative of the nation’s feelings as a whole, it is almost certainly at least somewhat less an indicator of students’ and faculty’s opinions here on campus.

These demonstrations are one of the cornerstones of American democracy, and the American way of life. Despite all the other problems and shortcomings seen in the nation and its government, the people of the United States know that if nothing else, they are entitled to the right to free speech, and guaranteed that right by the First Amendment. Furthermore, it is absolutely clear that exercise of free speech is vital to the health and well-being of our society. On this matter and perhaps this one only, there is no disagreement; it is fundamental.

Americans are usually good at exercising these rights. In a relative sense at least, this is one of the most free and open societies in the world. This matter appears clear as well. What is perhaps less thought about though, and certainly less clear, is the matter of duty. Duty. Particularly in time of war or crisis, the word can be heard several times a day. Its meaning and implications however, are not well defined, and not emphasized.

As U.S. citizens, it is our duty to exercise our rights. It is our duty to speak freely, to protest and to celebrate as well. It is our duty to vote, to participate in the electoral process. Duty is not always easy. Some find their duty in the armed services, in law enforcement or justice. Others find it in education and healthcare, or in the media. Many see their duties as working hard and raising families. Some students here see their duty as protesting. At times all these tasks can be difficult. They might seem almost impossible, frustrating and exhausting. Here is where the key lies. No one can force anyone else to do his or her duty. While the Constitution promises us our rights, it tells us very little about our duty, at least not explicitly. We must all find our duty, and carry it out, however difficult, and motivate each other as best we can.

Protesting is our right. Along with that right come responsibility and duty. Protest our foreign policy if need be. Protest our environmental policy, our social policy; but do it responsibly. Always remember the men and women of our military are following orders, and are simply doing their duty. Insulting and demeaning the president is not constructive and not responsible, as he is doing his duty as well. Interfering with other peoples’ lives by protesting is unnecessary. Chances are they can hear and see just fine. Burning the flag of this nation is a right we have, but in doing so remember the symbol of that right is burning along with everything else it represents. Remember men and women have died doing their duty to protect that symbol, and might be dying right now to extend the rights we hold so dear to others.

There is no one that can compel us to do our duty. We must discover it ourselves, and find a way to do it. Remember most of all we all must do our duty together. We must look past our differences in the face of danger and crisis, find a way to join together and do our duty as one nation. May God bless America.

Charles Nystrom is a University

junior majoring in history and political

science. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]