Freedom to Assemble

Leilani SquireBlog4 Comments

I wanted to write a post just before the Inauguration, but I didn’t want it to be only about politics (I couldn’t think of anything else), so I pondered and reflected and then I marched on January 21st in the Women’s March on Washington in Los Angeles with 750,000 men, women and children from all walks of life and all ages, from infants to grandmothers. It was exhilarating to be with so many people who were kind and attentive and aware that our freedoms and our rights are at risk.

As I was walking my dog the day after millions of people showed up to shout, “We the People” and to exercise the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, I experienced a revelation. The men and women who have served and who continue to serve in the United States Armed Forces, the men and women who have protected and who continue to protect our nation from foreign invasion and fascism and demagogues and dictators, the men and women who have sacrificed and who continue to sacrifice in order to protect the Constitution of the United States, they are the reason I was able to participate in this historical peaceful assembly. Intellectually, I have known this fact, but now, I understand the importance of the right to assemble with 750,000 other people, and how the hundreds of other peaceful assemblies throughout this great nation just didn’t appear out of thin air. How cool, how amazing that We the People can assemble in such numbers, raise our voices in dissent, let our fears and concerns and desires and hope and dreams be heard—and I must add, without one violent act committed.

The next thought I had, after I realized the Armed Forces’ role in my freedom to march with the Women’s March on Washington was: The men and women who have served and who continue to serve in the military—like my father—have protected my freedom of assembly and it is my turn to protect their freedom in whatever way I can, with whatever means I can. In other words, they have had and continue to have my back—now it is my turn to have their backs. These realizations about our rights and freedoms and amendments to the United States Constitution and the men and women of the military are sobering, and yet, so empowering.

The photograph accompanying this post was taken by Chuck Smallwood. Thank you for allowing Returning Soldiers Speak to publish the photograph and thank you for walking by my side in support of women’s rights of equality and human rights.

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About the Author
Leilani Squire

Leilani Squire

Leilani Squire is the Founder and Director of Returning Soldiers Speak. She was born at Tripler Army Hospital in Honolulu while her father, Grant R. Squire, was deployed on an aircraft carrier off the coast of Okinawa during the Korean War. She is a writer, creativity coach, and since 2010, has been working with veterans and their families to help them tell their stories.

4 Comments on “Freedom to Assemble”

  1. Ken Klemm

    Thank you for this well-written piece. There is a reason that when one enters the military, as I did when joining the Navy, one swears an oath to the Constitution. Not the flag, not the President. The constitution. It is the vital document that allows us to be as free was we have been. That is not to say it is without flaws. Nothing ever done by human beings is without flaws.
    And I also believe strongly that the First Amendment is what it is, and where it is in the Bill of Rights, because this country began with protest before it came to the Revolution.
    Whenever someone burns the flag, I respect their right to do so, but I turn off whatever message they are trying to get across.
    The many people protesting the Vietnam war had a large role to play in bringing that tragic, and unnecessary war, to an end. And the millions protesting over the inauguration weekend will have a valuable, and on-going, message to Congress: that the President of the United States is neither above the law, nor above standards of decent human behavior, and will be held accountable. I hope, and the march helped kindle my hope, which I confess was fading.

    1. Leilani Squire

      Thank you, Ken, for your thoughtful and hope-filled words. The knowing that when one joins the military, one swears an oath to the Constitution is sobering and wonderful, actually. Perhaps we all need to do that, swear an oath to the Constitution. I will think about this and write an oath I would like to live.

  2. “Freedom to Assemble” is a tribute to our women and men in uniform, and a declaration that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution really means what it says. Millions of women, men, and children across the U.S. marched on January 21 in the Women’s March on Washington because they believe the first amendment is not a privilege. It is a right. And everyone who marched in cities and small towns across the country bear witness to this fact. Thank you, Leilani, for your revelation and your witness with 750,000 other Angelenos.

    1. Leilani Squire

      Yes, our first amendment is a right, not a privilege, as you state so clearly in your comment. Showing up with so many others and talking with the young women and women and men who also showed up, listening to the reasons of why they were marching, has given me the courage to continue to write and speak out in ways I haven’t thought of since the Vietnam War. Thank you for reading and writing a comment. We are exercising the First Amendment!

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