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Peaceful assembly and why we march

Why We March

Assuredly, the legal profession is part of a system (the judicial system) that plays an important role in the proper functioning of our society.  So, too, does the First Amendment and the fundamental right to peacefully assemble and freely express our ideas and opinions, all in the furtherance of an informed citizenry and responsible discourse.

Ever since I set out to attend U.C. Berkeley as an undergraduate and budding journalist, I’ve had a deep reverence for the First Amendment, and to being an active participant in our electoral system.

My senior year in college, I lived in an international house with students who came to U.C. Berkeley from around the world.  I was one of the few Americans who lived in this shared housing that had space for about 20 students.   On Wednesday evenings, all the student residents were expected to participate in the household dinner preparations, followed by a group discussion.  We would rotate through, with each of us taking a turn at least one Wednesday per term serving as the ‘keynote speaker’ for the evening.  We were encouraged to share cultural insights about our home countries.  Typically, students would provide photos or slide shows from home.

When it came around for my turn at the helm, I decided to make the U.S. Constitution my topic of discussion. I read aloud the words of the First Amendment, and asked for each person to share what that meant to them when comparing it to the concept of freedom of expression in their home countries.  Naively on my part, I expected a lively discussion.  The most “telling” part of the conversation, however, was the silence.  Hardly any of the foreign students felt comfortable enough to speak up.   I learned a lot that evening.  More than I ever anticipated.  And more than I could have ever learned without the diversity of that group assembled.

This edition of Soul Notes is dedicated to free speech, the right to be heard, and the right to vote.

“What they all had in common: A sincere desire to make a positive impact in our country, and to have their voices and opinions heard.  There were tears and cheers.  Laughs and smiles.  There were also expressions of focused determination.” 

A Legion of Women Brought Together for a Common Purpose

This past weekend, I attended a gathering of women, and one man, who met at a co-work space near midtown for an event led by the organizers of this year’s Women’s March Los Angeles.  My intentions were two-fold: 1. Learn more about this year’s March and what the organizers were planning; and 2. Receive the facts firsthand (and not via potentially wildly incorrect secondhand information) about the organization, its functions and mission.

Taking place one week prior to the second annual Women’s March, at this weekend’s gathering, we painted signs, and chatted with others who either went to the March last year, or were planning to go this year, or both.  Midway through the event, several of the organizers spoke to the group, and fielded questions from the audience.  In the audience were school teachers, business owners, stay at home parents, community leaders, and activists from a wide spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities, and countries of origin.

What they all had in common:  A sincere desire to make a positive impact in our country, and to have their voices and opinions heard.  There were tears and cheers.  Laughs and smiles.  There were also expressions of focused determination.  As I looked around the room, and conversed with some of the women, and listened to impassioned comments from the audience, and asked my own questions of the organizers – a visceral response came over me.  What must it have felt like to be one of the women who attended the early organized suffragette meetings?  Was it something akin to what I was experiencing at that very instant?  My next realization was this:  I, however, wasn’t risking life and limb to attend this gathering.  Those women, though, a short century ago – the suffragettes — certainly were and did.  In that moment and in my heart, I thanked them for paving the way for us.

A few things that I was able to confirm at the meeting, hearing directly from the organizers:  Women’s March Los Angeles is a 100% volunteer run, nonprofit organization.  All proceeds made through the sale of tshirts and hats and other merchandise go toward administrative costs.  No one is paid to participate in the March.  Billionaire George Soros is not a donor, nor has he had any involvement with Women’s March Los Angeles.

“The march is open to everyone who stands for human rights, civil liberties, tolerance of diversity, and compassion for our shared humanity.”  — Women’s March Los Angeles

While an estimated 750,000 marchers participated in last year’s March in downtown Los Angeles, the organizers are expecting a smaller crowd in L.A. this year.  Is that because of diminished interest this year?  According to the organizers, it’s the opposite:  Last year’s large turn-out inspired a number of other, smaller cities throughout California this year to form their own Marches. So instead of traveling hundreds of miles to participate in the March in L.A., many are staying closer to home.  At least twenty other formally organized Marches are scheduled to take place throughout California this time around.

An Election Year

Like last year, the organizers planned out this year’s March with careful precision and with the full intention of bringing together a peaceful assembly.  The organizers have put into place various levels of security and safeguards to allow for an environment that’s conducive to raising awareness, respectfully, about what they deem to be critical issues.  With 2018 being an election year, this year’s March will be focused on addressing: voter turnout, access to the polls, voting restrictions, and voter intimidation.  The organizers intend to continue a dialog about these issues and to create a concerted plan of action leading up to and after the November 2018 elections.  I applaud their efforts, and am grateful to have been able to participate in that planning meeting.

While the intricacies and merits of specific policies may be debatable – and that’s the beauty of a representative democratic republic – the rallying cries remain the same:

Being heard matters.

Unifying our voices matters.

Access to voting matters.

And, so it is.

To the Republic for Which We Stand.

Okay, your turn:

In what ways have you voiced your concerns, if any, about the electoral process?  What actions, if any, have you taken?  Is marching in the streets effective – why or why not?

I invite you to SHARE your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the Comments section, below. Soul-to-soul!

© 2018 Lori A. Noonan. All rights reserved.
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What does it mean to have a strong constitution?

A Strong Constitution

When someone refers to someone else as having a “strong constitution,” they usually mean that the person is of strong mind and body.  They see that person as having a grounded, centeredness about them – a hardy, stable core and foundation, from which all else stems.

The same can be said with regard to a country’s Constitution.  The United States (U.S.) Constitution dates back to 1787 and is the oldest formal national Constitution.

Presidential Oath

In Article VI, Section 1, Clause 8,  the U.S. Constitution sets forth (and the one and only place where it does so) a word for word Oath to be taken by a member of the federal government.  It is the Presidential oath, and it states, as written in the Constitution:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” 

Many constitutional scholars contend that this oath was explicitly spelled out in the Constitution precisely so that the Office of the President and the person holding that Office would be different from a King – in both power and structure.  This was by design.  The oath was memorialized in the Constitution to remind future presidents that they are not royalty. Presidents are not to “rule over,” but rather to act as servants of, the people.  This oath was written into the Constitution as a safeguard to ensure Presidential restraint.

All of this, of course, is to be done in service of (not denying), the Constitution and its tenets.  Those tenets include:  “Separation of Powers” and a predetermined set of “Checks and Balances.”

As designed, the Constitution established a separation of powers among the three branches of government:  the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial.  The triangular form of government was built upon the foundational belief that no one branch should have authority over another.  And specifically with regard to the Executive: The Presidential Oath was designed to serve as a reminder and explicit “internal check” on what would otherwise be unbridled power in the hands of a singular person at the helm of the Executive branch.  It is important to note that the Presidential oath is the only  oath that is spelled out in the Constitution itself.   Having left behind a monarchy, our country’s founders felt strongly about limiting the powers of the President.

Cooperation and Collaboration

The framers of the Constitution also captured their thoughts and intentions in a series of essays known as The Federalist Papers. As made clear by James Madison in Federalist Paper No. 51 (entitled, The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances between the Different Departments):

“[T]he separation of powers frustrates designs for power and at the same time creates an incentive to collaborate and cooperate, lessening conflict and concretizing a practical community of interest among political leaders.”(Emphasis added).

The nation’s founders desired that the members of our government work together on behalf of the greater good.  Collaboration rather than conflict was the message of the day.

So, what is one to make of it, when we now see such divisiveness within the federal government, and in particular with regard to what many contend is an irreverent, cavalier attitude and stark semblances of “king-like” behavior being displayed by our current President?

Some examples:

-Signing more than 30 Executive Orders within the first 100 days of the presidency, including two international travel bans that were quickly challenged on Constitutional grounds;

-Removing several mainstream media outlets from White House press briefings; and

-Resisting any limits on business dealings that raise potential conflicts of interests, as proscribed by the Constitution’s Emoluments clause (which prohibits public office holders from accepting gifts or monetary remuneration from a foreign state).

While not the first or likely the last Presidential administration to invoke executive orders, the sheer number of them being signed so quickly at the start of a President’s Administration is nearly unprecedented.

And, limiting and even excluding certain members of the press corps at the White House press briefings smacks of blatant disregard for the First Amendment.  Traditionally, journalists and the news media have been considered to be a “fourth estate,” and as such are often considered to be another “check” on any otherwise untethered governmental power.

Also, the current President has demonstrated complete disdain for members of the Judiciary.  He openly criticized and scoffed at federal judges who, on Constitutional grounds, ruled against him on two of his so-called Muslim Bans.


The past few months have been rather disheartening for me. I’m sure I’m not alone in this sentiment. In particular, I have been feeling as if the fabric of our Constitution, over and over, was being sliced to shreds. For me, the impact of recent news events and what’s being revealed about members of our federal government, extends well beyond political party lines and affiliations.  It hits at the very core of our nation’s, and by extension the world’s, stability.

The ultimate outcome of this Presidency, and of any federal investigations and the like, remain beyond the purview of this blog article.  My focus and intention here, however, remains this:  to shed some light on why all this matters.  It matters to us here in the United States; and, it has worldwide implications, because:  Put simply, unexamined and unchecked abuses of power are a threat to everyone.  Carefully examined (ab)uses of power, however, are critical to the ongoing survival of our nation and the planet.

Accordingly, it brings me great solace to see that recently:

The ever flowing tide of executive orders has noticeably ebbed.

Journalists at the White House press briefings are literally and figuratively standing up to apparent obfuscations and inconsistencies in statements made by the Press Secretary on behalf of the Administration.

Members of both parties less and less seem willing to simply “look the other way” with regard to potential or actual conflicts of interest, and other strains on our Constitutional safeguards.

And, most recently, the appointment of a Special Counsel to oversee an investigation into the role, if any, that the Russian government may have played in the 2016 presidential election — and potential collusion by members of the Administration — sends a strong signal that unbridled uses of Executive power and influence will not go forever unexamined or unchecked.

While the Constitution may have suffered a few incisions during the past several months, I’m comforted to see signs that they may ultimately have been only flesh wounds.  The Constitutional net formed by the threads woven together by the framers more than two centuries ago remains strong.  Throughout the various attempts to unravel it, the Constitution continues to hold it all!

We do have a strong Constitution.  It rests, as can we, on a solid foundation.  And, its well-crafted weave keeps the bottom from falling out.  That is, indeed, good news.

Okay, your turn:

What does a “strong constitution” mean to you?  As citizens and constituents, what should we expect or even demand of our elected representatives?

I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the Comments section, below. Soul-to-soul!

© 2017 Lori A. Noonan. All Rights Reserved.