Letter: Response to comment regarding high school walk-outs
To the editor,
When I turned thirteen, my mom enrolled me in the eighth grade after homeschooling me for nearly eight years. Two weeks after my foray into “normal” school, my life as a Muslim-American teen became absolutely abnormal when two airplanes flew into the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001.
Sixteen years later, I live in Brooklyn. When I look out of my living room window, I see One World Trade rising into the heavens. Each evening, I look at the skyline and say a little prayer of thankfulness and feel my heart skip a beat when I think about this country’s ability to heal, remember, and rebuild after tragedy.
After September 11th, I did a lot of interfaith work in Paso and in the county. I was consistently humbled by the community’s willingness to learn about Islam and by individuals’ willingness to face their discomfort and challenge their entrenched biases and beliefs. We were able to consistently come to an overlapping consensus of core beliefs that recognized and respected the humanity of all individuals in our communities.
Fast-forward again to present-day Brooklyn. I was skimming my social media feeds when I happened across an article published in the Paso Robles Press about students who chose to walk out to participate in nationwide protests against gun violence. As I scrolled through the comments, one caught my eye:
“This has gone on way too long. It was not a school activity. 1st amendment rights, go for it. Just don’t disrespect your school by leaving (and fighting and general disruption). This is the 2nd amendment right we’re talking about. Fundamental values of our constitution. The right to vote for women and blacks is not a fundamental right. You may notice that amendment is to allow it. Guns literally [sic] are allowed by the original version. And any alteration from allowing military arms is indeed infringement, if only in the most basic sense.”
A little history lesson (I’m a lawyer, so I get a little long-winded. Bear with me).
Article Five of the Constitution reads, “The Congress, whenever two-thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or on the Application of the Legislatures of two-thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments….”
Tl;dr, the Constitution can be amended.
The Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787. Eight days later, the first ten amendments, also known as the Bill of Rights, were drafted. It would be over two years before the Bill of Rights was ratified on December 15, 1791.
Women were not allowed to own property until the late 1800s, and married women were not even allowed to open checking accounts without their spouses’ permission until the latter part of the twentieth century. The unspeakable horrors inflicted on African-Americans during slavery, after the Civil War, and even through the present day are a reminder that the fundamental rights of black folks were not recognized until recent history.
Thankfully, the original drafters of the Constitution appreciated that the document needed an ability to change with the times. Article Five survived its test run just over a week after the original Constitution was signed. Later, it was employed to finally vindicate the fundamental rights of African-Americans and women, among others.
The most disturbing part of this poster’s comment is not merely his willingness to distort history, but his willingness to distort it in a manner that dehumanizes his fellow humans. Moreover, he is (ironically) willing to curtail the manner in which the students exercise their First Amendment rights (the right to protest peacefully), but is unwilling to have his Second Amendment rights (the right to access a gun), regulated in any way, shape, or form.
The drafters of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence got it right when they said we are endowed with certain inalienable rights by our Creator, and that three of those rights are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Unfortunately, they did not recognize those rights for anyone who was not a white male. Luckily, they had the humility to incorporate a mechanism that we later used to correct their mistakes.
We need to move beyond the fissures that tempt us to cast aside and dismiss the rights of those in our community that had to fight harder and longer to have their humanity recognized. Instead, let us fight every day to better understand the history of our country and the mistakes and humility of those before us, so that we may work every day to forge a more perfect union in which all of us may live with respect and without fear.
Nisreen Hasib is a graduate of Flamson Middle School, Paso Robles High School, Yale University, and the Northwestern School of Law.