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The Wrong to Remain Silent

Written by Steve Ross Mar 03, 2010

My law professor said something today that resonated with me. He said:

You only possess the rights that you assert.

In other words, liberty is no longer (if it ever truly was) the default in our society.

In a nation that ever increasingly exhibits aspects characteristic of a police state, in the era of the PATRIOT Act, it is more important than ever that citizens of all ages actively engage themselves in the protection of their fundamental rights.

Young people are especially vulnerable to constitutional rights violations, as many of us believe that we lack the clout or resources necessary to fight back. This mentality stymies the youth rights movement, and is as incorrect as it is dangerous. True, young people lack some of the traditional indicators of social power, such as substantial financial means, and, in the case of those under eighteen, the right to vote. But lack of cash-on-hand and even the lack of the right to cast a ballot do not render youth powerless. Youth have significant power indeed, if channeled correctly.

Every person, young or old, rich or poor, has a voice—the ability to speak out. The question is: do we use it?

Merely complaining about an issue, as many who claim to be a part of the youth rights movement do, is at the very best unproductive, and at the worst destructive to the cause. We must do more than complain.

Simply writing a letter about an issue, or timidly discussing a rights violation, while certainly more constructive than complaining, still doesn’t fit the bill. We must do more than hide behind paper and social convention.

We must speak.

But is one person’s voice enough? The answer is almost always no. We must speak as a group—a unified force. In order to do this, we must find like-minded individuals to rally around us. For, certainly, the voice of one hundred is greater than the voice of one.

And so I call upon young people everywhere to unite for the cause of equality. Turn complaints into campaigns, and mobilize whatever resources that may be at your disposal. Form a group you can rely upon, a group sizable enough to attract attention, and make yourselves heard as a unit. This is the single most powerful way to effect change, whether the forum be a school, a city, a state, a nation, or the world. Unite as many, yet speak as one—this is my charge to you, readers.

If you don’t like a school policy, advocate against it with the full force of the student body. If the police in your city are harassing young people, remind the mayor that his job depends on the satisfaction of his constituents, or future constituents as the case may be. If a law discriminates against youth, fight it as a collective voice, all the way to the courts if necessary.

Do these things, and you will find yourself a formidable change agent in a world that worships the status quo. As my law professor so wisely stated:

You only possess the rights that you assert.

So go assert them, together with as many allies as you can attain.

In summary, you have the right to remain silent.

But don’t.

-SR

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