8.2 The Methods of Protest

Part: 
Two
Chapter: 
8

8.2 The Methods of Protest

It should be apparent from the foregoing that citizens need not feel hesitant in condemning that which they feel is worthy of condemnation. Moreover, they need feel no hesitation in taking advantage of the rights they have under the First Amendment to protest in more visible or organized form. They may, of course, form or join organizations designed expressly for the purposes of articulating a particular point of view. They may protest or picket or march or demonstrate in places where they are likely to attract attention, and where they will have the opportunity to persuade others of their views. The right of citizens to protest is of course coextensive with the right of publishers to publish, and we do not suggest that citizens not exercise their First Amendment rights as vigorously and as frequently as do those who publish their views in print, on film or tape, or over the airwaves.

Of some special relevance in this context is the practice of protesting near the premises of establishments offering material that some citizens may find dangerous or offensive or immoral.

We recognize that such forms of protest may at times discourage patrons who would otherwise enter such establishments from proceeding, but that, we believe, is part of the way in which free speech operates in the United States. In the context of a labor dispute, picket lines frequently have this very kind of discouraging effect, and the Supreme Court, even outside of the labor context, has recognized the free speech rights of those people who would protest on public streets or sidewalks but in close proximity to business establishments whose business practices they find objectionable.[80] For citizens to protest in the vicinity of a pornography outlet is fully within the free speech traditions of this country, and so too is protest in the vicinity of an establishment only some of whose wares the protesters would find objectionable. If people feel that businesses, whether a local store or a multinational corporation, are behaving improperly, it is their right and their obligation to make those views known.

Somewhat related to on-site or near-site protesting, in terms of coercive force, is the boycott, in which a group of citizens may refuse to patronize an establishment offering certain kinds of magazines, or tapes, or other material, and may also urge others to take similar action. At times the boycott may take the form of action against an advertiser, where people may express their views about corporate responsibility by refusing to buy certain products as long as the producer of those products advertises in certain magazines, or on certain television shows. Boycotts attempt to take advantage in organized fashion of the needs for business establishments to have customers. They are thus attempts to mobilize consumer power towards controlling the products and services made available in the market.

In a number of purely business contexts, an organized boycott would violate the antitrust laws, whose aim, in part, is to encourage competition by discouraging some forms of organized economic pressure. But consumer boycotts for social and political aims have been determined by the Supreme Court to be protected by the First Amendment,[81] and thus we do not hesitate to note that a consumer boycott, premised on the view that corporations can often do as much, for good or for evil, as government, is well within the First Amendment-protected methods of protesting business activities that citizens may find objectionable.

Notes

  1. In fact, in Organization for a Better Austin v. Keefe, 402 U.S., (1971), p. 415, the Court prohibited an injunction directed against people who were passing out leaflets in the neighborhood of the residence of a person whose business practices they found objectionable.
  2. NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., 458 U.S., (1982), p. 886.