“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or bridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
What would you give up for a free breakfast? Hey, free food is free food, right? I’d probably wait in line at least an hour for free Godiva chocolate.
College students, especially, are attracted to the idea of free food. That cash from selling your blood plasma goes only so far, you know.
But would they sign away their First Amendment rights for a bagel and cream cheese?
I found out last Friday, Nov. 2, during the National College Media Convention in Chicago.
(Outside of Farm and Dairy newspaper, one of the other hats I wear is that of adviser to The Collegian, the student-run campus newspaper of Grove City College, Grove City, Pa. Five students and I were attending the convention, which actually energized this old journalist as much as it did the younger ones.)
The breakfast was billed as the First Amendment Free Food Festival, and students knew upfront what they were getting into:
“You wait in line but can’t talk (no freedom of speech). Once you get your food, you can’t eat with your friends (no right to peaceably assemble). And if you don’t like it, stroll over to the empty complaint table (no right to petition for redress of grievances).”
Still, they were waiting in line when the doors opened. They signed a form they barely looked at (relinquishing their First Amendment rights), grabbed a passport (to The Kingdom of the Socialist States of the People’s Republic of Chicago) and headed toward the free chow, while the national anthem of the former Soviet Union blared overhead.
At the food table, a student would ask for a bagel and get a doughnut instead. Ask for orange juice, and get told there was none, while the server poured a glass of o.j. for himself. A group of students who sat together were told to disperse to individual tables. A goon squad patrolled the area, stopping at tables to forbid diners to speak, and removing those who wouldn’t comply into a “jail” area.
Most of the students sat silently eating their cereal or, if they were lucky, muffins. And the food ran out.
Finally, some students decided to stage a protest and mobbed the table to grab whatever food was left.
What do we want?
When do we want it?
Video: Free Food vs. Five Freedoms
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First Amendment programs are usually lectures or symposiums, Koretzky said. When the Society of Professional Journalists offered a $1,000 grant for innovative programming spotlighting the First Amendment, he started plotting. “We wanted to do something where they could act out the First Amendment.”
At the Chicago convention this year, Florida Atlantic University graduate Gideon Grudo coordinated the free food breakfast and hoped the student journalists would take the idea back to their own campuses. Student journalists, he said, who are unaware of just what those First Amendment rights are.
“I think that’s pretty mind-blowing.”
Mariam Aldhahi, another FAU grad and event volunteer, said it’s always interesting to see college students — who typically want to revolt and change the world — passively sign away their rights and take what they’re given at the free food events without saying a thing. “We want them to get up and get angry.”
“It’s crazy. They don’t say anything.”
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Film and video student Kyle Gravitte, of Randolph, N.J., was one of the student journalists thrown in the mock jail for talking at the breakfast. “They told me they didn’t like the way I was looking at them.”
Gravitte didn’t get any food at all, and when he asked for orange juice, he got a glass of milk instead.
He understood the underlying message though; he helped organize a Free Food Festival at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.
“They’re [students] into the free food, but they don’t understand what they’re giving away.”
Even at Grove City College, which was founded on faith and freedom, “students talk about the Constitution a lot, but we don’t see tangible examples” like the free food exercise, said Grove City junior and Communication Studies major Dan Johnson.
“I don’t think they quite understand what the First Amendment means to them.”
The students aren’t the only ones.
Few of us understand, or remember, the rights we have.
Until they’re taken away.