January 9, 2017
A new tradition of teach-ins starts now
by Peter Clark
Starting this Sunday, January 8, Politics & Prose, DC’s stalwart indie bookstore, will begin hosting teach-ins to inform the public about important issues surrounding Donald Trump’s presidency.
Teach-ins go back to the Vietnam War. The initial concept was simple: discuss and protest simultaneously. By combining education with anger, student movements gained momentum in the spring of 1965.
That March, three thousand University of Michigan students had met overnight in university auditoriums to learn about the conflict in Vietnam from professors, a protest-via-education method that earned the endorsement of the school’s administration. The night wasn’t without turmoil, as two separate bomb threats forced students and faculty out into the cold. But the students wouldn’t be bullied; once the buildings were cleared, they returned and continued the process through to the morning. By May, the New York Times was reporting that the idea of holding teach-ins had “spread across the nation.”
The Michigan students’ vigilance reinforced an important corollary to the freedom of speech — the freedom to assemble. As the First Amendment puts it: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech… or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” (Emphasis mine.)
Our ability to gather and discuss ideas is central to our democracy. The constitution envisions that we will not only have a voice, but also come together to express it.
Politics & Prose’s first teach-in will feature Todd A. Cox, the recently-named director of policy at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law; and David Cole, national legal director of the ACLU, and a contributor to our forthcoming anti-Trump activist sourcebook What We Do Now. The event will also be livestreamed on the Politics & Prose Facebook page, and all are invited to join the conversation on Twitter under the hashtag #TeachIn.
Peter Clark is a former Melville House sales manager.