Opinion

If You Want to Protest Something, Use Your Own Dime and Time

The other night, my wife and I went to see a protection of The King and I at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. I would have been ticked off if the actors had decided to make some political statement — Left or Right — before, during, or after the show. Theatergoers paid to see a particular show. They didn’t pay to hear someone spout off about politics and why they were angry with the world.

Before the production started, a representative from Fifth/Third Bank came out to kick off opening night and the season. Fifth/Third Bank sponsors the Encore series at the Fox. He welcomed us and told us about some of the upcoming productions. One was Hamilton. Hamilton is political, and if people want to spend their time and money watching it, they are free to do so. There would not be any First Amendment protection for a conservative actor who decided to protest the political plotline while he was performing. He most likely would be fired, and rightly so.

The NFL players that have been protesting did it on someone else’s dime and time. There is no law against protesting. In fact, the First Amendment protects their right to “free speech” and “assembly.” But it does not protect them from stealing someone else’s venue to do it. These multi-millionaires (some close to billionaires, for example, LeBron James) could easily pool their money and purchase a sport’s team and protest at every game. The result of their investment — either good or bad — would be theirs.

They could invest their money in a play, film, book, documentary, commercial, or whatever, to express their grievances. These players aren’t destitute slaves with no recourse. They don’t live in slave quarters on someone’s plantation. They are free men. They need to act like it and stop playing the victim.

Better yet, why not buy commercial time during a football game.

If you want to protest something, write a play like The King and I, “based on Margaret Landon’s novel, Anna and the King of Siam (1944), which is in turn derived from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam (modern-day Thailand) in the early 1860s.” It’s very political. It’s about a king who is a tyrant. He has numerous wives and dozens of children. (This makes him very modern given where we are concerning same-sex marriage, transgenderism, and the push for the legalization of polygamy.) He believes in and supports slavery. (This also makes him like modern-day politicians who use their office to enslave people through political favors so they will vote for them.) He does not want to be thought of as a “barbarian,” but in many respects, he is.

A new “wife” is given to him as a “gift” from the king of Burma. Tuptim is not a “gift”; she’s a slave who is in love with a young man (Lun Tha) she cannot marry. Anna gives her a copy of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, an American novel about slavery. The book is a protest against slavery. It had a huge impact on the anti-slavery movement. If the government had banned the book, that would have been a violation of the First Amendment.

Politics is built into the play. The King and I is a statement about tyrants and slavery (among other things) and how to bring about change. Theatergoers were paying for a message that was the play. They weren’t paying for, and the production company was not paying for, protests about this or that.

A delegation from Great Britain arrives in Siam. The goal of Anna and the king is to show that King Mongkut is not a “barbarian.” The king’s wives are dressed in western fashions and a play based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin is put on as part of the entertainment:

As final preparations for the play are made, Tuptim steals a moment to meet with Lun Tha. He tells her he has an escape plan, and she should be ready to leave after the performance (“I Have Dreamed”). Anna encounters them, and they confide in her (“Hello, Young Lovers,” reprise). The play (“Small House of Uncle Thomas,” narrated ballet) is presented in a Siamese ballet-inspired dance. Tuptim is the narrator, and she tells her audience of the evil King Simon of Legree and his pursuit of the runaway slave Eliza. Eliza is saved by Buddha, who miraculously freezes a river and conceals her in snow. Buddha then causes the river to melt, drowning King Simon and his hunting party. The anti-slavery message is blunt.

This “play within the play” was one of the best parts of The King and I. It was beautifully done.

There are many ways to protest, “to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” to make your voice heard, to take a knee for this or that, to stand up for a pet cause. You can write a play, write a book, send a letter to the editor, buy commercial time, donate to an organization that supports your interests, “etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.” Just do it on your own dime and time. And I have every right to protest your protest, turn you off, not buy your product, write an article, write a book, “etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.”

Part of this article originally appeared in my article “You Aren’t Qualified to Hold Public Office If You Don’t Know What the First Amendment Means.”

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