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A Redress of Grievances

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Most students in my American Government class at Eastern Kentucky University can readily list the rights enumerated in the First Amendment: freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly -- along with the establishment clause and free exercise clauses relative to religion. What they tend to forget, however, is one of the most powerful and important rights which each American possesses: "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." It is both a right AND an obligation.

In my role as the Chief Lobbyist for a public institution in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, I always marvel at those people who gather daily in Frankfort, just as they do in capitols across our country, to petition their Government -- in the form of their elected representatives -- for a whole host of causes and issues.

I am inspired by their temerity and sincerity -- common citizens committed to championing everything from raising the minimum wage to advocating for voting rights to supporting victims of sexual assault to lobbying for increased funding for education; and a whole panoply of issues in between.

As citizens of this great democratic republic, we are all empowered to make a case for our cause, whatever it might be. And the old adage is true -- if we don't represent ourselves and our issues, no one else will. Napoleon Bonaparte famously observed, ""Ten people who speak make more noise than ten thousand who are silent."

Consider the tens of millions in the world today who will NEVER have the chance to petition their government for ANYTHING. If they were to attempt what we as Americans too often take for granted, it could very well mean sanction, imprisonment, torture and even execution. But our right as Americans to lobby has been affirmed and reaffirmed again and again.

In the case of Marshall v. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company (1853), the United States Supreme Court's ruling argued:

All persons whose interests may in any way be affected by any public or private act of the legislature have an undoubted right to urge their claims and arguments, either in person or by counsel professing to act for them, before legislative committees as well as in courts of justice.

So it falls to each of us to urge our own "claims and arguments" always keeping in mind the sage advice of the late Senator Hubert Humphrey: "The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously."