Do we have freedom of speech in the land of the free? “What kind of question is that?” you might ask. America is known for its free press and free people, who have the right to tell anybody, even the President of the United States, to go straight to hell.
You might be able to criticize the guy in the Oval Office, but the right to criticize the guy in the bosses’ office is not a right you or I have. We can cuss Barack Obama any day of the week, but if we say a loose word about the boss man, we might find ourselves in the unemployment line.
Millennials are finding this out the hard way, as employers scour the Internet, mining social media for a loose word or a compromising photograph. Our freedom of speech off the job is compromised by the need to get a job and keep a job; our right to free expression, a right for which our forebearers fought at Saratoga, at Gettysburg, at Okinawa.
We are told by professors and career counselors that we should “clean up” our social media profiles; that we should avoid posting anything that could prove controversial, because doing so could cost us employment opportunities.
We are unconsciously trained to play into this whole dog and pony show – to suppress our own freedom of speech to please an employer. “That’s just the way things are” becomes an all too familiar refrain.
That’s not an excuse. “That’s just the way things are” is a cop-out. It is surrender. It is cowardice. It is weakness. The idea that things are the way they are and they’ll never change nor can they be changed is one of the reasons this country is in such awful shape.
We will never truly be a free people unless we are unafraid to express ourselves freely, without worrying about whether or not it’s going to cost us a job or make our boss mad.
Times are tough and I understand that we, all of us, as a people are hurting. A lot of folks want to keep their heads down. They just want to move along, not make much trouble and go about their day-to-day lives. I understand that.
We have gotten into an awful funk as a people of just accepting things as they are – we don’t question anymore. We don’t fight anymore. We don’t argue. We just lie down and take it.
I use the example of social media because it’s one all of us understand and it’s one we’ve all heard before. But ask yourselves – does it have to be that way? Would it be that way if employers were not allowed by law to search for you in social media before they hired you? Or if they weren’t allowed to fire you for things you did off the job?
Why aren’t things that way? Why can you be fired at the whim of your boss, any day of the week? Where’s the justice in that? These are all questions worth asking. “That’s just the way things are” doesn’t allow us, as a people, to think and to question. It undermines democracy and freedom of speech.
What are you going to do about it?
Devin Griggs is president of the Murray State College Democrats.
Column by Devin Griggs, Opinion Editor