Sunday, August 11, 2013

The First Amendment in a totally new light

by Carole Phiri-Chibbonta
Attending the 2013 Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) Conference  at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington DC has been a wonderful experience. Not only have I listened to several interesting research presentations but have had the opportunity to network with so many great minds all in one place.

Without question, the most meaningful, memorable and educational session for me was the First Amendment Center Plenary Panel ‘Freedom Sings’ presentation. I have attended a number of conferences but never have I come across any session like this one.

Freedom Sings: Music Censorship, Social Change and the first Amendment was a unique and interesting session that featured an all-star live band. The performance featured music that had been banned, censored or had sounded a call for social change at some point in American history. It therefore invited its audience to take a fresh look at the First Amendment, popular music and freedom of speech. The First Amendment gives Americans the right to free speech, press, religion, assembly and the right to petition. I found the plenary presentation to be a fantastic, eye opening show that told the story of how the American government has attempted to limit free speech. The presentation focused on gender equality, sex and drugs.

Music ranging from Jonell Mossers’s  Annie had a baby”, Tammy Rogers’s “Blowing in the wind”, Woody Guthrie’s “This land is your land”, Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” to Black Eyed Peas “Hump” were played. And as the band played, the music took me down memory lane, in particular, to the music lessons and Monday assembly sessions as a pupil at Nkana Trust School, where I and my fellow pupils sang some of the songs that the Freedom Sings band sung.

I had no idea, up until this plenary session, that some of the songs Mr Jones (music teacher) taught us were actually part of America’s struggle for free speech. These songs include “Blowing in the wind”, “This land is my land” and “Puff the magic dragon”. It was shocking to learn that the songs that I sang and enjoyed as a child were once thought to be dangerous and inappropriate in American society.

As an African educator, I now see the First Amendment in a totally different light and I can’t think of a better way to tell the story of how government has attempted to limit free speech than the Freedom Sings presentation. It was not only extremely entertaining but highly educational.

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