Protesters’ words echo Roosevelt’s park dedication speech

Oct. 14, 2013 @ 12:12 AM

A protest in the National Park Saturday highlighted well the problems with a government shutdown.

Both sides in the argument of the park’s closure have valid points that are easily understandable.

The government claims the park must be closed to the public — even the backcountry — because of the liability associated with it being unstaffed. They also worry unauthorized users would no longer obey the laws of the land when it comes to caring for the park’s special areas.

Protesters have another view entirely. The land for the public park was taken by the government to be public land, therefore it belongs to the public — all the time.

In fact, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt would likely have a similar view.

Upon dedicating the park on Sept. 2, 1940, Roosevelt delivered a speech that still applies today.

“It is good and right that we should conserve these mountain heights of the old frontier for the benefit of the American people,” he said. “But in this hour we have to safeguard a greater thing: the right of the people of this country to live as free men. Our vital task of conservation is to preserve the freedom that our forefathers won in this land …”

While speaking about the on-going concern of World War II and the scourge of the Nazi spread across Europe, Roosevelt spoke words that ring true, to some degree, with the current situation embroiling our federal government.

“I hope … that one hundred years from now the Great Smoky National Park will still belong in practice, as well as in theory, to the people of a free nation,” he said. “I hope it will not belong to them in theory alone and that in practice the ownership of this Park will not be in the hands of some strange kind of Government puppet … I hope the use of it will not be confined to people who come hither on Government specified days and on Government directed tours.”

While Roosevelt’s concern was borne from the threat of the battles raging overseas, the comparisons to the situation today are only natural.

It’s likely that Saturday protest — which was mainly symbolic — will have no effect on the outcome of the government shutdown, or the closure of the park. But it’s reasons like this that the forefathers had the foresight to include freedom of speech in the Bill of Rights.

Sometimes you have to take a stand.