by A Siegel
As a native Washingtonian (okay, native of the area), one is almost weaned on protest as background noise. Moving around “monumental” and core Federal DC, it is hard to remember times without some form of protest. From (near)long-term Lafayette Park denizens protesting multiple administrations (both D and R), to large marches to sign carrying chanters outside the Supreme Court, to … protests are part of our lives and a quite clear symbol of American democracy and our fundamental right to petition the government and to protest (in support of and/or opposition to government action, for or against a potential policy, for or against a Supreme Court nominee, etc.).
How, the Park Service — in a 25 page, small print proposal — is calling for serious restrictions on the public’s, on American citizens’, First Amendment right to protest around the White House. That includes placing significant financial burdens on protesters. A reasonable summary of that 25 pages includes the following:
- The space available for protest within sight of the White House will be significantly reduced;
- Ability to leverage reasonable technology (such as loudspeakers and even small stages) will be seriously curtailed;
- Protesters will be charged for using that space to protest.
Per the First Amendment, speech is free. But apparently, as far as the Trump Park Service is concerned, speech should be free only as long as it isn’t where anyone who matters might hear it or be disturbed about it.
As with any proposed regulation, the public has a chance to weigh in.
Mea culpa, deadline for weighing in is today …
if you wish to speak out, do so ASAP …
or, well, immediately …
The ACLU has a 30-page (web introduction/overview). That seems a bit much for the average citizen to consider. But, well, as one “weaned” on the background noise of protests (like those heard while being taken to visit Smithsonian museums as a toddler), I’ve weighed in as follows:
Core to the American Republic is the right to seek redress, to protest against or in support of government action, to speak our minds freely … to have Freedom of Speech. That we are able to speak (what we, as Americans, see as) truth to power is central to the very concept of being American, of what is the United States of America.
This can be, at times, a burden to individuals and communities. We will hear voices we don’t wish to hear. We might have disruptions to our daily lives.
However, we gain as a society and are strengthened as a Democracy from this very disruption.
The core of the nation’s political power: the White House. That core is surrounded by land controlled by the Park Service.
The right to speak truth to power, to giving meaning to the 1st Amendment’s guarantee of Freedom of Speech, requires having reasonable access to speak where those in power might hear — even with some disruption to their lives.
To restrict (further) the physical access near the White House is to put an undue burden on the execution of a Constitutional right to Free Speech.
To place (further) financial demands on those seeking to protest near the White House is to put an undue burden on the execution of a Constitutional right to Free Speech.
Over decades, as a ‘native’ of the DC area, I have been exposed to 100s of different protests. I have far from agreed with many of them. Yet, I have seen them all as open demonstrations of the core Constitutional right to Free Speech and Assembly.
The Park Service proposed regulation is a direct attack on making a reality of the Right of Assembly and the Right to Free Speech.
It should not be advanced further.
One thing that is great in the regulatory process is that (at least some of) the comments can be viewed, can be accessed …
As opposed to the ACLU’s 30 pages or my many paragraphs, some are short and sweet, like this one:
I strongly oppose this antidemocratic proposal. A permit and fee process limits democratic freedom of speech to those with money to spare, while many of the people who need public protests to make their voices heard are also the poor and discriminated groups in the country. (Taylor Farrell, Tracking # 1k2-95xr-1h22)
This is a hard no. Have you heard of the First Amendment? (Emily Cohen, Tracking Number: 1k2-95xr-o7f3)
I don’t know about you, but I definitely agree with these.
Here is one that an acquaintance of an acquaintance submitted:
It is simply wrong and should be considered a violation of current law and the First Amendment to limit in any way the space in front of the White House for public demonstration or protest, other than the current system which seems to be working effectively.
I have lived in the DC area for 34 years and seen Secret Service and other law enforcement around the White House providing different levels of security as needed and experienced the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House after the Oklahoma City bombing. This current system works.
I regularly walk in front of or by the pedestrian area in front of the White House going to and from lunch or meetings and am always humbled by the reminder that the freedom to demonstrate or gather gives our country hope, regardless of political persuasion or who is President.
I oppose changes to the physical space in front of the White House where the public can gather and either demonstrate or protest and any new fees for such activities.
So I encourage everyone to: a) SUBMIT your thoughts/comments TODAY; and b) do so in your own voice. From Emily Cohen’s two sentences to the ACLU’s 30 pages, take the space that you need to make your points. Help make clear, with 1000s of others, that you are opposed to restricting our ability to speak truth to power; that you oppose efforts to gag democracy in action.
ALERT: The Trump administration has a plan to drastically curtail protests in DC, shutting down space in front of White House, charging massive fees, & banning stages & sound systems for rapid-response demonstrations. Deadline for comments? Monday, Oct 15: https://t.co/kCxYhMu8Rd
— Ben Wikler (@benwikler) October 11, 2018