Free Speech for Sale-Going! Going! Sold!

  1. Georgia Passes Laws Limiting Protests
    Sun Apr 18
    By RUSS BYNUM, Associated Press Writer

    BRUNSWICK, Ga. - Robert Randall never knew free speech could cost so much-in dollars and in compromises-until he tried to organize a large-scale, peaceful demonstration for this summer's G-8 summit.

    The coastal city of Brunswick, where Randall hopes to gather up to 10,000 people to protest the world leaders' summit, passed a law last month that places conditions on public demonstrations.

    Organizers of protests like Randall's "G-8 Carnival" must put up refundable deposits equal to the city's estimated cost for clean up and police protection. Demonstrations may only last 2 hours, 30 minutes. Signs and banners may not be carried on sticks that might be brandished as weapons. And the signs may not be larger than 2-by-3 feet.

    "This law would not exist if the G-8 was not coming here," said Randall, 51, a local therapist who has attended demonstrations since the Vietnam War. "It makes it impossible to express oneself through assembly or speech on public property unless you have money."

    Thousands of anti-globalization protesters are expected June 8-10 when President Bush (news - web sites) hosts the leaders of Britain, Japan, Germany, Italy, France, Canada and Russia on secluded Sea Island.

    Brunswick, Savannah and surrounding counties have passed ordinances governing protest permits. The American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites) has threatened to sue, saying the laws "place impermissible limits on free speech."

    Observers say the cities' actions fit a national pattern of managing dissent with beefed up laws and police powers that constrict constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and assembly.

    The new laws are a response to the violent protests during the 1999 World Trade Organization (news - web sites) meeting in Seattle and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

    Demonstrators are facing some of their toughest restrictions since the 1960s, said Ronald Collins of the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va.

    "Post-Seattle and 9-11, it seems more municipalities are considering measures that may well undermine existing First Amendment law," he said.

    Miami banned props such as water pistols, balloons and sticks before demonstrators arrived for a global trade summit in November. The city repealed the law last month in the face of lawsuits.

    On Thursday, federal appeals court judges ruled that an Augusta, Ga., ordinance violated the rights of a women's group that sought to protest outside the all-male Augusta National Golf Club during the 2003 Masters golf tournament.

    The ordinance, adopted just before the tournament, let police keep protesters a half-mile from the club's gates and required a permit for any assembly of five or more people. The appeals court said the law "creates the opportunity for undetectable censorship."

    Activists also have complained that security plans for so-called "free speech zones" at the Democratic Convention in Boston will keep protesters from being seen or heard.

    Cities "are choosing sides and what they're doing is trying to silence people from speaking out," said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a Washington attorney and co-founder of the Partnership for Civil Justice. "And they're using the law as a political tool to do it."

    During the G-8 summit in Georgia, both Brunswick and Savannah expect to see protesters.

    Brunswick is the nearest inland community to Sea Island, which will be off limits to demonstrators. Savannah, 60 miles north, will house 5,000 international journalists and dignitaries.

    With the summit less than two months away, neither city has approved any permits for demonstrations-in part, activists say, because of steep requirements.

    Brunswick requires groups of six or more to apply for permits at least 20 days before an event. The city's ordinance sets no limit on deposits, and says permits may be denied if a demonstration is likely to congest traffic, impede commerce or endanger the public.

    Savannah's law is similar but does not specify the size of groups needing permits, which the ACLU says could be applied to one person.

    City officials have said that protesters wanting to use public parks will be charged the same fees-$150 to $700 per day-as people renting those spaces for private events such as weddings. Groups of 150 or more must pay maintenance deposits of $1.50 per head.

    Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson declined to comment, citing the threat of litigation from the ACLU. But City Attorney James Blackburn told the Savannah Morning News the city would review the ordinance in light of the appellate decision on the Augusta lawsuit.

    In Brunswick, Randall says he's waiting to find a site for his demonstration before requesting a permit. The city's mayor says the city is trying to help him.
  2. 8 Comments

  3. by   elkpark
    And are you surprised? After all, we're living in Shrub's Amerika now ...
  4. by   NurseHardee
    Actually, this attack on free speech in America has been going on for a very, very long time now. The biggest problem has been the shopping mallifixation of America, where all public space has been channelled into supposedly being private property, where the public is considered to have no right to assemble or express itself in any form, not approved by mall managements.

    What is so wrong about this, is that these malls are developed using public funds that provide the roads to get to the malls, and the many, many public services that are delivered to these companies at discount rates, instead of to the downtowns of our cities that are then left as abandoned open sores of our communitites..

    Nurse Hardee
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    Quote from elkpark
    And are you surprised? After all, we're living in Shrub's Amerika now ...
  5. by   nekhismom
    shopping malls have taken away our right under the first amendment to peacefully protest???? :rollseyes:
  6. by   NurseHardee
    Yes they have, nekhismom. Go back and see why that is the case, since I talked about it some. Shopping malls have destoryed the public commons in America, where it was once held that free speech was allowed. Or rather, they have not destroyed the public commons, but just declared it to be private property now.

    That, despite the fact that municipal police patrol these sites for the owners, public buses deliver shoppers there, and the fact that public tax money is hijacked to build these monstrosities for the private accrewal of profit for the owners. Each shopping mall allowed in the city costs the public plenty from their tax money paid to government, but then these places are allowed to shut up public voice where the public is now herded into.

    Nurse Hardee
    Quote from nekhismom
    shopping malls have taken away our right under the first amendment to peacefully protest???? :rollseyes:
  7. by   canoehead
    So protest in the road, that's a public space, and I'll bet you will get more attention too.
  8. by   NurseHardee
    Quote from canoehead
    So protest in the road, that's a public space, and I'll bet you will get more attention too.
    That's illegal, too. If you haven't noticed, even sticking one's thumb out alongside the road is considered an offense. And holding up a sign saying.. I'm Hungry... is also severely frowned upon, and can get oneself a vagrancy charge.

    I believe Noam Chomsky once wrote an analysis about what he called 'rabble control' as being a principle function of police work done for the well-to-do in society? And the police are for protecting the well-to-do, and not the poor you or I.

    People using their right to free speech in the US are considered rabble. Buy your speech, then that's called building public relations, reporting, or just plain good citizenship. The right to free speech of both Rupert Murdoch and the vagrant are both equally protected under our wise US legal system. And if Rupert Murdoch sticks his thumb out on the side of the road, he will be arrested, too.

    Nurse Hardee
    Last edit by NurseHardee on Apr 20, '04
  9. by   canoehead
    OK, I revise my suggestion, on the SIDE of the road.
  10. by   NurseHardee
    You mean you were just trying to get me run over by a car by your earlier suggestion?! How mean! NH

    Quote from canoehead
    OK, I revise my suggestion, on the SIDE of the road.
    Last edit by NurseHardee on Apr 20, '04