ACTION ALERT: Defend Free Speech, Free Assembly and the National Mall
January 26, 2008
A free speech battle brewing between the Bush Administration and those who seek to preserve the National Mall as a traditional site for mass protest. The National Park Service is undertaking an initiative (similar to that launched to ban protests from New York City's Great Lawn) that would restrict protest gatherings on the National Mall. Every day that Bush stays in office, we can expect new assaults on civil liberties and the Bill of Rights.It is incumbent upon us all to take action.
There is a fast-developing free speech battle between the Bush Administration and those who seek to preserve the National Mall in its current status as a treasured location for mass assembly protest. Every day that Bush stays in office we can anticipate a new assault on civil liberties and the Bill of Rights. It is incumbent upon us all to take action.
Don't let the Bush administration take away the National Mall!_Defend free speech rights -- take action today!_See major Washington Post article below
There is a fast-developing free speech battle between the Bush Administration and those who seek to preserve the National Mall in its current status as a treasured location for mass assembly protest. Every day that Bush stays in office we can anticipate a new assault on civil liberties and the Bill of Rights. It is incumbent upon us all to take action. If Bush gets his way, by the day he leaves office, cherished civil liberties will be eviscerated for decades to come.
The National Park Service (NPS) is undertaking an initiative similar to that launched to exclude protests from New York City's Great Lawn. It will be used to further restrict or ban protest on the National Mall. This is a component of a nationwide campaign of corporate-sponsored organizations working in partnership with government entities that claim that protests, rallies and demonstrations harm grass or "green space" or "natural resources" and must therefore be restricted or banned or shunted off to designated protest pits.
As many ImpeachBush/VotetoImpeach members know, the movement to Impeach Bush was launched by Ramsey Clark on the National Mall on January 18, 2003 at the largest anti-war demonstration since the end of the Vietnam War, numbering 500,000.
At a public meeting called by the National Park Service ten days ago, on Saturday, January 12 in Washington, D.C., representatives from ImpeachBush.org, the Partnership for Civil Justice, ANSWER Coalition, Nicaragua Network, Grassroots America and others demanded that there be no new restrictions placed on the right of the people to access the National Mall for free speech activities.
Take Action Today
Right now, you can email the National Park Service demanding that there be no restrictions on the right of the people to assemble. We have set up an easy to use mechanism that will allow your message to be sent to the National Park Service by clicking the link below.
It is urgent that people around the country take action to stop the plan of the Bush Administration's Interior Department to obstruct free speech rights for mass assembly protest in Washington, D.C. The Bush White House plans to complete this process and deliver a knockout punch to free speech rights by January, 2009, the very last month that Bush will remain in office.
The NPS has set up a "public-private" partnership that allows business interests and real estate developers -- in coordination with the government -- to determine the future of the National Mall. The Jan. 12 public meeting was intended to have low attendance to allow the government to claim public involvement while simultaneously excluding it.
When confronted with the fact that they had done no legitimate outreach about the public meeting to the hundreds of thousands of people who have actually used the National Mall, the President of the Trust for the National Mall responded that she had sent notice to the Board of Trade! The NPS issues 3,000 permits a year for the use of the National Mall, but there has been no effort to notify any of those organizations about the proposed changes. Their attempt to exclude people from this process could not be more clear.
At the hearing the officials tried to quiet the outraged voices of the people, to change the topic of discussion, and to dismiss their concerns. They did, however, keep saying, just send us a message on-line. That is what we are asking everyone to do today.
The government is trying to end the public "comment" period by February 15, 2008. ImpeachBush demanded at the hearing that the sham process of the NPS be halted. We demanded that a moratorium be declared so that the people of this country can be able and informed to weigh in with their opinion. The National Mall belongs to the people.
•Click this link to send your message to the National Park Service.
The Battle To Remold the Mall_Preservation Proposals Spark Debate Over Protest Rights
Michael E. Ruane / Washington Post:
(January 20, 2008 ) — The National Park Service envisions a prime venue for demonstrations: a broad space at the foot of the Capitol with restrooms, seating, a paved surface, even a stand for the media.
Attorneys for activist groups fear a designated, government-approved "pit," limiting freedom of speech and movement in a hallowed place of protest.
The proposal to turn Union Square, the site of the Capitol reflecting pool and the Grant Memorial, into an "urban civic square" is one of many ideas the Park Service is mulling over as it plans the future of the Mall.
But that and other suggested changes have sparked harsh debate between government officials seeking to preserve one of the country's most heavily used national parks and activists concerned about limits on free speech and civil rights.
The faceoff prompted tense exchanges at a public meeting this month and demands for the Park Service to halt its planning and seek broader public input.
"This is a sugar-coating effort to conceal the real plan, which is to reorganize the Mall from its traditional venue as the heart and soul of this country's free-speech protest movement," said Brian Becker, national coordinator of the antiwar ANSWER coalition.
Susan Spain, project executive for the National Mall Plan, countered: "We are not seeking to restrict First Amendment demonstrations whatsoever."
Free Speech Limited to the 'Protest Pit'
The Park Service requires permits for most demonstrations and has "reasonable time, place and manner restrictions" for them, she said. What is proposed is only a better place to protest, with more facilities, she said. But lawyer Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice, which advocates for protest groups, noted that the Capitol might not always be the protesters' target.
Demonstrators "also want to be able to protest as far back [on the Mall] as they need and as wide as they need," she said. "They have the right to . . . not be shunted off to a protest pit."
None of the proposals for the Mall's future, laid out in three mix-and-match alternatives, has been adopted. The Park Service says that they are only suggestions and that it is seeking public comment.
Last week, it extended the mail and online comment period through Feb. 15. Information is available at http://www.nps.gov/nationalmallplan
The proposals, which Spain said were developed from prior public input, are part of the Park Service's attempt to better manage the Mall, which has an estimated 25 million visitors a year and in many areas is worn from age and use.
The Park Service issues 3,000 permits a year for events on the Mall. About half are for "First Amendment" demonstrations. Most of those involving politics draw a few hundred people or fewer, officials said, with perhaps a dozen or so attracting more than 5,000.
The National Mall & Memorial Parks -- the official name -- extends from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and is home to the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It also includes the Tidal Basin, the National World War II Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
It has extensive maintenance problems. Many grassy areas are worn down to the bare dirt. Parts of the wall and walkway around the Tidal Basin have sunk so far that they are submerged at high tide. And the outdoor Sylvan Theater, which sits next to the Washington Monument and traces its history to 1917, looks shabby and dilapidated.
Indeed, one of the proposals is to move the Sylvan Theater, whose 1970s structure stands about 10 feet from the Washington Monument's new security perimeter. A new location was not identified.
Another idea calls for filling in the north bay of the Tidal Basin and removing the Kutz Bridge, which carries eastbound Independence Avenue traffic over the basin.
The Kutz Bridge entered Washington lore in 1974 when a girlfriend of U.S. Rep. Wilbur D. Mills jumped from it into the water during a police stop. A stripper known professionally as "Fanne Foxe," she was rescued unharmed, although Mills's reputation was tarnished.
The Park Service says that the north bay has been the site of fish kills and that the narrow sidewalks along the bridge are crowded and dangerous during peak tourist season.
Other proposals call for paving the Mall's gravel walkways and building a playground near its carousel.
Union Square, between Maryland and Pennsylvania avenues and Third and First streets NW, has been a controversial place for demonstrations. Prior to President Bush's 2006 State of the Union address, protesters had to go to federal court to gain access to the site, which police had said was inside a security perimeter.
Much of the roughly 18-acre square is occupied by the large reflecting pool, which is favored by photographers but filled with dirty water and populated by seagulls. The pool was installed in the late 1960s during the creation of the Interstate 395 tunnel beneath the Capitol and has little historic value, experts say.
Some of the ideas call for removing the pool and paving the square, equipping it as a place to host protests and performances. The Park Service estimates that it could hold more than 50,000 people.
During a Jan. 12 public meeting in the Old Post Office Pavilion, Spain said large demonstrations would not be restricted from spreading across the Mall. Park Service spokesman Bill Line said later that the vast majority of demonstrations would fit tidily in Union Square.
The idea is "how do we better accommodate things, and how do we design for them" Spain said, "and also have this place look the way the American public would like the welcoming space in our nation to look." She said the chief sentiment among 5,000 prior public comments was that the Mall does not look as good as it should. So another proposal suggests "mandatory rest periods between events" to "protect natural resources and views."
But Verheyden-Hilliard argued that the Park Service was unfairly linking appearance and protest. "They're suggesting that robust political speech and use of [the Mall] . . . for political protest is somehow incongruous or in conflict with the location itself," she said. "Grass grows back. Free speech doesn't."