Protesting is American as apple pie. Think Freedom Riders, the Occupy Movement, the New York shirtwaist strike of 1909, the Anti-War demonstrations of the 60’s and 70’s, the Women’s March in 2017, or any of the rallies that you may have participated in with Indivisible Berks.
America was born out of protest, beginning with the Stamp Act in 1765 and the Townshend Act in 1767 in which the British Parliament began imposing taxes on items that had to be imported into the colonies, such as glass, paper, and tea. Protests take many forms; some can be as simple as a single constituent like lawyer and Founding Father John Dickinson petitioning the government in writing. In response to the Townshend Act, Dickinson penned his “Letters from a farmer in Pennsylvania”, where he wrote:
If at length it becomes undoubted that an inveterate resolution is formed to annihilate the liberties of the governed, the English history affords frequent examples of resistance by force. What particular circumstances will in any future case justify such resistance can never be ascertained till they happen. Perhaps it may be allowable to say generally, that it never can be justifiable until the people are fully convinced that any further submission will be destructive to their happiness. — Letter III
Read Dickinson’s third letter carefully and one gets a hint of the violence and ultimately Revolution to ensue. Prior to the Revolution though, the most infamous act of resistance was the Boston Tea Party. Outraged colonists dumping barrels of tea into Boston harbor, like Washington’s chopping down of the cherry tree or Paul Revere’s ride has become an ingrained element of the “creation myth” of our nation. The Boston Tea Party was the colonists’ response to the straw that broke the camel’s back, namely the Townshend Act, which they felt was an unfair burden imposed on them by a remote and irresponsive government. In essence it was an act of last resort by a group of aggrieved people.
It’s no state secret that Donald Trump isn’t a student of history. If he were, he wouldn’t be trying to take away one of our most sacred rights-the right to peaceably assemble. But that’s exactly what he’s doing. Trump and his followers have long been questioning the legitimacy of protesters by alleging they are paid by people like George Soros. More recently Trump has begun to refer to demonstrations against Kavanaugh as “mob rule” and has continued this type of rhetoric on the campaign trail to gin up his base.
Now he’s turning that rhetoric into real policy. The administration is seeking to significantly limit demonstrations in front of the White House and on the National Mall. Trump’s proposal would close 80% of the sidewalk space near the White House, put limits on spontaneous demonstrations, and start charging fees for staging protests. As the ACLU reports, “Fee requirements could make mass protests like Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic 1963 March on Washington and its ‘I have a dream’ speech too expensive to happen.”
The Trump administration’s clamp down is not exactly original. Similar constraints were proposed during the Vietnam War era. Back then the ACLU sued, citing infringement on First Amendment rights. This led to the National Park Service (NPS), which administers areas around the Mall and the White House, to issue a set of regulations that allowed “large demonstrations, guaranteeing quick action on applications for permits, and accommodating spontaneous protests as much as possible.” The administration’s plans include narrowing the area in front of the White House to a 5 foot strip along Pennsylvania Avenue. As the ACLU points out, “This is perhaps the most iconic public forum in America, allowing ‘We the People’ to express our views directly to the chief executive, going back at least to the women’s suffrage movement 100 years ago.”
In the 1967 ACLU lawsuit the judge ruled that limiting the space and numbers of people allowed to gather was “invalid and void as an unconstitutional infringement of plaintiffs’ rights…” He also wrote, “Timeliness is essential to effective dissent. Delay may stifle protest as effectively as outright censorship.” Currently the NPS requires 48 hour notice for a demonstration permit, but that can be waived in urgent situations. That would be changed to say the 48 hours could be waived ONLY if the NPS has the needed resources and personnel on hand. Other regulations include 48 hour notice for approval of small stages and sound systems. As for charging fees-don’t we as taxpayers already fund the NPS?
Protesting is enshrined in our history and in our Constitution. The First Amendment to the Constitution prevents the government from abridging the freedom to petition for a redress of grievances and from abridging the freedom of speech. As one of our members, Tammy Harkness says, “Public demonstrations at our government seats of power are critical to this right to free speech.”
In other words, no one should be allowed take away your slice of the pie.
2016 Independent Presidential Candidate Evan McMullin's tweets about the issue.
* If you follow Indivisible Berks on Facebook, you may have seen several posts directing people to a link where the public can leave comments on the NPS’s proposed actions. The deadline to do so was yesterday. Hopefully you had a chance to have your say.
posted by Amy Levengood
Indivisible Berks is a 501c4 organization. Donations are not tax deductible, but much appreciated to defray our expenses.