How do you feel about free speech, Mr. Candidate?

Our friends over at Colorado Independent have a great new analysis up on free speech zones graveyards at the upcoming DNC. As Constitutional attorney John Whitehead explains, the Dems will be the only party this summer building a fence around open expression.

Protesters at the upcoming Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Denver in late August will be corralled into caged “free speech zones” made of chicken wire and chain link fences which are located more than two football fields from the delegates’ entrance. Those who attempt to exercise their First Amendment rights outside this makeshift cage, which is partially obscured by trees and sculptures, will be arrested. (Ironically, protesters at this year’s Republican National Convention will not face a cage or even policemen in riot gear.)

Pardonnez-moi le Francais, but this is a fucking embarrassment of the first order. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if you’re only free to speak in certain areas, far removed from any chance of actually being heard, then what you have is not free speech. “Free speech” under these conditions is tortured into the sort of Rovian Newspeak we’ve had to endure these past few years, an open lie so bald-faced it would have shamed Richard Nixon.

Stalin had “free speech zones,” too, only he called them “prisons.”

S&R has been credentialed to cover the DNC and we’ll be bringing a fair-sized team to the show. Some of us will be inside watching the official events unfold, but rest assured, others will be hunting for free speech, no matter what part of Denver officials try to hide it in. (And since a lot of us live here, we know our way around.) We don’t expect to agree with everything being said – heck, we may not agree with a word of it – but I think a lot of us here feel an obligation to certain Constitutional principles that both parties seem to have abandoned. And if we’ve hated how the GOP has redefined “freedom,” you can bet your sweet ass we’re even less enamored of Vichy Democrats bent on out-GOPping the Busheviks.

So fine, DNC – try and hide free speech as best you can. But we’re going to go find it and bring it back for all to hear.

Meanwhile, a question for the man who ought to be out front in making sure that free speech graveyards are a thing of the past: Sen. Obama, why aren’t you defending the right to free speech in America?


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  • I will let you slide on this post just because you probably don’t actually read current events. Minneapolis (Where the RNC will be held) recently passed a resolution allowing cops:

    * Use rubber bullets when they feel it’s necessary
    * Confiscate or destroy cameras if they can be used for evidence
    * Conceal their identities
    * Infiltrate activist groups and target activists
    * Withhold medical assistance after they attack people

    So the cops can shoot you for taking a picture, destroy the evidence against the cop, and conceal their badge numbers preventing you from filing a proper report. A confined free speech zone seems a lot better than getting shot, your possessions stolen, and you being left in the street with internal bleeding awaiting your demise. Sure the DNC is bad, but you have to at least say that the RNC is worse 10 fold.

  • Actually, I do try and follow current events as best I can. But you’ll have to forgive me – a lot of times the important news doesn’t find its way to the light as easily as we might hope. In this case, I can imagine why the story you cite never made national front pages.

    Even given the RNC here, I’d still be bitching about the Dems. At least they ought to know better.

  • Matt:

    I believe you’re overstating your case a bit:

    Minneapolis RNC Convention story

    And this would suggest that rubber bullets (no longer in use) are banned, and that journalists, camerapeople, etc. cannot have cameras confiscated.

  • This is not new. At Gore’s inauguration in 2000 the LAPD shot up the fleeing demonstrators with rubber bullets.

    The city of Los Angeles was sued by the ACLU, and the ACLU won the case.

    Gore, of course, said nothing about the criminal behavior of the Robocops.

    Nothing “ironic,” and nothing new. Nothing about “knowing better.” The ones who should know better are you. The Democrats are a criminal party of gangsters, just like their Rethug partners in crime.

  • I’m so damned happy that the Scrogues will be covering the convention! Might i suggest reviewing One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich beforehand, just in case you find yourself in a free speech zone.

    And you’re right, Dr. S, the damned sure should know better…and act better.

  • We’ll try to keep you plugged in, Lex.

  • What strikes me in this discussion is the issue of how far the bar has been lowered at this juncture. Free Speech has been reduced to degrees of its restriction.

  • Yeah, Doc. What’s a few yards of chicken wire among friends? And might I suggest precautionary tetanus shots for the free speech inclined?

  • Thanks for this – not necessarily what we want to hear – but good to know nonetheless

  • 2 football fields – that’s 200 yards, or 600 feet. IIRC, the Secret Service moved the free speech zone something like a half mile away from the Fleet Center in 2004.

    And we don’t know how much of this is being driven by the Secret Service and how much of it is being driven by the DNCC – the Colorado Independent article doesn’t say, and I simply refuse to tar and feather the DNCC as you have without knowing those kinds of details. If the details support your contention that the DNCC is to blame, I’ll happily join in the fray, but if not, then IMO you’ll owe them an apology.

  • Sorry Brian, but you’re missing a really important point here. If the issue is SECURITY, then label it as such and address the security issues. And if you do so, then we aren’t talking about a “free speech zone.”

    If, on the other hand, the problem is people simply protesting, I don’t care if it’s 200 feet or 200 miles.

  • I didn’t miss it, Sam. Quite the contrary. But you seem to be ignoring the security aspect entirely. And so did the Independent.f

    My point stands – there’s not enough information about what’s going on to crucify the DNCC, and that’s what you’ve done here.

  • I’m not ignoring the security aspect at all, Brian. It wasn’t my decision to establish free speech zones, and if the issue is security, it damned sure wasn’t my halfwitted idea to couch the “solution” in terms that go directly to the heart of our most important Constitutional guarantee.

    We’ve seen enough of Bush to know that the issue is NOT security. We may be asked to believe that, but when you’re tossing librarians out of events because they have signs saying “McCain = Bush,” I think it’s clear enough what’s really going on.

    That the Dems would adopt the strategy – in 2008, in 2004, in 2000, or during any other year – is appalling.

    So let’s be clear. Deal with legit security issues AS such. Past that, we really shouldn’t be in the business of suppressing expression.

  • So, what you’re most annoyed at is the arrogance at calling an isolated area away from the delegates a “free speech zone”? Fair enough, can’t argue with that.

    We still need to know the details. If the Secret Service simply won’t let the DNCC allow protesters closer than 600 feet, then we should be able to bitch at the Secret Service over it. If it’s the DNCC, though, that’s a different issue. But again, we simply don’t know enough to say.

  • No, what I’m upset about is the EXISTENCE of something called a FREE SPEECH ZONE. By definition, if there is only a defined place where freedom may exist, then ALL OTHER PLACES are not free.

    I get that there are security issues where an event like this is concerned. But if the people being herded behind the chickenwire are a SECURITY problem, then this isn’t about SPEECH.

    To boil it down – is the problem what these people are likely to SAY or is it what they are likely to DO.

    Under NO circumstances is something called a “free speech zone” acceptable. Never, ever, ever, ever. Period. The existence of a “free speech zone” is a prima facie assault on the 1st Amendment. Pardon my extremism, but this is what Orwell was trying to warn us about.

    So, is this about speech or security? They’re not the same thing. We ought not tolerate attacks on speech, and we ought not enable attempts to muddy our understanding of the difference between the two.

  • But all other places are already not completely free, especially public places. Poke.

    This IS about security. This is the DNCC trying to make a security measure sound like anything else. The Secret Service has already asked for more money to protect the candidates, and let’s face it, this is the one they’re worried about. Yes, it sounds like they’re imperially granting people a right they already have, and yes, it’s a stupid, stupid name choice. Probably one person’s decision, probably last minute for the press release.

    The honest alternatives would be “The Guy Next to You Might Have Explosives Zone” or “We’re Hoping This is Out of Sniper Range Zone” or “Consequences Can’t Deter Crazy People Zone.” Or possibly “Swastika Tattoo? This Way, Please Zone.” Not the kind of positive, upbeat message the DNCC wants to send…

  • Oh, and let’s remember – the people in charge of security are still working for Cheney and Co. They were in 2004, as well. Frankly, it’s lucky that tear gas is difficult to contain, or they’d probably have canisters on timers inside the Zones.

    I wonder how much choice the DNCC truly had in any of these decisions, and as a consequence, how much accountability? If it’s “our way or no security,” or possibly even “our way or no permits,” what are the options? Could the DNCC make a workable stand against these zones if they wanted to, and do they want to? Does anyone know? Has anyone tried to find out? It doesn’t surprise me at all that the news media is going along with it; after all, they’re competing for space and attention. And I doubt anyone at the DNCC truly wants the unwashed masses roaming freely.

    But if Sen. Obama or someone on his staff suddenly realized just how awful this is or what kind of message it sends, I wonder what they could do about it? I’d love to see someone try.

  • I’m with you Dr. S…the whole idea just smells like fascism. Nor do i particularly care whose idea it was. Granted, i’m speaking from the experience of “Papers please” with two AK-47’s pointed at my gut (safeties off)…so maybe i’m a little touchy.

    And i firmly believe that measures like this are more likely to turn peaceful demonstrations of dissent into violent confrontations requiring security measures.

    I’m reminded of Speaker Pelosi’s snarky comment about the 1st Amendment when the war protesters showed up at her house.

    And i can’t help but feel that this decade is what the 60’s would have looked like if Nixon had beaten Kennedy.

  • You should care whose idea it was, and who has the power to change those ideas – because that’s who’s running your country.

  • America has been excluded from any real free speech since the speech of Mao, Stalin, Hitler and Musolini has been in effect for some years. It’s called ‘social correctness.’
    “Fear the Interregnum”

  • In my opinion, hatching the idea and going along with it are the same thing. Splitting hairs to place blame on either the SS (hmm…) or the DNCC so that one or the other can say, “See, it’s not my fault,” makes no difference to me.

    And that’s how i felt about the AUMF in Iraq. Both branches of government basically played off of each other so that the Pres could say, “Congress said it was ok,” and Congress could say, “It was all the President’s idea.” And all of a sudden it’s nobody’s fault.

    “Social correctness” does have an ominous ring to it…

  • Splitting hairs? Read it again. You’re completely on the wrong track – try “looking for collusion” or “searching for information.” Since I don’t belong to either party, Lex, I have no interest in exonerating either one. I DO have a serious interest in knowing who wants to kill free speech in the name of security and who’s willing to go along with it… because I think it’s the same thing, too. And rather than pointlessly pissing and moaning, I’d like a few facts to help me direct my anger where it might be of use. You know, like in an election, maybe?

    Of course, if you’d rather just piss and moan, that’s your right. For now. Unless you’re not in a free speech zone.

  • You know, this just reminds me again how frustrating it is to deal with people who have to assign sides to everything. I’m not saying it’s a general habit of yours, Lex, but your response made me think of it. The whole “for us or against us” mindset just drives me up the fucking wall, and it’s pervasive and deadening and the quickest way to kill any chance of living together in any kind of peace. It encourages rage and shuts down thought. It destroys empathy. Asking questions is seen as an attack or a defense, never an honest attempt to gain knowledge or understanding, and so responses are either attacks or defenses in return. Nothing substantive is learned. No progress is made.

    I’m going to stop thinking about this now before my head explodes.

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