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Saturday, December 10, 2011

1 of 5 essays on the eviction: Did 1st Amendment protect OLA encampment @ City Hall Park?

Before the encampment at city hall was evicted, a paper on 1st amendment rights was widely circulated at a number of Occupy Los Angeles General Assemblies. Although it is unsigned, It is useful to us because it reflected the view widely held among occupiers that the right to camp out on the lawn at city hall was protected by the first amendment. It began:
From the Constitution of the United States: "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United Sates shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution of laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding." In other worlds, a city or state ordinance or statute cannot lawfully restrict the exercise of Constitutionally protected rights such as the right to assemble, the right to free speech, the right to religious expression, etc. Park rules cannot restrict the exercise of Constitutionally protected rights, even when such rules are posted on signs in the park.
Presumably, according to this interpretation of the law. You have the right to play KPFK, or any other radio station for that matter, as loud as you want, in the library, since telling you to turn it down or off would be a restriction of protected rights. There is nothing that can be done legally about drumming, loud music or amplified speech anywhere, and at all hours if free speech is claimed. Party all night because the neighbors can't call the cops! Even that old adage about not having the right to shout fire in a crowded theater would seem to be wrong.

This is a very child like view of what was really protected by the first amendment with regards to our occupation of city hall park and whether or not the city government has any say in it. Of course we do have a right to use public property, including city parks, for free speech activities, but so do others. Filmmakers and farmers market vendors can also claim free speech rights to use city hall park. This is no stretch for me because I am a filmmaker, all my films have been overtly political and they have in fact been sold at various farmers markets around Southern California.

If I now wanted to do a film about corruption in the mayor's office and the brutality of the LAPD, and found that I was being denied a permit to shoot at city hall because some democratic party group had put their banners all over city hall park and planned to leave them up indefinitely, that would be a scandal. If it were to be revealed that Villaraigosa let us stay on city hall park as long as he did because it held up production of a film that was going to be particularly damaging to his career and then kicked us off the week after the filmmaker ran out of funds and declared bankruptcy, that would be an even bigger scandal. I'm not trying to start another unfounded rumor here, just making a point.

This raises the very adult question of how are the conflicting uses of the park by various parties, all of whom have rights, to be regulated and who is to do the regulating? As to how it should be regulated, I won't dive into those stick details except to say that public facilities should be shared. While the whole point of regulations and permits is to guarantee one party a planned monopoly of use of a park or auditorium for a given length of time, no party should be given a monopoly of use indefinitely. As to who should do the regulating? I think it should be in the hands of local government.

Laws that certainly don't take into account the needs of the homeless, don't allow overnight camping in city parks. This is not a violation of the 1st amendment. Because of the very strong popular support for our movement in the beginning, the mayor, with the city council's blessing, overlooked those laws for a period.

Our occupation of city hall park was not an armed occupation. It was a non-violent occupation. We did not hold it by force of arms. We held it by our moral authority and our popular support. Once we allowed those to become sufficiently weakened, we lost the occupation.

In the next four essays I will discuss the details.

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