the free speech cage

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It’s almost unbelievable that this precept must still be asserted.  I saw for the first time the “free speech zone” at the steps of Federal Hall in Lower Manhattan.  A recent development of Occupy Wall Street has brought protesters back to the old colonial streets surrounding the NYSE.  Other than those who choose to sleep on the sidewalks there (as allowed by a 2000 city law), there has been no permanent occupation set up.  However, OWS has been maintaining a daily presence in the neighborhood, and particularly at Federal Hall.

In response, the powers-that-be have erected a barricade on the steps, in which one is “allowed” to protest.  Outside this so-called 1st Amendment Zone one is “not allowed” to protest.  Only 25 people are allowed inside the space at any given time.  In being held so, protesters’ ability to display their message is drastically hindered.

The "free speech zone", with its 25 "permitted" protesters, is on the right side of the steps

The entire idea is completely absurd.  Cross an arbitrary line and one is permitted to exercise their right to free speech.  Cross back and one is not permitted.  This defies all common sense.  However, it has been deployed for decades in the United States.  Among many other instances, the abhorrence of the “free speech cage” reached an apex during the 2004 national conventions, when such places were placed at a considerable distance from the actual events and from media attention.

“…abridging…” – shortening; condensing.  Doesn’t confining people to a small area abridge the right to free speech?    And doesn’t telling citizens where they can and cannot assemble abridge the right to peaceful assembly and petition?

What makes this all the more disgusting at Federal Hall is that it is the site (though the present building dates from 1842) where George Washington was inaugurated our first president; and where the Bill of Rights was first passed by Congress.  This is happening right beneath the famous statue of Washington.

Even in the face of such indignity, one must keep a sense of humor.  Tongue-in-cheek, it was suggested that the statue be counted among the 25 people “allowed” to protest in the cage.

Today was a joint march with Occupy Wall Street and ACT-UP, a group that, in the 1980’s,  was at the forefront of the fight for the rights of  people suffering with AIDS:


About ventilateblog MUSIC Classically trained cellist. Attended Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University - degree in Music Composition, and three years of recording arts and audio electrical engineering. Multiple works for chamber groups and orchestra have been produced and performed. Singer-songwriter with rock and folk roots.. Electronica. Today, it's about mashing together all these things into improbable hybrids. Also, a longtime educator of music. PHOTOGRAPHY Unpredictable and in the moment is what I love. Streets, architecture, and people. Ruined places. History. Frozen moments. Great love for imagines wrought by beautiful mystery of film and vintage cheapy cameras. WRITING The vague, ephemeral. The historical - the ghosts behind the veil of time. Delving deeply into the intricacies of our physical and cultural world. Relaying memory and longing. And sometimes the absurd. Life runs deep. Life

Posted on April 25, 2012, in NYC present, occupywallstreet, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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