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Wednesday, April 16, 2008 02:43 am

America’s ongoing rebellion

Democracy is a historic fight that we have to keep re-winning

Untitled Document There’s a tendency in our country for autocratic officials to clamp down on our fundamental rights of free speech and assembly — especially when the powers that be don’t like what we are gathering together to say. Fortunately, our country is blessed with rebels who push back. At the 2004 Republican National Convention, in New York City, protesters against the Iraq war planned a mass demonstration on what’s known as the Great Lawn of Central Park. They intended to make public use of this public land but were curtly denied a permit. Why? Officials said that protesters would harm the grass of the Great Lawn and that an unwritten regulation only allowed crowds of 50,000 or fewer to be on the 13-acre lawn at one time. Excuse us, said the protest leaders, but much larger crowds have routinely been allowed there for concerts and other events. Indeed, before our application, they said, there have been no limits on crowd size. Go away, said the officials. Well, while they were shut out of the people’s park for the duration of the political convention, the groups did not go away. Instead, they filed a federal lawsuit, charging the city with unlawful denial of their First Amendment rights. After three years of litigation, city officials finally backed away from their unconstitutional position and settled the case. The city agreed to pay $500,000 in legal costs that the groups incurred, and officials will no longer set an arbitrary limit on protest numbers or deny access to the Great Lawn on political grounds. Our freedom and democratic rights were not “won” for us by the founders back in the 1700s. Rather, democracy is a historic fight that we must constantly re-win — a fight that depends on Americans’ remaining rebellious.
Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist, and author.
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