Free Speech and RNC
At a meeting last week of the Free Speech work group set up to protect free speech and normal life for residents during the Republican National Convention (RNC) we reviewed three possible City policies. Unfortunately still on the table: the concept of a "protest permit."
I continue to strongly oppose this idea (for a past explication of my position on this issue, see here), and to push for a purely voluntary registration process, by which protest groups who want services from the City can let the City know when, where, and how many people will be gathering. The Mayor supports this sort of process, as does Council Member Remington.
At the committee, with the help of others on the work group, I was able to pass a motion that we would focus on “voluntary registration,” but Council Member Ostrow was clear that he is still interested in moving forward with a possible mandatory component based on what he has termed the "D.C. Model." There is no doubt in my mind that any kind of required pre-registration of a public assembly would increase restrictions on time, place and the manner of free speech in Minneapolis. I fear that as a result of concerns some policymakers have about protesters during the national convention, we may end up creating additional hurdles, blocks and barriers on rights to assemble and speak well into the future. The new law we looked at in our work group would have prohibited groups of more that 25 people from gathering in public if they had planned it in advance and had not registered.
I understand that there are a number of people in the protest community who have very real concerns about the voluntary registration process as well, centered around the City granting "exclusive rights" to public spaces to groups that register. I share these concerns, and will push for the voluntary registration not to include any expectation of exclusive use. My argument is bolstered by the City Attorney's Office, which has clearly indicated that it is improper to give a group exclusive use of a space without a permit that can be either approved or denied by City staff.
We have heard from our emergency preparedness and public safety staff and it appears they a have legitimate interest in knowing where large groups of people will be in order to coodinate efforts so that first repsonders can get to people who may need help. I contend that by asking people to share plans and information we will actually get more and better information than if we pass a law requiring them to tell us. It is also clear to me that to be passing a new law now would clearly demonstrate to the court and everyone that what we are really attempting to do is restrict a particular content of speech, namely speech that that is in opposition to the Republican party and the current administration. I think that this sort of action would not only be unwise for the future of our democracy, but also clearly unconstitutional.
In my opinion, we should have discussing our needs, plans and policies with protest groups several months ago, just as we have been discussing needs and plans with the Republicans for months already. It's time for us to put the voluntary process in place, to give our staff time to do this communication with protest groups - every day that we get closer to the convention without a policy in place is a missed opportunity.
I expect this matter to come up at the Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee March 26th or April 9th. I will be pushing to make sure we also have a public hearing should any new policy (including the resolution for voluntary registration) come forward.
My next Roundtable Discussion will deal with this topic. If you're interested, please join me on April 14, 7-9pm at Augsburg College's Christensen Center for a conversation about free speech and the RNC this summer.