Free Speech Zones In the USA?
On Friday morning, May 21st, 2004, during a visit to my city by President George W. Bush, I learned what it means to live in a country when "free speech" means something entirely different if you don`t happen to agree with what your President, and/or his cabinet, have done in your name.
On this day, all good "pro-Bush" citizens in Baton Rouge, Louisiana got to stand along the curbside of Dalrymple Drive in hopes of catching a glimpse of the most powerful man on Earth, as he rode by them on his way to speak to the graduates at LSU.
"Superman at LSU," you ask? Not exactly, but President Bush was here. Now, having a sitting President visit is normally quite an honor in itself, kind-of, but Bush`s fans on Dalrymple Drive just didn`t have any good luck that day. The President chose a different route leading to the Assembly Center, and so the Bush fans went along their merry way without having caught a glimpse of their leader.
I, on the other hand, an old ex-Infantry veteran from long ago, was forced to stand 100 feet from Dalrymple Drive, in the direct Louisiana summer sun, hidden behind some of the beautiful giant oak trees growing alongside Dalrymple Drive at Highland Road, even though I had planned, with several other groups, to protest along the curbside on Dalrymple Drive.
But because I was not "pro-Bush", and because I carried a sign, I wasn`t allowed to do what I planned. A sign of protest? How devious! How DANGEROUS! It`s enough to suspend the Bill Of Rights, right? WRONG!
At LSU on Friday, May 21st, "Free Speech," as designated by law, was only to be allowed for "anti-war" citizens that were willing to stand in a roped-off 35 foot square, 100 feet from the road. My sign said "Veterans For Peace, No WAR" on one side, and "The DUBYA--M-D's ARE IN THE WHITE HOUSE" on the other. Not exactly controversial. Not exactly threatening. It just said that I`m against this Iraq "war," and I don`t like this President. I have been against this war since way before it even started, and I will be that way until the last U.S. soldier is home from there.
We had a legal permit to demonstrate against this war and President Bush, a permit from the Secret Service, as enforced by the LSU police. When our group of demonstrators arrived on Dalrymple Drive that morning to protest this visit, an LSU policeman told us that we had to stand in a 35-foot fenced-in square, exactly 100` from Dalrymple Drive, for "security" reasons, under the threat of arrest if we didn't. We refused to stand in that thing, but we did not get arrested. (It would have been funny if all the protestors had stood in the little square and said "MOO" over and over, like cattle do.)
Directly across the street from the "free speech zone," about 25 "pro-Bush" citizens stood along the curb and waited for the President. I was selected as spokesman for our group, so I asked the LSU police Sarge, "Why can those people stand along the curb but we can`t?" The Sarge said, and I quote, "Because they are pro-Bush, and they don`t have signs".... damn, it was my sign's fault!
At the end of the demonstration some of us demonstrators entered the little roped-off square, pulled up the stakes holding it in place, and proceeded to walk all around the Parade Grounds of LSU, inside the world's first government-issued "Moving Free Speech Zone." FOX News filmed it, and they even showed us marching around in our captured "free speech zone" on New Orleans TV.
So let me get this straight--and also let me present this to you, and you decide what is wrong with this picture. If you are "pro-Bush," you need no permit to stand along the edge of the road, and no security is necessary if you decide that you want to get as close to the President as you can. The police checked none of them, asked them for no permits, and allowed those people to line the street within only inches of where the President would be riding.
So if I were a terrorist or an assassin trying to "hit" our President, all I would have needed to do in order to get only inches away from him, would have been to say nothing, get no permit, and carry no sign.
I just don`t get it. Do you get it?
Did I mention that a lot of men and women have died in war thinking that their sacrifice would guarantee that something like this would never happen to me or you in the United States of America? Maybe if our "War President" had shown up when it was his turn to fight in a war, this wouldn`t have happened to us when he did show up somewhere, like here in Baton Rouge on May 21, 2004.
Nice of you to show up George. At least it was nice if you were a "pro-Bush-non-sign-carrying-pro-war" type. Please don`t come back here. You could have been a world hero, instead of being a world criminal, at least in my eyes. Could have, but never more.
The Infantry wasn`t too bad for me...I`m here. At least I can still write about "free speech," even if I can`t practice it. Peace George, from Baton Rouge. Stop the war, and bring the troops home now.
Ward Reilly, of Baton Rouge, La., is a member of Veterans For Peace and Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
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This story was published on May 27, 2004.