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Battle in Seattle and the Right to Protest

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September 24, 2008

Stuart Townsend‘s new film Battle in Seattle is the fictional story of the very real protests that rocked the world in November 1999 when thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Seattle in protest of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Ministerial Meeting. The film stars Martin Henderson, Michelle Rodriguez, Andre Benjamin, Woody Harrelson, Ray Liottaand Charlize Theron, each with unique story, some united in mission, but all affected by what’s at stake when our fundamental right to protest is put to test.

The ACLU has always represented protestors who have been wrongfully arrested and groups that have been infiltrated and spied on. Our right to dissent is one our nation’s founders recognized as one of the most necessary liberties for a democratic society.Codified by the First Amendment and upheld over time as one of our most fundamental freedoms as Americans, the right to assemble, protest, and petition still continue to come under fire today.Most recently, the ACLU of Colorado and ACLU of Minnesota fought to secure the rights of protestors at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions through lawsuits and negotiations with city officials. And as we all now know, the processing and handling of protestors at the DNC, plus the pre-arrests and house raids at the RNC, shows that our First Amendment right to protest is still threatened.With regard to the WTO protests, the ACLU of Washington filed suit in March 2000 on behalf of citizens whose rights to freedom of speech were violated by the city’s actions. Plaintiffs were individuals who were either kept out or forced out of the No-Protest Zone solely because they had anti-WTO cartoons, buttons, stickers, or signs. Included was a person who was handing out copies of the First Amendment, but they were confiscated by police. Another plaintiff twice had signs taken away by Seattle police, including one that said, “I Have a Right to Non-Violent Protest.”In a conversation for the ACLU’s Rights / Camera / Action program, director Stuart Townsend and star Martin Henderson talked about the making of the film and its contemporary relevance. Watch the video here:

The film recently opened in select cities and continues its rollout this Friday. Stuart, Charlize, and Martin will be doing a few Q&A’s as the film opens across the country. For a schedule of showtimes and list of cities and theaters near you, go to:

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