USAction Joins Nationwide Lawsuit to Challenge Use of "Protest Zones"; Charges Administration Used Barriers to Silence Anti-Bush Sentiments
Statement by Jeff Blum
Executive Director, USAction
USAction, a progressive activist organization dedicated to winning social and economic justice for all, represents over three million members in 33 affiliates, with statewide organizations in 23 states. We advocate for affordable healthcare and public education, promoting corporate responsibility and making the country's tax system fairer. We achieve these goals through voter mobilization, public education, legislative lobbying and direct actions, including protests. We firmly believe in exercising our First Amendment rights.
On December 12, 2002, our local Pennsylvania affiliate Citizens for Consumer Justice (CCJ) organized a demonstration against President Bush's proposed tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. CCJ contacted the Civil Affairs Unit of defendant Philadelphia Police Department, alerting them to their intention to demonstrate in front of the Marriott Hotel in Philadelphia where President Bush was scheduled to visit. When CCJ and their coalition partners arrived at the hotel, the Philadelphia Police Department informed them that all protesters were only permitted in the protest zone that the Department had erected. CCJ immediately objected to this arrangement because the Presidential motorcade route would never pass the barriers and because other members of the public were allowed free access to the sidewalk immediately adjacent to the hotel's entrance. In fact, people who were clearly supportive of the President were allowed to remain in an area not restricted by security, and could be easily seen and heard by the President's motorcade.
Indeed, one individual who supports Bush approached the protesters and taunted them for their lack of patriotism while standing directly behind several Philadelphia Police Department officers.CCJ's experience is just one instance of many in which USAction activists in Connecticut, Missouri, New Jersey, Wisconsin and many other states had their First Amendment right to engage in peaceful political protest in a public space violated. This year USAction has, through its affiliates, organized and participated in over 20 protests against the Bush administration across the country, and we will continue to do so. We are outraged that the Bush Administration would go to these unconstitutional lengths to silence the voices of dissenting Americans. USAction is proud to stand up for free speech today with the ACLU, ACORN, NOW and United for Peace and Justice.