You are browsing the archive for first amendment.

Free Speech, Capitalist Dynasties

7:27 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Did you hear? Some rich filth on TV said he believes God hates fags.

V for Vendetta-style caped Guy Fawkes & a police photographer

The beginning of a new movement or the last gasp of unmediated free speech?

Now, TV personalities can spend even more days analyzing other TV personalities. Do they hate gays, black people, you? What color is Santa? All the usual, powerful swine are out for the right of other swine to say whatever they want on a profitable television program.

Conservatives like to believe that “freedom of speech” means “freedom from consequences” for intolerance. Meanwhile, actual violations of freedom of speech — like climate change activists being charged with a “terrorism hoax” – go unanswered by either the right or the left.

While this spectacle involves the right-wing puppets, both parties — the whole political spectrum, as far as Mainstream America is concerned — are intimately invested in this redefinition of free speech.

Free speech isn’t what happens in the streets, it’s corporate money at elections and pretty pictures on commercial television.

When Occupy drew thousands nationwide, it was Democratic mayors — and Obama’s Feds — that came down hardest on the movement. When thousands gathered at the Texas Capitol this past summer but before Wendy Davis’ much-lauded filibuster, Democratic party officials put the loudest, most influential grassroots organizers on a list of dangerous agitators that they passed around to rally organizers from multiple groups. One of them told me I shouldn’t lead crowds in chanting or disruptive behavior because it would “look crazy.” Not to worry, she told me, we’d vote them out in 2014.

Street posters of Snowden (labelled Patriot) & Rick Perry (labelled Dog Shit)

Speech without permits is terrorism.

On the night of the final vote while a hundred Texas State Troopers beat and dragged us for sitting in front of the Senate doors, the Texas Democrats led a march away from the Capitol so they could have a fund raiser in a park before their permit ran out. Whatever happens next November, the legislature won’t even meet till 2015 and at least 20,000 women won’t have access to safe abortion next year.

Free speech isn’t what happens on the Internet. We jail our whistle blowers and hacktivist heroes while the NSA stalks and catalogs us.

Free speech is freedom to create commercially profitable spectacle. The media disappearing yet again up its own asshole.

Homeless people — perhaps as many as half of whom are queer — are freezing to death in the richest part of the country. LGBTQ folk are being jailed and tortured in Greece and Russia but we applaud a few gay athletes.

Free speech is voting for a turkey while prisoners languish in solitary, poor people starve and our atmosphere burns.

But don’t look away for a minute. You might miss a heartfelt apology, before we all comb our folksy beards and shoot a few more ducks through the magic of mirror neurons.

The Mexicans and the Million Mask March had the right of it by surrounding the mainstream media bullshit factories and demanding to be heard by so-called journalists. They just didn’t go far enough.

Give it time. The disenfranchisement is there, we’re just waiting on enough anger.

People of America, put on your masks. Lift up your voices. And pick up your paintbrush, your smart phone, your chalk and your wheat paste and use them to smash the state.

Read the rest of this entry →

Tents Up for Occupy Austin’s Eviction Anniversary

4:01 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

One of Occupy Austin's free speech tents with the Austin Overpass Light Brigade's signs.

On February 3 2012, Occupy Austin received about an hour’s notice before a violent police raid which cleared the encampment at City Hall. New regulations imposed a 10pm curfew and rules against tents, bedrolls or other “permanent” structures. As occupiers took the streets, there were several arrests. Activists and journalists were threatened by police ambush and, at one point, a pepper-spray can brandished by Austin Police Officer Jason Mistric. Three undercover police officers that had infiltrated the group in order to entrap its members were present throughout the day.

Tents at Austin's City Hall

Occupy Austin erected tents and celebrated the one-year anniversary of its eviction from City Hall on February 3, 2013.

One year later — this past Sunday — Austin’s occupation gathered again at their first home to honor the day and all that had taken place there since the movement began. Publicly, the group announced a simple potluck. Occupiers put up a food table that was soon overflowing with everything from both vegetarian and carnivore-friendly chili to the infamous piggie pie, a surprisingly edible concoction of graham cracker crumbs, donuts, soy “bacon,” and coffee chocolate syrup.

38 “food fight” arrests took place in late 2011 when occupiers refused to remove a food table, eventually leading to a successful lawsuit against City Hall. On Sunday, a security guard emerged with a photocopy of the memo banning permanent structures from the site.

“Do you have a permit or something that allows you to be here today?” she asked me.

“Yes,” I said, “it’s called the First Amendment.”

She tried to give me the memo but I refused, explaining I had read it before. When she placed it on our food table, I tore it up as she walked away being careful not to drop any on the ground — I didn’t intend to litter. Grabbing a piece of chalk (which Austin’s occupation is never without) I wrote ‘The First Amendment is Our Permit” on the plaza. Soon, chalked art and messages appeared everywhere and, as the afternoon wore on, two tents were erected.

Another occupier later thanked me for standing up to the security guard because she credited me with emboldening the rest of the group, which swelled to about 30 at its peak. But I just acted on my knowledge that the security guards have no power without the police backing them up, especially in light of the lawsuit.

The Austin Audio Co-Op erected an amplified sound system and Dan Cioper played folk music, followed by a group jam session. We cheered visits by old friends we hadn’t seen since the encampment. Police drove around City Hall or stopped to observe us but kept their distance.

Our tents seemed to provoke an intense response from the Internet, with messages of solidarity pouring in on Twitter and Facebook from around the world. The local media even appeared, including the Austin American Statesman which captured another of my interactions:

At one point, while occupiers were addressing each other with a microphone, a security guard inside City Hall appeared to be taking a photograph of the group. One protester, Kit O’Connell, noticed this, gained the attention of the group, and said to the security guard: ‘If you take my picture, please tag me in it on Facebook.’

On the microphone, I told the assembled occupiers that our encampment had shown me the best and worst of humanity.
Read the rest of this entry →

Austin Overpass Light Brigade Faces Police Repression (#OATX)

3:04 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Austin Police insist that Occupy Austin is breaking the law when it holds lighted signs on highway overpasses.

I spoke with two occupiers, Corey Williams and Joe Cooper, about their experiences.

The Overpass Light Brigade began in Wisconsin during the “uprising” of 2011, and has since spread to at least 10 other locations. In this simple, nonviolent action, protesters hold lighted signs on the sidewalk of a freeway overpass while night time traffic passes underneath. One of the newest divisions is in Austin, Texas; it formed in early October during Occupy Austin birthday week. Though police drove by the first display, which proclaimed UNFRACK THE WORLD, occupiers successfully held signs for about an hour at an overpass on the south end of the city.

Lighted protest sign: LOVE > $$$

The new Occupy Austin Overpass Light Brigade at Tent City Rising, October 6 2012.

But police shut down a second attempt that week, and another more recent mobilization.  At the second Austin OLB the message began as LOVE > $$$. Police arrived as the group began to rearrange letters to make a repeat of the UNFRACK message. The officers refused to cite what laws were being broken, but expressed concern that signs could be dropped from the overpass railing on which the activists were holding the display. While regrouping, the Light Brigade consulted with long-time Austin activist Debbie Russell who referred to a previous consultation with Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo:

[Y]ou can’t have signs that when holding, are “over” the roadway–you have to hold them inside the railings such that if it was dropped, it falls on the sidewalk and not below on the freeway. Some officers know this, some don’t, but Acevedo has very specifically said this is the case and a few years ago … he gave this mandate to his officers so they’d know. They’re out of practice tho.

Another data point: one afternoon a month at 4:20pm, the Texas Hemp Campaign displays a cannabis legalization banner held on the sidewalk of a busy overpass. Though sometimes monitored closely by police, they allow the display to continue.

If the issue was the danger posed by signs, activists decided to try yet another approach. The third attempt occurred on Saturday, October 27. It was the closest Saturday to Halloween, a night when police are typically busy downtown patrolling the club district for drunken costumed revelers. It was on a similar busy weekend closest to Halloween in 2011 that police made dozens of arrests at Occupy Austin’s standing encampment. In keeping with the symbolism of this anniversary, approximately a half dozen squad cars were waiting.

The message on that night was to be LOVE > FEAR, a response to recent hate crimes against queer people and people of color. This time, the Overpass Light Brigade used an overpass at St. Johns on Interstate Highway 35. This location is across the street from the abandoned Home Depot we attempted to encamp during the occupation’s birthday. Most importantly, this overpass is completely fenced in. It would be impossible to drop signs onto traffic.

Immediately, officers arrived and attempted to shut them down but the display continued for about twenty minutes. While part of the group held the signs, others demanded police cite a specific law that was violated. As the perceived threat of arrest grew more immediate, the OLB took down their signs and waited as police returned to squad cars to look up the law. Eventually, with the help of a Texas Department of Transportation employee summoned to the scene, they cited a portion of the Texas Transportation Code which applies to SIGNS ON STATE HIGHWAY RIGHT-OF-WAY. This law, a class C misdemeanor when broken, says:

Read the rest of this entry →

The Crackdown on Chalk (#Chalkupy Austin)

12:53 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

“No reasonable person could think that writing with chalk could damage a sidewalk.” Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (Mackinney v. Nielsen 69 F.3d 1002, 1995)

What’s happening in this country?

Two activists in handcuffs with State Troopers on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol.

Audrey Steiner and Corey Williams are processed on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol after being arrested for chalking a public sidewalk nearby (Photo: Kit O'Connell, all rights reserved).

I know this is a question we ask frequently on these pages. Every day, some new offense against basic freedoms comes to light, further shaking faith in the basic principles of our constitution. I thought I was jaded, but what happened in Austin last Thursday shook me — not just because chalk merits police response, but because of the intensity and overwhelming force being used to strike at one of the simplest, most transient forms of expression possible.

By now most of us have heard of the crack down on chalk which occurred in Los Angeles in July, when Occupy Los Angeles passed out chalk to a monthly Artwalk event and the gathering found itself under attack by violent riot police retaliation. Activists decided to pass out chalk at the Artwalk in the first place because of almost two dozen arrests for chalk in public places just in Los Angeles. Not a single one of these arrests has resulted in charges.

From an Occupy Los Angeles press release:

Participants of Occupy LA’s Chalk Walk wonder why the Los Angeles Police Department continues to arrest them for chalking when the City Attorney has declined to prosecute any of the chalking arrests.

One Occupier wonders, “If the so-called crime is not worth prosecuting, then is it worth making the chalk arrests in the first place?” and then adds, “LAPD harasses us with these arrests to intimidate us.”

Occupy activists say that LAPD had made nearly twenty arrests for chalking related to Occupy but has failed to make chalking arrests at non-occupy events including an event the Mayor handed out boxes of yellow chalk to be used on the “sidewalks,driveways, and any blank canvasses” including the streets of Sunset Blvd in traffic at night for a fundraiser for Lance Armstrong’s art campaign, “Hope Rides Again”, sponsored by Nike.

The crack down is not limited to Los Angeles, but appears to be occurring nationwide. Activists in Orlando recently won a lucrative lawsuit against the city for wrongful arrest in a chalk-related arrest of an Occupy Orlando member. Occupy New Orleans members fled from police during their chalkupy event. While the crackdown may be political in nature, not just activists are getting caught up in it — a mother in Richmond, Virginia faces 50 hours community service because her daughter chalked some rocks, and two teens in a Philadelphia suburb were ticketed for drawing a sea turtle and a whale in chalk. Which brings us to Austin, where two people were arrested Thursday and face uncertain charges for expressing their right to free speech.
Read the rest of this entry →

Watercooler: Speech

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Yo, everyone.

President Obama is coming to visit Austin, Texas tomorrow on an expensive visit. After stopping in San Antonio he’ll come to Austin for a $250/ticket fundraiser or a $25,000/plate dinner.

Of course, Occupy Austin is planning a protest. You’d think we were actually threatening to single-handedly hand the keys to the White House over to Mitt Romney the way some people react. When I was younger, I remember the clichéd phrase, “America Love It Or Leave It!” was short-hand for a certain kind of jingoistic, mindless right-wing thought. Activists who dare to speak out against policies of the current administration receive the same kind of reactionary thoughtlessness, only from so-called liberals. I think it’s a sign of how bankrupt electoral politics have become that we are told we must swallow every violent, unethical, or inhumane policy of our rulers without a peep or else we must be endorsing the Republicans.

To me, free speech means we have an obligation to speak out when we disagree with the policies of our leaders, even if you happen to be someone who might vote for them on election day. People say you’re wasting your voice if you don’t vote, but let’s flip it around — what good are you really doing if all you do is vote?

Speaking of speech, as a writer I was charmed by a blog post that a friend shared, reporting that children solved a 250-year old problem in the English language. Grammar Girl reports that some kids are now using the slang ‘yo’ as a gender-neutral pronoun:

To test the theory, Stotko and Troyer showed kids a cartoon with a goofy-looking person, but the kids couldn’t tell whether the person was male or female. Then they asked the kids to write a slang caption for the cartoon. Some of the kids wrote, “Yo crazy,” instead of “He or she crazy,” or “They crazy.” Follow-up research showed that kids definitely intended yo to mean “he or she.” They used yo as a pronoun.

This is the latest open thread. What’s on your mind?

#OccupyAustin Takes to the Streets

4:23 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Yesterday in Oakland, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to speak up for their rights and to participate in a general strike. Marches and actions took place all around the world in solidarity with the activists. I joined Occupy Austin again for their march, and then attended my first general assembly that night.

It is inspiring to watch this movement grow and spread around the world. As police (and the Department of Homeland Security, by some reports) try to shut us down, it seems like each police raid and wave of arrests only makes us bolder. The Port of Oakland, one of the top ports in the US, shut down for a full 24 hours along with major downtown Oakland branches of banks like Bank of America, Chase and Citibank.

My friend Gyesika joined me at this march, and it was immediately clear that something was different from Sunday — there was a spirit there, a sense that we could take on the world. The Spirit of Oakland was in us, undoubtedly. For the first half of the march, we were orderly and obedient protesters, staying to the sidewalks and mostly waiting for lights to change.

We marched again to the County Jail, to remind the government of our presence and because this is a place where all of our activists can gather. Despite reassurances from the city, all our arrested activists are still banned from City Hall, where our occupation is taking place. These political prisoners must gather on a traffic island across the street which has a curfew of 10pm because it is technically a park.

As we gathered at the jail, we heard from one of those prisoners who talked about what he’d realized while in prison: Read the rest of this entry →

My First Visit to Occupy Austin

2:00 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Last Sunday was my first visit to Occupy Austin.

This post is much later than I wanted it to be because I have been struggling with my health. I’ll open here because part of the reason I identify with this movement is that my voice is a disenfranchised one as a disabled person. I have fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition closely related (or overlapping with) chronic fatigue syndrome. It is not well understood, but between severe pain in my muscles and connective tissue, and frequent intense fatigue and insomnia I am unable to hold down a normal job. I have managed to eke out a small living as a freelance writer, but I have no health insurance, and no safety net if my health takes a turn for the worse. I feel strongly for this idea of the 99% — in a just society, basic needs like food, shelter and medical care would be considered a human right.

My health has kept me from attending a Occupy encampment or event before Sunday. But on Saturday night, 38 peaceful protesters were arrested at City Hall — some over refusal to take down a food table based on last minute regulations imposed without oversight by the Austin city manager, but others were directly targeted by police for their involvement in the movement. A march was announced to join the vigil at the county jail demanding release of these political prisoners. I knew I had to join.

Much has been said about the protests and whether those involved have valid reasons. Though the protesters have many diverse issues they have come together over, to me at this point the most important reason is to stand up for our right to assemble. In childhood, teachers taught me that the right for the people to speak up and assemble to demand a redress of grievances is one of the most fundamental things that defines being an American citizen. And yet now these 38 peaceful activists — along with a small but notable number of arrests since — are banned from City Hall for one year.

That’s right, a building that is the hub of their city, that their tax dollars pay for everytime they purchase anything in stores — yet if they return they face rearrest and even jail time. Because Austin is ‘cool’ and ‘weird’, our cops won’t go in with the tear gas. Instead they threaten us with dozens of tiny papercuts until our movement will bleed to death. We need to stand up and say this is not right — that we have a right to speak.

Read the rest of this entry →