Free speech group doesn't allow attendees to speakby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Members of a Minneapolis task force charged with protecting the free speech rights of RNC protesters Wednesday tried to prevent a group of protesters from speaking at their meeting.
Minneapolis, Minn. — The Free Speech Work Group was formed in response to concerns about this summer's Republican National Convention. The meeting got heated when the panel was discussing the registration process for protest groups.
The city of Minneapolis doesn't have an existing ordinance to regulate protests, unless the events involve blocking streets and sidewalks. Demonstrators need a parade permit for that.
Last year, the city formed the work group in order to figure out if how to keep track of protests and protestors.
Councilmember Paul Ostrow chairs the work group. He says some kind of registration process, voluntary or mandatory, will make it easier for the city to keep track of where and when protests will happen.
Ostrow says the city could help protest groups get access to safety barriers and public address equipment.
"We are trying to, in our absolute good faith, to do everything we can to make the city of Minneapolis an example of how First Amendment freedoms can be celebrated," Ostrow said, "and at the same time, the city can continue to function and function well. And to prove that those two things are not inconsistent."
Ostrow and his colleagues are leaning toward some kind of measure that would make registration voluntary. However, Ostrow and other city officials were concerned that that could cause a problem if two groups scheduled conflicting demonstrations.
During the work group's deliberations, a number of activists present at the meeting were clearly growing agitated. They had concerns about the city passing laws that could restrict the rights of protestors. But they were told the meeting was not a public hearing, and they wouldn't be given a chance to address the committee.
Their frustration grew vocal as Ostrow told them they would have to wait for future meetings to voice their concerns.
"We're silenced at every turn. How can we work with you, when we're not even allowed at the table?" said activist Michelle Gross.
"That's for our next meeting," Ostrow responded. "My point is, we're going to be doing an outreach."
Gross said her main concern is the convention presents the city with an invitation to clamp down on First Amendment rights.
"There are already laws in place to do things to prevent people from blocking sidewalks or blocking thoroughfares and so forth, and those laws are already in place," said Gross. "We don't need additional laws that target protestors. There's no reason for this."
The work group will report to the City Council's public safety and regulatory services committee next week.
- All Things Considered, 03/19/2008, 5:54 p.m.