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human & civil rights

georgia passes law to squash protests

Robert Randall never knew free speech could cost so much in dollars and in compromises until he tried to organize a large-scale, peaceful demonstration for this summer's G-8 summit.

By RUSS BYNUM, Associated Press Writer

BRUNSWICK, Ga. - Robert Randall never knew free speech could cost so much in dollars and in compromises until he tried to organize a large-scale, peaceful demonstration for this summer's G-8 summit.



The coastal city of Brunswick, where Randall hopes to gather up to 10,000 people to protest the world leaders' summit, passed a law last month that places conditions on public demonstrations.


Organizers of protests like Randall's "G-8 Carnival" must put up refundable deposits equal to the city's estimated cost for clean up and police protection. Demonstrations may only last 2 hours, 30 minutes. Signs and banners may not be carried on sticks that might be brandished as weapons. And the signs may not be larger than 2-by-3 feet.


"This law would not exist if the G-8 was not coming here," said Randall, 51, a local therapist who has attended demonstrations since the Vietnam War. "It makes it impossible to express oneself through assembly or speech on public property unless you have money."


Thousands of anti-globalization protesters are expected June 8-10 when President Bush (news - web sites) hosts the leaders of Britain, Japan, Germany, Italy, France, Canada and Russia on secluded Sea Island.


Brunswick, Savannah and surrounding counties have passed ordinances governing protest permits. The American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites) has threatened to sue, saying the laws "place impermissible limits on free speech."


Observers say the cities' actions fit a national pattern of managing dissent with beefed up laws and police powers that constrict constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and assembly.


The new laws are a response to the violent protests during the 1999 World Trade Organization (news - web sites) meeting in Seattle and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.


Demonstrators are facing some of their toughest restrictions since the 1960s, said Ronald Collins of the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va.


"Post-Seattle and 9-11, it seems more municipalities are considering measures that may well undermine existing First Amendment law," he said.


Miami banned props such as water pistols, balloons and sticks before demonstrators arrived for a global trade summit in November. The city repealed the law last month in the face of lawsuits.


On Thursday, federal appeals court judges ruled that an Augusta, Ga., ordinance violated the rights of a women's group that sought to protest outside the all-male Augusta National Golf Club during the 2003 Masters golf tournament.


The ordinance, adopted just before the tournament, let police keep protesters a half-mile from the club's gates and required a permit for any assembly of five or more people. The appeals court said the law "creates the opportunity for undetectable censorship."


Activists also have complained that security plans for so-called "free speech zones" at the Democratic Convention in Boston will keep protesters from being seen or heard.


Cities "are choosing sides and what they're doing is trying to silence people from speaking out," said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a Washington attorney and co-founder of the Partnership for Civil Justice. "And they're using the law as a political tool to do it."


During the G-8 summit in Georgia, both Brunswick and Savannah expect to see protesters.


Brunswick is the nearest inland community to Sea Island, which will be off limits to demonstrators. Savannah, 60 miles north, will house 5,000 international journalists and dignitaries.




With the summit less than two months away, neither city has approved any permits for demonstrations in part, activists say, because of steep requirements.

Brunswick requires groups of six or more to apply for permits at least 20 days before an event. The city's ordinance sets no limit on deposits, and says permits may be denied if a demonstration is likely to congest traffic, impede commerce or endanger the public.

Savannah's law is similar but does not specify the size of groups needing permits, which the ACLU says could be applied to one person.

City officials have said that protesters wanting to use public parks will be charged the same fees $150 to $700 per day as people renting those spaces for private events such as weddings. Groups of 150 or more must pay maintenance deposits of $1.50 per head.

Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson declined to comment, citing the threat of litigation from the ACLU. But City Attorney James Blackburn told the Savannah Morning News the city would review the ordinance in light of the appellate decision on the Augusta lawsuit.

In Brunswick, Randall says he's waiting to find a site for his demonstration before requesting a permit. The city's mayor says the city is trying to help him.

___

On The Net:

G8 Summit:  http://g8usa.gov/

Brunswick:  http://www.brunswickga.org/

Savannah:  http://www.ci.savannah.ga.us/cityweb/webdatabase.nsf

G8 Carnival:  http://www.g8carnival.org/

American Civil Liberties Union:  http://www.aclu.org/
time to get rowdy 19.Apr.2004 11:18

otbf

time to take back our streets. fuck a permit.
these are our streets, our cities, our cops, our fucking politians. We can do what we want.

Georgia 19.Apr.2004 15:07

Teddy Ruxpin

You can't fight tyranny without incurring casualties. Accept the fact that you must be arrested to stop this from happening, accept the fact that your freedom comes with a cost, accept the fact that you must be sprayed, beaten and tasered. Decide in advance if you will fight back as hard as you can, using elbows, clubs and battering rams to gain ground, or if you will flood their jails and courts with non-violence and lawsuits. Accept the fact that some of you might not make it, but realize that none of us will make it without your sacrifices. Accept the fact that most people will never thank you for freeing them from opression, and indeed many will band against you to remain slaves. Accept that you have a duty, with no allies. Risk with no rewards. Obligations with no guarantees.

Then go, fight the tyrants, free our country.

... 19.Apr.2004 15:31

this thing here

>The new laws are a response to the violent protests during the 1999 World Trade Organization (news - web sites) meeting in Seattle and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.<

what a stupid, unthinking conflation of two entirely, utterly different events.

september 11th. is being used constantly by equally stupid, unthinking politicians as an excuse for doing increadibly wrong things. did the terrorists invade america and take over these city councils and pass these draconian laws? did some dictator like saddam hussein invade america and throw out the protections of the u.s. constitution?

no. AMERICAN city councils full of AMERICANS did this. to other AMERICANS.

If fortified area gets too hot 20.Apr.2004 13:42

anonymous

Than there is a simple response: Break up into affinity groups of less than ten apiece, everybody picks one distant target and takes it out, then everyone disappears.

As for this law, the deposit obviously applies only to permitted actions. Sue 'em, but also state that no permit will be sought if the suit fails, and instead unpermitted action will occur. Hold the disperse-and-retaliate strategy in reserve, with affinity groups standing by ready to lash out unless they get the 'all-clear" message at the end of the main protest.