As Vietnam vet and hero Ron Kovic has discovered this week in Denver, even when Democrats are nominating a constitutional scholar and civil libertarian like Barack Obama for president, there remain a great many limits on a person’s right to tell Obama and other Party leaders what they are thinking.
Consider the thousands of protesters who will be separated from the 4,000 delegates by a distance of some 400 feet and by chicken wire and chain link fencing.
Late last month, a dozen organizations concluding the ACLU and American Friends Service Committee filed suit against the US Secret Service, The city and county of Denver for infringing on the rights of protesters to engage on their free speech rights during the democratic convention. The ACLU asked for two things: 1) to compel the city to reveal information about the protest restrictions; 2) to rule the restrictions unconstitutional.
The Court (Judge Marica Kramer presiding) ruled the protesters had a right to know about the restrictions, but on the bigger issue, the court sided with the Secret Service, citing the “need for security” that trumps the right to protest.
Undeterred, Kovic led 1,000 protesters yesterday through downtown Denver. Their message? “Stop the torture, stop the war. That’s what we’re fighting for.” Luckily for Kovic and the other protesters, there were no arrests, but the convention had yet to begin.
Overall, the protestors, which include the group, “Recreate ’68” (Mark Cohen organizer) are protesting the following: 1) continued war funding; 2) threats to escalate war in Afghanistan; 3)corporate control of politics (ATT is biggest sponsor of the Denver convention).
The first two points are self explanatory. Obama agrees with them on the first point; there is some tension between his and their second point; and on the third point, Obama is almost as bad as the pro-corporate Republican party.
The real problem here is the appearance of a conflict of interest between ATT $$ in Denver and the recent vote, supported by Obama, on Telecom immunity. Personally, I’d like to be convinced this was a coincidence, but it would take some convincing.
My point here is twofold: 1) Obama is sympathetic to what the protestors have to say; 2) on the issues of disagreement, he is keenly on the record in favor of robust and open dialogue. (did he not want a Veep candidate who would reasonably disagree with him on issues?); 3) It would be in Obama’s interest to help ensure that the protestors are caged and separated from this important public forum.
Part of Obama’s new politics that is so alluring is his repeated cadence of overcoming such anachronisms of the old politics, such as free speech cages and other mechanisms of control that separate speakers from their fellow citizens.
Although Obama wasn’t party to the ACLU lawsuit, and he is not yet president, he is in a position of moral authority to begin to guide this important free speech debate.