Atlantic to Pacific, Canada to Mexico - the Free Speech Zone! -- by Frank Beal


As I was standing beside some of the Republican faithful (they had a six foot tall sign) waiting for Resident Bush to leave his Neville Island event, I was approached by what I believe was a Secret Service agent. He seemed rather young to have gray hair, and was wearing a jacket, tie, and an earphone. He came up to me with two uniformed cops and asked me, "Are you here with the CLG?"! I told him that I was there as a private citizen, but that I knew people in the CLG. They left me alone, although one of the uniforms stayed behind. One of the faithful asked him, I think jokingly, to run me off because I was "disturbing them". The officer told them that I had "the right to stand there". From my spot I got I got to hold my sign right in Bush's face as he drove past.

I had a similar experience when the Bush money train came to the Hilton Hotel a few weeks ago. I was standing on the corner on Liberty in front of the Hilton and overheard a federal agent's radio. Someone asked what groups were attending and a voice answered, "The Steel Workers and the Citizens for Legitimate Government". It seems that they have heard of the CLG. The agent, a charming, well spoken, easy going African-American woman asked about my sign and requested that move to the pen in Point Park. I politely told her that was impossible. She got a tall Pittsburgh Police officer of some rank (he had a white shirt) to try to run me off. He came right up into my personal space and said, "I'm asking you to move". I said, "I can't do that" We were standing there nose to nose when the federal agent said, "He's not causing any trouble. Leave him be". I apologized to the cop saying something like, "I'm sorry. I'm not looking for trouble, but I just can't go over there". I was a bit nervous at the time and didn't get his rank or badge number. The limos came down the ramp from the bridge and pulled in the back of the hotel. I was pretty far from them but my "SELECTED NOT ELECTED" sign must have stood out from the Bush crowd.

The Republicans are experimenting with these cages to see just how far they can push people. We all have the same right to stand by the road with our signs, not just Republicans. If the Bush people use government agents to censor political speech they are committing a crime - and they know it. I got some protection by standing next to their supporters. They know that they do not have the right to choose who stands on a public sidewalk based on political opinion. People are vulnerable when standing fenced off in some corner where the Republicans can intimidate and arrest people without publicity. The people arrested on Neville Island, who I consider true American heroes, were away from the cameras out of the view of the public. The police were able to oppress them because they though nobody was watching. I'm glad that the Post-Gazette printed a story today. Mabry people will start thinking. After all, if they can do things like that to peaceful demonstrators --- who's next?

I'll be there next time Bush is in town, standing right with his supporters with my sign criticizing him. It's perfectly legal for me to hold a sign where other people are doing the same. What is on the sign is no business of federal agents. If one group can do it so can every other group. Everyone who has something to say has the right to express their political ideas on public property. If the people critical of the establishment are standing amongst the supporters the Republican enforcers either have to clear everybody out or let freedom ring. I go to these events as an individual, dress and groom myself well, remain polite to everybody all the times, establish my space before showing my sign, and stand firm when people try to intimidate me. Everything that I do is both legal and moral. I encourage you to do the same.


Frank Beal,
Pittsburgh
, PA
September 4, 2002

 

  

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