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My Letter to Governor Haslam on the Restriction of Free Assembly on Public Land

October 28, 2011

Yesterday, Tennessee’s Governor instituted new rules limiting public demonstrations in Legislative Plaza (state public land) to specific hours and requiring daily approval of permits which will cost $65. After stating that the permit process would not be in place until this morning, the government sent police in in the middle of the night to remove Occupy Nashville demonstrators under the guise of a newly implemented curfew. 75 state troopers were sent to arrest 29 protesters. Below is the text of the letter I just sent to the Governor’s office in response:

Governor Haslam,

I am writing to express my concern about the sudden implementation of limited demonstration hours in Legislative Plaza and insistence on permits and curfews in this public space. While many areas do require permits for large events in public spaces, the creation of these rules mid-event suggests a desire to specifically interrupt Occupy Nashville efforts. It is profoundly disturbing to consider whether permits may be required or denied based upon whether the demonstration’s focus finds favor with state government, especially when the focus of dissent is the government itself. The suggestion by Bill Gibbons that others using or traveling through the Plaza outside of curfew hours would get a pass depending on their circumstances further suggests an intention to enforce the new rules inequitably.

I am also disturbed by the contradiction between clear reports that enforcement would not happen until today, and the frankly sneaky manner in which the curfew issue was employed to provide cover for removing people who had a reasonable belief that they would not need to clear out of the public space until today, and to do so when the least possible media would be present.

I’ve already viewed elsewhere the generic response sent to others who have written on this issue, the meat of which is:

“While this administration wholeheartedly supports freedom of speech, assembly and petition, it is our responsibility to keep people safe on state property. Abiding by these hours allows for a safe event, while ensuring the people’s right to peaceably assemble.”

I am certain you don’t mean to imply that it is only possible to keep people safe on state property during the hours of 9am to 4pm, the hours for which permits may ostensibly be approved. If so, I would expect that safety should also be a concern during the additional non-curfew hours,* 4pm to 10pm and 6am to 9am. There is no apparent rationale for the failure to align these hours and allow permits for assembly during the full 6am to 10pm time frame. The most charitable reading of this mismatch is a governmental unwillingness to provide for the proper security during some hours for those in exercise of their Constitutional liberties on public land. A less charitable read of this mismatch would suggest that it is the specific intent of the Governor’s office to limit the exercise of free speech and assembly by forbidding such activities on state land during the hours which most people have off work, thereby reducing the numbers of people who may participate in such activities.

Free speech and assembly are perhaps the most sacred rights of Americans, the tools which provide for all other rights to be acquired and defended. Interfering with these rights in such a manner is unconscionable. I urge you to rescind this misguided action and restore the exercise of constitutional freedoms to Legislative Plaza.

Rachel R. Walden
Nashville, TN

*Added: above, where it says, “during the additional non-curfew hours, 4pm to 10pm and 6am to 9am” – I don’t think my wording was clear initially. Those are the hours in which people are allowed to be in the Plaza and not under curfew, but demonstrations are not being allowed.

I’d like to also offer my thanks and kudos to Night Court Magistrate Tom Nelson who refused to sign criminal trespass warrants for the protesters taken into custody.

Here’s what some other folks have had to say. I am particularly enjoying Aunt B’s writings on the subject.

  • Sean Braisted with the text of the order: Legislative Plaza Becomes GOP Plaza

  • Ilissa Gold in a DailyKos diary: URGENT: TN Seeks To Evict OccupyNashville With Unconstitutional Ordinance (UPDATE)

  • Newscoma: The First Amendment is a Beautiful Thing

    Aunt B at Tiny Cat Pants:

  • It Must Be So Awesome to be a Rich Person in Tennessee
  • My Correspondence with the Governor’s Office
  • Honestly, This Should Concern Everyone in Nashville
  • Why Haslam’s Response to Occupy Nashville Should Concern Lawmakers

    Pith in the Wind (Nashville Scene):

  • Right-Wingers Back Occupy Nashville’s Right to Protest – when even Stacey Campfield is standing up for your rights, well… Hell, even Bill Hobbs thinks they overstepped.
  • Governor Warns of More Arrests Tonight Unless Occupy Nashville Backs Down
  • Dem Party Chair: ‘Haslam Overstepped Bounds Dramatically’
  • Safety Commissioner Defends Occupy Nashville Eviction: ‘We Can’t Babysit Protesters’
  • State Slaps Curfew on Capitol, Prepares to Evict Occupy Nashville Protesters


    New items, 10/29:
    This news from overnight reinforces the concern I express above about unequal enforcement of the new rule (emphasis added):

    There was no noticeable law enforcement presence for nearly two hours after the curfew went into effect, while adjacent theaters let out and patrons filtered back through the plaza to their cars without being challenged for violating the restrictions.

    “Nothing was done to them, they were not arrested,” said protester Michael Custer, 46. “But we are arrested while we are expressing our constitutional right to free speech.”

    Once the theater traffic cleared, dozens of state troopers descended on the plaza and began arresting protesters and a journalist for the Nashville Scene, an alternative weekly newspaper.

    New good posts:

  • Aunt B again: Welcome to Tennessee–Where the First Amendment is 2/3 Null and Void
  • Mike at Enclave: BREAKING: Night Court Judge researches and rules that he can find no authority to charge Occupy Nashville with curfew violation
  • Newscoma always makes the smart connections: From the Civil Rights Museum to Arresting Occupy Nashville Folks in One Week
  • The Scene: Night Court Magistrate Throws the Book at Haslam, Troopers Over Occupy Nashville Arrests – Kudos again to night court Magistrate Tom Nelson, who again refused to issue arrest warrants, reportedly stating, “I have reviewed the regulations of the state of Tennessee, and I can find no authority anywhere for anyone to authorize a curfew anywhere on Legislative Plaza.”
  • 7 Comments leave one →
    1. October 28, 2011 8:28 pm

      Wonderfully written!

      Not only has our Governor Bill Haslam had these protestors arrested but has pushed his agenda of suppressing the Constitutional Rights of Tennesseans throughout his brief tenure in office from shooting down Nashville’s anti-discrimination laws to creating the bill banning the use of the word “gay” in public schools. He’s railroading civil liberties to the extent of making it illegal to upload a “potentially offensive image” to the internet this year. I addressed our Governor’s antics with a visual commentary of him and his wife on my artist’s blog at Drop by and let me know how you feel about our rights being infringed upon.

      • October 28, 2011 8:37 pm

        Thanks for commenting, Brandt. For those who want to click over to see Brandt’s art, please be aware that it might be NSFW – which artworks sometime are and which illustrates the problem at the intersection of art and the law in question. And I’m gonna go ahead and assume it’s meant to depict a consensual situation, although I wonder why only the Governor’s wife is all geared up. Brandt, why not get the Governor out of that suit and in on the action? 😉 And yes, I think the “potentially offensive” law is quite disturbing.

    2. October 28, 2011 8:55 pm

      Good for you doing this. Its high time for this to stop because they have gotten to point across already and etc.

    3. October 28, 2011 9:59 pm

      I don’t know if I’m still living in the United States anymore or if I’m living in communist China, what with all the enforcing of censorship.
      This is censorship. The peoples are supposed to be able to talk and demonstrate, without state intervention. You’re not supposed to do that. Via BoingBoing, I found out that some law enforcement members have been trying to get the YouTube videos of the Oakland brutality removed. You’ve probably heard of law enforcement using shaky reasoning to prevent people from filming officers during police violence (or whatever else is going on at the moment.)
      States & local governments are doing it. How are you even doing that.

    4. October 29, 2011 12:27 pm

      Yours was much more polite and businesslike than mine. 😉


    1. From The Civil Rights Museum To Arresting Occupy Nashville Folks In One Week « Newscoma

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