Thursday, August 19, 2004

"Fascism" is such an extreme, emotionally loaded word, but it's the one that came to mind when I read an article in the August 16 issue of The Nation detailing Bush's use of "Free Speech Zones". (For sheer duplicity, that term rivals "Clear Skies Act.")
At the 2000 GOP nominating convention in Philadelphia, candidate Bush created a fenced-in, out-of-sight protest zone that could only hold barely 1,500 people at a time. So citizens who wished to give voice to their many grievances with the Powers That Be had to:
1) Schedule their exercise of First Amendment rights with the decidedly unsympathetic authorities.
2) Report like cattle to the protest pen.
3) Then, under the recorded surveillance of the authorities, feel free to let loose with all the speech they could utter within their allotted minutes (although no one--not Bush, not convention delegates, not ... corporate sponsors, and certainly not the mass media--would be anywhere nearby to hear a single word of what they had to say).
As soon as Bush was ensconced in the White House, he decided to use Free Speech Zones all the time. At a Bush Labor Day rally in 2002, Bill Neel, a retired steel worker, carried a sign that said: The Bush Family Must Surely Love the Poor, They Made so Many of Us. The pro-Bush signs were okey-dokey with the Secret Service, but not Neel's. He was told to go to the FSZ, and when he refused he was arrested. At his trial, the judge threw out the silly charges and scolded the prosecution: " I believe this is America. Whatever happened to 'I don't agree with you, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it'?"
In St. Louis last year, the media were not allowed to talk to people in the FSZ.
In Columbia, South Carolina, last year, Brett Bursey stood in a pro-Bush crowd holding a sign that said No War for Oil. When he refused to go to the FSZ, he was arrested for trespassing. Guess what? You can't "trespass" on public property. That charge, too, was thrown out. And then there's what goes on in Crawford, Texas! But you'll have to get a copy of The Nation if you want to read about that.
Now I know that there was an FSZ at the Democratic convention--for shame! But at least at Kerry campaign stops, he tolerates jeers from Republicans as well as cheers from Dems. A couple of weeks ago, some Republicans started a bullhorn chant of "four more years" during a speech by Theresa Heinz Kerry. Instead of having them arrested, she yelled, "They want four more years of hell," and the crowd chanted "three more months."
What a difference in the Bush and Kerry attitudes toward protest. The men who were arrested for their anti-Bush signs weren't disruptive. They were quietly expressing their opinion. The Bush supporters with bullhorns, on the other hand, deserved to be arrested. They really were creating a public nuisance. Knowing where to draw the line can be difficult for freedom loving people. For fascists, it's easy: just stop dissent as much as you can get away with it.


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