In George W. Bush’s America, protest and free speech are illegal acts. Just ask those arrested Wednesday for staging a peaceful protest against the Iraq war near the President’s ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Camping on the same land that antiwar mom Cindy Sheehan used to stage her highly-publicized protest in August, the activists quickly ran afoul of a new county law, hastily passed at the White House’s urging, prohibiting public gatherings.
That’s right. The public no longer has a right to protest the President’s policies on public land near the President’s home in Crawford.
“The ordinance was very plainly meant to prevent people from protesting in front of Bush’s ranch,” Dave Jensen, a 54-year-old former Marine told reporters. “We feel that’s a First Amendment issue. It’s intentionally designed to curtail freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.”
But the First Amendment doesn’t mean much to cops in Texas or the Bush administration as a dozen protestors, including Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon papers fame along with the sister of Cindy Sheehan.
Such arrests, says Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, is just another example of how the Bush administration seeks to stifle debate on the Iraq war.
“What kind of debate are we willing to have? The White House showed exactly what kind of debate it wants on future of Iraq – none,” Obama says. “We watched the shameful attempt to paint John Murtha – a Marine Corp recipient of two-purple hearts and a Bronze Star – into a coward of questionable patriotism. We saw the Administration tell people of both parties – people who asked legitimate questions about the intelligence that led us to war and the Administration’s plan for Iraq – that they should keep quiet, end the complaining, and stop rewriting history.”
History shows us that government attempts to silence its citizens leads to tyranny. America, however, has a long and proud history of rising up against tyranny – something the White House should remember as it continues to try and stifle lawful protests guaranteed by the Constitution.
Protesting in public is “a traditional way for Americans to support their political views,” says Julya Hampton, legal program director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “When governments try to establish legal obstacles to such protests they clearly violate the First Amendment,” she adds.
So the protestors who gathered at Crawford this Thanksgiving did so lawfully, exercising their rights as Americans to express their views on their government.
“We are proud to be here,” Dede Miller, Sheehan’s sister, said. “This is just so important. What we did in August really moved us forward, and this is just a continuation of it.”
A few hours later, police arrested Miller along with 11 others.
Ray Meadows, the McLennan County commissioner who sponsored the ordinance to restrict free speech, admits he did so at the White House’s urging.
“Of course I did,” he bragged to a county resident when asked at a public hearing on the ordinance. Meadows later claimed the White House didn’t have anything to do with ordinance, claiming he proposed it to protect “property owners.” Of course, Bush is also a property owner.
But Ellsberg, whose leak of the infamous “Pentagon Papers” to the New York Times is credited with helping turn public opinion against the Vietnam war, says the White House cannot control the will of the American people.
“Those of us who finally saw through the Vietnam War saw through this war, and all the actions that were necessary to end the Vietnam War will be necessary here,” Ellsberg said in Crawford on Wednesday. “I think the American people will get us out of this (war).”