“Democracy Dies in the Dark” — Trump’s Suppression of Dissent

“Democracy Dies in the Dark” — Trump’s Suppression of Dissent October 13, 2018

“Democracy dies in the dark.” ~ Judge Damon J. Keith

On Aug. 28, 1963, more than 200,000 people gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to demand equal rights for all Americans and to hear Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

“I think this has been one of the great days of America,” King said afterwards. “And I think this march will go down as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, demonstrations for freedom and human dignity ever held in the United States.”

The march led to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

If the Trump administration succeeds, Washington D.C. may never see such a demonstration again.

Trump’s National Park Service is proposing wide ranging changes to curtail where demonstrations can be held, how people can protest, and considering a plan to charge demonstrators for costs associated with exercising the Constitutional right to peaceably assemble.

The proposed changes are sweeping and carefully inserted into a massive 21,125 word document.

Released with little fanfare, the administration allowed only four weeks for public input.

Deep within the proposed regulations, are things like this:

The NPS seeks comment on whether it should increase the maximum number of persons that may demonstrate at Franklin Park and McPherson Square without a permit. The NPS also requests comment on whether it should establish new exceptions for Farragut Square and Dupont Circle that would allow demonstrations larger than 25 persons to occur without a permit. … The NPS seeks comment, however, on whether the numbers could be raised in a manner that better aligns the current limits with sizes and locations of the designated areas in order to increase opportunities for spontaneous demonstrations.

By appearing to include changes that benefit demonstrators, the administration cynically can claim it is acting on behalf of everyone, but this simply isn’t true.

Trump officials are looking to silence dissent by demanding people pay for the right to voice opinions.

The NPS seeks comment on how it could establish a set of clearly defined, objective categories and criteria in advance for what costs would be recovered. These categories could include direct costs associated with event management (other than costs for law enforcement personnel and activities), set up and take down of structures; material and supply costs such as barricades and fencing needed for permitted activities; costs for the restoration, rehabilitation, and clean-up of a permitted area such as sanitation and trash removal; permit application costs; and costs associated with resource damage such as harm to turf, benches, poles, and walkways. The NPS requests comment on whether it should establish an indigency waiver for permittees who cannot afford to pay cost recovery, and how this waiver program could be implemented to safeguard the financial information of permittees.

The proposals can result in a process that charges the producers of a televised concert on Fourth of July the same way they charge the organizers of a rally demanding equal rights — civil rights activists seldom have the funding of HBO.

The Trump administration defends the restrictions by claiming:

These restrictions further the NPS’s interest in securing these memorials and maintaining the intended atmosphere of calm, tranquility, and reverence, and in providing the contemplative visitor experience intended for the memorials. The restrictions in this rule are limited and apply only to those areas necessary to further the interests identified above. At each location, there are several other nearby areas available for a more full range of free expression, including demonstrations and special events.

In other words, dissent will be charged, managed, and controlled by the government in ways that will “… further the NPS’s interest …” and ensure “an atmosphere of calm.”

These are the words of oppressive governments, not a nation dedicated to freedom of speech.

This is not what the founding fathers had in mind. This is exactly opposite of what the Bill of Rights intends.

Rights that are restricted by the government are seldom restored. Americans flying commercially in the United States must remove their shoes, for example, because of one failed terrorist attempt.

Restricted rights are seldom restored.

You can comment on the proposed changes here.

The deadline to comment is Oct. 15.

I will update this post as the process progresses.

If the Trump administration succeeds, protests like King’s “I Have a Dream” speech may never happen again.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • jekylldoc

    I appreciate your raising this for public attention and comment. I wish you had done more to propose constructive ways for people to facilitate the concerns behind the proposed NPS rules, even given that its motivation is really restriction of demonstrations. I don’t think this set of restrictions amounts to the death of democracy, but we have already seen a pattern of many abusive restrictions and punitive actions by this administration whose purpose is clearly restriction of dissent. Much more abusive steps may be waiting not far down the line.

  • The Mouse Avenger

    I went to make my opinions known on that regulation, & I left a very passionate diatribe on why this regulation should not pass! I’m also going to share this on Facebook & Twitter!

  • Rudy Schellekens

    I am all for giving people the right to demonstrate etc. I do have an issue, however, with the rest of the nation paying the bills associated with such events. The Constitution gives us the freedom of speech, and the freedom of assembly. Not the freedom to mess up the locale where these freedoms are exercised.
    When I rent a venue to hold a gathering, be it a wedding or a political event, I am expected to make sure the place is as clean as it was when I arrived. I have to pay a deposit to make sure the cost will not come out of the owner’s funds.
    Why would the use of a demonstration venue be any different? Include a clean-up fee (reasonable and as accurate as possible) when a permit is requested? It does not limit my freedom of assembly nor my freedom of speech, it limits the responsibility for the cost to the organizer. Simple as that.
    And now YOU can use your freedom of speech to disagree with me… 🙂

  • Peg

    The protesters are tax-paying citizens, just as much as “the rest of the country.” I suspect you gain some benefits from your tax dollars that I don’t, but I’m not arguing that you have no right to your benefits because “the rest of the nation paying” your bills. Further, this is not about the cost of clean-up–a trivial expense when spread over the thousands of people protesting and the thousands more for whom the protesters speak. This is just a petty excuse for making sure “free speech” is made as pointless as screaming in outer space: protest all you like, no one will hear you in the government-approved venue.