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Protecting Political Insiders From Our First Amendment

Ah, it's almost August — time for another quadrennial flowering of America's glorious democratic process, otherwise known as the presidential nominating conventions!

This grand testimonial of our citizens' rights and liberties will begin with the Republicans in Tampa, Fla. Flags are being mounted, majestic music is arranged, uplifting speeches are being scripted — and, as has now become normal for these spectacles of democracy-in-action, heavily armed police repression of our cherished First Amendment rights is being ordered.

Of course, the delegates, candidates, lobbyists and billionaire funders inside the GOP's convention bunker will be perfectly free (as they should be) to gild the promises and lies that will frame their presidential campaign. They will not be bothered by the riot-geared police authorities deployed around Tampa. However, any citizens who come to practice the hallowed freedoms of public assembly and speech can expect to be welcomed by a thoroughly un-American, weeklong police state.

In May, at the behest of national Republican officials, Tampa's mayor and council passed a temporary ordinance to suspend our First Amendment and authorize a crackdown on protestors. Warning ominously that a few vandals might get out of control, the ordinance tries to force all citizen demonstrations into a few restricted parade routes and what amounts to "protest pens." Pre-emptive detainments, indiscriminate mass arrests and police infiltrations of peaceful protest groups can be expected. Ironically, that's the kind of autocratic excess that led to the American Revolution itself.

The city's top lawyer recently barked that "troublemakers ... will not be tolerated." But the real troublemakers are those inside the hall — and inside a police system that's being used to stomp on the very freedoms that America is supposed to embrace and encourage.

One of the juiciest ironies of Tampa's newly minted law to suppress protest at the upcoming Republican National Convention is that it bans the carrying of water pistols by protestors. However, thanks to Florida's nutty right-wing governor, anyone with a concealed-weapon permit is free to tote an actual bullet-firing pistol throughout the proceedings! Apparently, the authorities really do consider blood to be thicker than water.

Even nuttier is the fantasy of convention organizers that they can lock down the feisty and essential American spirit of political protest with a rash of ridiculous liberty-repressing laws. Among their ordinances is a directive that thousands of demonstrators squeeze their public expressions into short "parade routes" and out-of-the-way "viewing areas." This is as futile as King George III demanding 225 years ago that American revolutionaries march into battle by lining up in neat rows to be shot down by his Redcoats.

A spokesman for one protest group says flatly that its members will pick their own spots to assemble and have their say: "We (Americans) were born with the right to move freely from place to place and speak our minds," he rightly points out. Also, a poor people's coalition is setting up a "Romneyville" on private property in Tampa, providing what it calls "a kind of refuge" against the government's attempt to box in its protest of official policies that are increasing poverty all across America.

The opposite of courage is not cowardice, it's conformity. What makes America great are courageous folks like these who refuse to go along with authoritarians and elites who always demand that we surrender our most basic liberties to protect them from speech they don't want to hear. To keep up with this never-ending battle of rights versus wrong, visit the website of the National Lawyers Guild.

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Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the book, Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow. Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be - consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks.

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