April 19, 2010

Free Speech Gains a Short Reprieve from the Vancouver City Council

by lewwaters

The machination of government is something that never ceases to amaze me. The back and forth between factions and pretending to listen to people is just at times astonishing as well as enlightening.

Such was the case this evening at the Vancouver City Council meeting as the council took up a discussion on regulating free speech, even though they felt they were not.

The discussion centered on a proposed ordinance that would have placed restrictions on assemblies larger than 100 and would require a 6 day notification of the assembly, payment of a $60 fee, plus other requirements.

After dispensing with other business, Mayor Leavitt opened up the discussion on the proposed ordinance. Of the 10 citizens permitted to speak on the ordinance, not one spoke in support of it.

Larry Patella, Tom Hann, Terry Busch, Charlie Stemper, Debbie Peterson and several others whose names I failed to write down, all rose one at a time pointing out how this ordinance either would or would have the potential to eventually be used to deny people their right to peaceful assembly and to deny them free speech, protected under the first amendment of our constitution.

Similar tactics were either in place or used in segregated Southern States to deny Black Americans their right to assemble in their effort to gain the Civil Rights that should have been theirs in the first place. Although this is a point I was going to make, since I was born and raised in the South and saw it firsthand, Mr. Patella beat me to it, identifying those who used such an ordinance as “Southern Democrats,” a historical fact councilmember Bart Hansen should acquaint himself with as he took exception to the comment.

Bart, you can argue all you wish and take exception, it will not change the historical fact of it having happened. Perhaps Bart will do himself a favor and order a copy of the book, Whites, Blacks and Racist Democrats by Rev. Wayne Perryman.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Councilmember Pat Campbell argue against the ordinance as written as he saw the dangers of such an ordinance infringing on our first amendment right to assemble peacefully and exercise free speech. Joining him in expressing doubts as well as voting against it were councilmember’s Jack Burkman, Larry Smith and Jeanne E. Stewart.

The other 3, Mayor Leavitt, who feels it is not such a big deal and councilmember’s Jeanne Harris and Bart Hansen expressed support of the ordinance, Harris and Hansen both saying they had no problems at all with it.

I’d like to remind the mayor that any act that might modify, restrict or infringe in any way upon our constitutional rights is a “big deal.”

At one point, Mayor Leavitt turned to the audience as asked if we really felt the council was infringing upon our right to free speech and to assemble. To his dismay, the audience resoundingly said YES!

What really struck me in the council’s discussion was hearing many say they had not had a chance to read through the proposed ordinance yet as it had just been returned to the council this evening. (Please read councilmember Burkman’s clarification/correction on this in his comment below)

Cara Cantonwine, Special Events Coordinator was asked several questions by the council that elicited an “I don’t know” answer as she reiterated the ordinance was more or less a “what if” something should happen.

Also asked about any past problems in the 5 or so events a year that may happen in Vancouver that might have cost the city in repairs or clean-up, another reason given for the necessity of this ordinance, also brought back the answer of “none that she could recall.”

In essence, as I believe was brought out, what the ordinance would do is already happening. Which brings up the question, why is it needed in the first place?

Visibly perturbed at citizen comments against and the council vote to deny the ordinance at this time were councilmember’s Hansen and Harris. Both stated the punitive sections of the ordinance would not necessarily have to be enforced, again bringing to mind, why have the 22 page ordinance?

Mayor Leavitt expressed support and voted for it also; sealing his fate at the next election as it is doubtful he will receive support from conservatives as he did to help him defeat Mayor Pollard. I just hope Tim doesn’t get too comfortable in the Mayors seat, this being the second time I have seen him ignoring the voice and will of the people.

The council voted unanimously to send the proposal back to staff to remove restrictions that could occur on free speech for anyone, left or right and to rewrite that portion to encourage notification to the city, even in the case of short notice as political events, rallies or protests often do not have the 6 days needed to obtain a permit, bills being rapidly brought out and scheduled for votes today.

I’d like to extend special thanks to councilmember’s Campbell, Burkman, Stewart and Smith for their voices of common sense and speaking for upholding our constitutional rights.

To the others, your efforts to shut down Tea Parties, Freedom Rallies or other assemblies that oppose your left-winged views failed. We will continue to show up and oppose any effort to place restrictions on our constitutional rights.