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The Fight for Free Speech at Union Square

by ALAN WALLIS

Joshua Frank, who published “NYPD Unplugs Cindy Sheehan” on CounterPunch should be commended for focusing on the question of free speech in Union Square, but his assessment of the political environment in this important battleground is way off. Those to whom he dismissively refers as “wannabe Abbie Hoffmans” are in fact a wide range of different types of dissenters. A few are obsessed with conspiracy theories, but almost all are quite lucid, from the civil libertarians, to the anarchists, to the liberal antiwar activists, to the Marxist revolutionaries. Some are also talented public speakers, ranging in appearance from the ragged to the elegant. To say, as Frank does, that they are “spewing their propaganda” is rather disrespectful to a neighborhood political tradition that goes back at least to Emma Goldman’s arrest in 1893 for telling a crowd of unemployed people in Union Square to steal bread.

The organized speak-outs take place from 4 to 7pm on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays at the south end of the square and are open to anyone. Some of the usual participants are significantly to the left of Cindy Sheehan and will probably not get any time in the national press as long as it remains in the hands of its present owners, but that is no reason to trivialize what they do. It takes tremendous dedication to make the journey from an affordable neighborhood all the way to Union Square three days a week, even in the dead of winter, with large banners, political literature and hand-held megaphones -which they need in order to be heard over the heavy traffic surrounding the square on all four sides.

Also contrary to Frank’s observation, these activists do indeed face almost constant police harassment. Their megaphones are confiscated so frequently that they have to buy them in bulk, and they face arrest, fines, trumped-up legal charges, and heavy sentences of unpaid “community service.” They defy repressive city ordinances banning the use of signs larger than 2 feet by 3 feet without a permit, banning the use of amplification without a permit and, on good days, they also end up defying the ban on public gatherings of more than 24 people without a permit. At least two of these ordinances are a legacy of Mayor Giuliani and have been engraved on a large metal plaque mounted high on the wall of the cage that surrounds the World Trade Center site ­ underlining their inseparability from the War on Terror.

One of the main organizers of the Union Square speak-outs, Geoffrey Blank, will go on trial in November for charges relating to a large number of petty infractions like those mentioned above, and is facing a possible four-year prison sentence. It is a case that should interest anyone concerned about the state of civil liberties in the US. Supporters are welcome at the trial, which will take place in Manhattan Criminal Court, 100 Centre Street, 4th floor, Part A on November 28th at 9:30 am.

For more information, call the No Police State Coalition at 1( 718) 945-5188 or simply stop by Union Square any Monday, Thursday or Saturday afternoon.

ALAN WALLIS can be reached at: alan423956@yahoo.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CLARIFICATION

ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH

We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the “Website”).

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005

 

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