New York's idea of freedom of speech
I went to the anti-fracking rally at the concourse in Albany last week, joining about 2,000 other people who have the good sense to oppose this large scale corporate poisoning of our ground water supply and got quite the education in how to subtly suppress free speech in the process.
Seems last year on their way to the State of the State address, our feckless politicians had to walk past a very large number of their constituents who were in no uncertain terms telling them to ban fracking in NYS. I guess that kind of in-your-face lobbying made them a tad uncomfortable as there was no way they could ignore the people -- discomfort being an unfortunate by product of having to actually deal with the people who elected you to represent them.
Not to worry -- The Empire State came up with a solution to this discomfort: The Free Speech Zone.
Yes, good citizens, NYS took a page from the 2000 NYC Republican convention and herded people with any indication that they were against fracking into an area marked off with barricades. Said area was oh-so-conveniently located behind a row of business displays and you guessed it -- politicians and other big wigs (remember you gotta pay to play) did not have to walk through the group -- only past it for a short distance when the crowd got too big for the initial space defined by the barriers the NYS Police had set up.
If you were holding a sign, the NYS Police stopped you from going into certain parts of the concourse at certain times lest one of the NYS legislators had to actually speak with one of their constituents.
If you happened to get out of the penned-in area, the police came along and told you to keep walking. Luckily I have been on enough marches so that I can talk with people and walk at the same time.
Musically inclined friends told me that their drums and guitars were confiscated at the door with the threat of arrest if they did not comply. Local folk singer Terri Roben had planned to lead us in song as part of the rally but was told her guitar could be a weapon. I kept thinking the police had seen the famous 1940s- era photograph of Woody Guthrie with “This machine kills fascists” painted on his guitar and took it literally. Anyway, the NYS Police kindly locked up Terri's guitar keeping the rest of us safe from any more fun than we were already having.
This was a new rule and was not in effect last year, taking people by surprise.
When one of the people protested to the police at having her drum confiscated, one of the officers told her that it was not his decision. It was just his decision to enforce the rule that's all.
For some reason, the police did not confiscate the drums of the Mohawk Nation (arbitrary and/or capricious?) and they led a drumming and dancing circle.
Clare Grady from the Catholic Worker community in Ithaca and I slipped over to the part of the concourse where politicians going to the State of the State address had to pass by and quietly held our signs -- most politicians walked by putting a great deal of energy into trying not to see us. Local legislator Jim Tedisco ambled by with his ever present grin and I asked him to oppose fracking. He just kept going, grin in tow. I thought about calling to him that fracking would hurt dogs and cats and maybe then he would give us a response.
A couple of the downstate legislators did stop and talk to us and praised our efforts -- Sen. Bill Perkins from NYC being one.
By and large our Empire State was successful in keeping a very large umber of people from being seen by the people with the power to ban fracking in NY. Mission accomplished Governor Cuomo.
I kept thinking of the four generations of veterans in my family who were told that they were risking their lives to uphold our freedoms. I always thought free speech was one of those rights but apparently NYS thinks otherwise.