Taking it to the malls: Bringing the war home

Even before the California Supreme Court’s ruling that shopping malls can’t bar protestors, participants in Iraq Moratorium #4 last week were taking their message to the malls.

Some of the action moved to the malls because that’s where the people were, doing holiday shopping four days before Christmas.  Most “mall walkers” did just that — walked the malls wearing antiwar shirts or singing carols, not staging actual protests.

An exception was Madison, Wisconsin, where seven people were “arrested” — and later “unarrested” at West Towne Mall. Organizer Joy First tells what happened:

When we got to the center [of the mall], we unfurled our banners saying “3896 US soldiers killed in Iraq,” “Over 655,000 Iraqis killed” and “Stop the War Now”. A couple of us began slowly and loudly reading names of Iraqis and US soldiers killed in the war, and a couple handed out leaflets. It was only about 5-10 minutes before the mall security and manager came over and told us we had to stop. We talked to them about why we were there and why we couldn’t stop.

We felt we had the right to be there and that we needed to get this message out. Doing this action at the mall is important to juxtapose the suffering of the Iraqi people with the commercialism of the holiday season in the US. So, we continued and mall security called the police.

Bonnie, Susan, and I laid down on the floor and were covered with the banners we had been holding. Someone laid a red rose on top of each shroud. It is very uncomfortable laying there because once you are covered with the sheet, you cannot see what is going on any more. But I did continue to hear the clear, strong voices of my friends reading the names of people killed in the war as the jolly Christmas music from the mall played in the background.

I could also people walking by – some of them supportive and some not. One comment I heard several times was that we shouldn’t be doing something like this because there were kids around. I am listening to names being read, such as Mariam, daughter of Haider Mujed, age 3, or Ayat, daughter of Jaider Mujed, age 1 or Saif Alwan, age 14, or Ali Hamid, age 2. Do you remember your 2-year old and how sweet and lovable they are at that age? People are complaining that we shouldn’t do this with children present, but I think about all the Iraqi children who are being killed and wonder who will protect them.


You can read the full report and see a video of the entire action on the Iraq Moratorium website. Go to the reports section.

Elsewhere, mall walkers in San Mateo, California confronted Marine Corps recruiters in the mall (above.) Palo Alto and San Jose groups also did mall walks, and protestors sang antiwar carols outside of Macy’s in San Francisco. In Nashville, activists held signs along the roadway entering a busy mall.

A group in Hobart, Indiana pioneered the mall walks for peace in October, strolling the mall and buying a few items while wearing “Out of Iraq” T-shirts and armbands.

Being “shoppers” or mall walkers seems to remove some of the legal questions about holding a protest on private property.  

There have been arguments over the years that malls are the new town squares, public places where free speech should prevail. The California decision does not answer the broaader question, but dealt with union members asking shoppers to boycott a store.

The First Amendment Center offers a summary and links to stories on some of the cases, most of which have come down on the side of property rights over First Amendment rights:  

Court upholds Florida candidate’s petition rights in mall

State district court agrees that Kevin Wood should not have been convicted of trespassing for seeking signatures. 02.07.04

‘Peace’ T-shirt spawns legal fight against N.Y. town, mall

NYCLU argues that since Crossgates Mall receives tax incentives from town of Guilderland, it’s a public area in which free speech is guaranteed. 05.31.04

Mall owners can limit speech, Connecticut high court says

Justices rule managers legally prohibited union members from distributing leaflets, saying shopping center is private – not public – entity. 07.20.04

Protesters at Hawaii malls can be prosecuted for trespass

State high court rejects argument that shopping center’s common areas should be considered public space where free speech is protected. 08.14.04

La. man wins right to protest in front of Wal-Mart

Federal court order allows Edwin Crayton to picket on public sidewalk in front of store without permit from city. 11.14.06

Prediction for 2008:  More mall walks, more protests, more legal challenges as antiwar actions escalate.

Says Joy First in Madison:

We must and we will continue to speak out against the war and occupation. As the devastation in Iraq continues and more and more people are hurt and killed, as more people become refugees, as more US soldiers come home with injuries physical, emotional, and spiritual, as more children in this country are starving and homeless because we are using all resources in Iraq, we will continue to take more and more risks in speaking out against the horrors that are caused by our government’s actions. We cannot and will not remain silent. It is our duty and responsibility to speak out.


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  1. The Supreme court found no 1st Amendment rights in private spaces, but deferred to States if they found speech rights under the State Constitution. Wisconsin’s Supremes found no such rights in the NuParable Dancers case 25 years ago.


    2. State constitutional provisions, as construed to permit individuals reasonably to exercise free speech and petition rights on the property of a privately owned shopping center to which the public is invited, do not violate the shopping center owner’s property rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments or his free speech rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 80-88.

    (a) The reasoning in Lloyd Corp. v. Tanner, 407 U.S. 551 – which [447 U.S. 74, 75]   held that the First Amendment does not prevent a private shopping center owner from prohibiting the distribution on center premises of handbills unrelated to the center’s operations – does not ex proprio vigore limit a State’s authority to exercise its police power or its sovereign right to adopt in its own constitution individual liberties more expansive than those conferred by the Federal Constitution. And a State, in the exercise of its police power, may adopt reasonable restrictions on private property so long as the restrictions do not amount to a taking without just compensation or contravene any other federal constitutional provision. Pp. 80-81.

  2. and lots of people indeed read it


    • dennis on December 29, 2007 at 13:37

    can be a bit less cut and dried than is the case with a formal protest, like that in Madison. Wearing identical t-shirts, the group of walkers simply circulates inside the mall, and individuals even make purchases and carry bags from the shops. This report on the October action in Hobart, IN, which xofferson mentions in his post will give you the idea:

    Peace activists from Northwest Indiana took a walk through the mall on Friday, October 19. Sponsored by NW Indiana Code Pink and NW Indiana Veterans For Peace. the walk went through Southlake Mall in Hobart, IN.

    6 people wore our matching white tee shirts with “Out of Iraq” in bold red letters. We also had two children in strollers and 3 other walkers with different anti-war tee shirts. Taking part were Kathy Sturm (Merrillville), Nina Klooster (Lake Village), Karen Kroczek (Munster), Mike Ploski (Mattson, IL), Jim Roseen (Munster), Anita Skomac and her mother Myrna (Hobart), Mark Lesniewski (Crown Point) and Nick Egnatz (Munster).

    We strolled around the mall. Karen bought a Swiss army knife to replace one confiscated from her during our meeting with Indiana Senator Evan Bayh in August (Security was taking no chances with a baby boomer armed with a Swiss army knife within sight of a future Vice Presidential candidate). We dined in the food court and went through some other stores.

    We had our best luck when we were not moving and people would come up to us and ask us where had we been for the last 6 years of the Bush Regime. We didn’t leaflet, but had a flier with info about our events, the Iraq Moratorium and the October 27 Mobilization in Chicago, etc. for those who approached us with an interest.

    We feel the action was a great success and plan on repeating it, especially during the winter. Our thanks go out to Cathy McGuire of Terre Haute, Indiana who suggested it to us last month!

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