Obama came to town today. Free Speech took a hit.

(noon. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

President Obama was in my City this afternoon, for a speech on education at Wright Middle School.

Since the location had been announced too late for the normal permit process, the Madison Peace Action Coalition contacted the Police Department, and were told they’d be allowed to conduct a rally at a reasonable location a block away.

Come 10:45, the rules changed, and they were booted to a spot a few  blocks farther, all but out of line of sight. According to this Wisconsin State Journal account, pedestrians without signs were still allowed in th area from which the protest had been evicted. This makes clear it was a speech motivated ban, not strictly speaking a legitimate security matter.

In The Nation, Madisonian John Nichols suggests that Obama should have marked the anniversary of his election with a big noontime rally at the State Capitol, as well as the school speech, but at the Capitol, they wouldn’t have been able to protect him from seeing the “Out of Afghanistan” signs. Can’t have that, Presidents who run “dumb wars” have to live in a bubble. see UPDATE, partial retraction below

(The State Capitol Police these days have more respect for the 1st Amendment than their City of Madison counterparts. I won a suit v Tommy Thompson in 1987, establishing that, under the State Constitution’s Free Speech clause, anyone has a right to display any placard on the Capitol grounds at any time.)

I wasn’t down by Wright School myself. Anticipating the exclusion, I’d decided to position myself, and my Don’t do McChrystal Meth placard a few miles away along what I’d guessed would be the motorcade route, but I guessed wrong.

Here’s more links.

Obama visits Madison: The words on the street from Isthmus, our alternaweekly.

A large group of students were gathered on one corner behind a banner that said, “Support the Dream Act.” Another sign from this group proclaimed, “We Want to Go to College, Too.” I asked one of the young people about the Dream Act. She rose to the challenge admirably, explaining that it was a proposed law to give residency to undocumented students who came to the U.S. before they were 16 and have been here at least five years.

Across the street a slightly larger group was gathering, holding peace signs: “End the War,” “Fund Schools Not War,” “Books Not Bombs.” I spoke to a few of these folks, too. I appreciate the earnestness of their presence, standing on a street, holding signs, on the odd chance that the presidential motorcade will pass and the president will catch a glimpse of them with their messages of peace.

One of odder protesters, if that’s what she was, carried a sandwich board sign that included a health-care-reform to-do-list that seemed to come from a don’t-do-it mindset. One of the items: “Request clearer synopsis of 1,900 pages.” Why, oh why, does CliffNotes focus only on the classics?

The woman with the sandwich sign was holding a half-dozen helium balloons of stars and the U.S. flag. I heard her exhorting one of the Dream Act students: “We can speak together! We can speak.”

And if you think Obama may listen, his message of hope truly has taken root.

Protesters hard to distinguish from supporters at Obama visit also Wisconsin State Journal

Obama focuses on back-to-basics education Milwaukee Journal/Sentinal

About a quarter-mile from the gym, a small group of protesters gathered with some waving anti-war signs that read “Books, Not Bombs.”

Jenny Weaver, a retired theology professor from Madison, said of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan: “I think these wars are atrocious.”

Buzz Davis of Stoughton helped organize the protest. He said he had to criticize the president because of a decision Obama must make on a proposal to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan.

“Every troop in Afghanistan will cost about $1 million a year. Forty-thousand more troops would be $40 billion,” he said. “We should be putting $40 billion more for books, not bombs.”

UPDATE and partial retraction: I no longer attribute this to a desire to insulate the President himself from seeing the protests,  more likely the motive was to keep the travelling national press whose whereabouts are pretty controlled, from interacting with the protesters. I note that the coverage of the protest found on a Google News search is exclusively in State.


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    • Ben Masel on November 5, 2009 at 3:02 am

    on East Washington Avenue. Got a few honks from passing motorists.

    • Edger on November 5, 2009 at 3:11 am

    Been awhile…

    • TMC on November 5, 2009 at 3:21 am

    Yes, we have change, the name of the man in the office.

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