From the April 2, 2012 edition. Opinion page
If you read some of the local blogs last week, you might have gotten the impression that democracy and free speech rights have come to an end in Humboldt County.
After the Board of Supervisors approved an urgency ordinance March 27 regulating activities in front of the Humboldt County Courthouse, some folks were describing the new rules as draconian, and tossing out words like “fascism” and “Banana Republic.”
But, in reality, these claims are a bunch of hyperbolic nonsense.
Here’s the deal now at the Humboldt County Courthouse: You can protest on the courthouse grounds, without a permit, for 15.5 hours a day, seven days a week, all year long. You can be on the courthouse grounds starting at 6 a.m. But at 9:30 p.m., you’ll need to walk two or three feet over to the sidewalk.
After you’ve walked over to the sidewalk, you can continue to protest all night long. At 6 a.m., you can walk a couple feet over back to the courthouse property and continue your protest. So basically you can protest on or near the courthouse 24/7.
People on the blogs have described this as the “Death of Democracy” the “End of the First Amendment,” etc. What they seem to be missing is that the protest can basically continue 24/7, with only the minor inconvenience of moving a couple feet.
The Occupy Protesters at the courthouse quickly adapted to the new rules. On Friday afternoon all their belongings were piled high on the sidewalk and covered with tarps. Many of them were sitting in chairs on the sidewalk, even though at that time of the day they were free to be on courthouse property.
Basically, the protest continues unabated.
Compare this to the protest rules at the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. There you need a permit to hold a protest any time of the day. If you protest without a permit, you could be arrested.
But at the courthouse you can carry signs. You can wave banners. You can give speeches and hand out leaflets. But you’re not allowed to affix signs to the fence or to the walls of the courthouse (that’s fascism?).
On Wednesday the protesters were informed of this. One woman engaged in some civil disobedience and put up a banner on the fence, despite the warnings. She was then warned to take it down. She refused. She was arrested, transported around the block to the jail, then released.
One blog compared this to a “Banana Republic.” By chance, I read this blog posting after reading a chapter in the book “Bananas: How The United Fruit Company Shaped the World.” Trust me, banana republics don’t give people warnings, allow them to protest 24/7, and then arrest and release violators unharmed. Actually, if this was a banana republic, we wouldn’t even know that someone had been arrested.
The Occupy protest at the Courthouse began with good intentions. However, it’s devolved into a nuisance, with people crapping on the streets and pissing in corners. People entering and exiting the courthouse are verbally harassed.
Most of the true progressives working for social and economic justice have fled the scene at the courthouse. They don’t want anything to do with that mess – and understandably so.
Why waste time taunting police officers, fighting over cardboard signs, and calling fellow community members fascists and Nazis?
As for the county’s new ordinance, it doesn’t appear that it will do much to alleviate problems at the courthouse. On the other hand, it also doesn’t infringe on the protesters’ rights, which need to be preserved regardless of the ugly circus that the courthouse protest has devolved into.