Was down at the Capitol yesterday following the announcement that our prisoners and survivors have filed their class action lawsuit against the Department of Corrections; this was the day when I planned to finally lay down one of my murals on the plaza between the two legislatures. Dana Seawright's mother, Kini, joined us. I managed to get the main part of it down - sans the names - before the cops stopped to hassle me.
Fortunately, there were a couple of cameras trained on me at the time Officer Anderson of the Capitol Police confronted me, and ultimately - after giving me the new list of protest rules- they backed down. While trying to dissuade me from finishing my project he fumbled over what law, exactly, I was breaking by chalking the walk, despite his repeated threats to arrest me if I didn't "take it out there" (gesturing to the city sidewalk out by 17th Ave. and Wes Bolin Plaza, where I usually chalk). My response to his directions was to maintain that the free exercise of political speech is meaningless if we are relegated to places where no one can hear us before we're allowed to speak - for which reason, I refused to take my protest elsewhere, and challenged him to ticket me, arrest me, or leave me alone to finish my task.
Anderson made sure to let me think I'd been both warned and trespassed, telling me I'm not allowed to return to the Capitol grounds unless I have "legitimate business" to conduct there. I asked who made this decision to ban me, who I appeal to, and who, exactly, determines each time I come to the legislature whether or not my business is "legitimate". As far as I was concerned, what I was doing at that moment was a very legitimate effort to communicate information to my lawmakers and governor. All the information I could get out of Anderson, though, was the name "Joe" - that's apparently who's in charge of the Buildings and Grounds department.
So, how is it that the guy in charge of lawn maintenance is also the one who determines whether or not my exercise of free speech is constitutionally protected? That doesn't seem like it would fly in court, so I plan to challenge it this spring - stay tuned for that one. Besides, it's hard to take cops seriously whenever they go the whole gamut from being Mr. Nice Guy doing me the favor of cutting me a break by letting me go if I stop chalking immediately, to aggressively posturing and threatening to arrest me if I don't comply, to backing off and saying things like "I'm not going to arrest you because you WANT me to arrest you - I'm not talking to you anymore. We're just going to wash this off as soon as you finish so no one that you want to see it will see it" (Anderson's final answer to me yesterday - after which I finished my mural in peace and took photographs so everyone can see).
Anyway, here's the new list of rules for "ACTIVITY" (read: "Protest") at the Capitol. I think we should have a day this spring to do nothing up there but protest them for trying to silence their dissenters, breaking every rule in the book in the process. Until then, my friends, if you plan to protest at the Capitol, be sure to have someone backing you up with a camera rolling on the cops - and the Buildings and Grounds crew - when they come after you...
As far as I'm concerned, the importance of alerting the right people to what's going on trumps the need for the Legislature to have an "orderly" sidewalk. As long as this Governor denies the severity of the crisis of violence and despair in the state prisons, I'll keep on trying to get the message across in as many ways as possible. If we have to wait for this lawsuit to be settled before anything at the ADC changes, too many more people will needlessly die. Chuck Ryan and his henchmen all need to go now.