At the 2000 GOP nominating convention in Philadelphia, candidate Bush created a fenced-in, out-of-sight protest zone that could only hold barely 1,500 people at a time. So citizens who wished to give voice to their many grievances with the Powers That Be had to:
(1) Schedule their exercise of First Amendment rights with the decidedly unsympathetic authorities.
(2) Report like cattle to the protest pen at their designated time, and only in the numbers authorized.
(3) Then, under the recorded surveillance of the authorities, feel free to let loose with all the speech they could utter within their allotted minutes (although no one–not Bush, not convention delegates, not the preening members of Congress, not the limousine-gliding corporate sponsors and certainly not the mass media–would be anywhere nearby to hear a single word of what they had to say).
Imagine how proud the Founders would be of this interpretation of their revolutionary work. The Democrats, always willing to learn useful tricks from the opposition, created their own “free-speech zone” when they gathered in Los Angeles that year for their convention.
Once ensconced in the White House, the Bushites institutionalized the art of dissing dissent, routinely dispatching the Secret Service to order local police to set up FSZs to quarantine protesters wherever Bush goes. The embedded media trooping dutifully behind him almost never cover this fascinating and truly newsworthy phenomenon, instead focusing almost entirely on spoon-fed soundbites from the President’s press office.
An independent libertarian writer, however, James Bovard, chronicled George’s splendid isolation from citizen protest in last December’s issue of The American Conservative (www.amconmag.com). He wrote about Bill Neel, a retired steelworker who dared to raise his humble head at a 2002 Labor Day picnic in Pittsburgh, where Bush had gone to be photographed with worker-type people. Bill definitely did not fit the message of the day, for this 65-year-old was sporting a sign that said: The Bush Family Must Surely Love the Poor, They Made so Many of Us.
Ouch! Negative! Not acceptable! Must go!
Bill was standing in a crowd of pro-Bush people who were standing along the street where Bush’s motorcade would pass. The Bush backers had all sorts of Hooray George-type signs. Those were totally okey-dokey with the Secret Service, but Neel’s…well, it simply had to be removed.
He was told by the Pittsburgh cops to depart to the designated FSZ, a ballpark encased in a chain-link fence a third of a mile from Bush’s (and the media’s) path. Bill, that rambunctious rebel, refused to budge. So they arrested him for disorderly conduct, dispatched him to the luxury of a Pittsburgh jail and confiscated his offending sign.
At Bill’s trial, a Pittsburgh detective testified that the Secret Service had instructed local police to confine “people that were making a statement pretty much against the President and his views.” The district court judge not only tossed out the silly charges against Neel but scolded the prosecution: “I believe this is America. Whatever happened to ‘I don’t agree with you, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it’?”