National Park Service Proposes Severe Restrictions On Protests In Washington, DC

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Above: Pro-net neutrality rally at the White House shortly before President Obama changed his mind and supported net neutrality which he and his FCC commissioner, Tom Wheeler, had opposed.

Urgent Action Needed to Protect the Right to Protest in Washington, DC

White House protest, hours before TPP is signed: TPP is Betrayal DC February 3, 2016 Getty Images

Find the steps to submit a comment at the bottom of this article.

The National Park Service has proposed major changes in rules for protests in Washington, DC that would severely undermine constitutionally-protected First Amendment rights. The National Park Service’s proposed rule changes put forward by the Trump administration and Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke abride our Freedom of Speech, right to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances. Below is information on how you can comment on these proposals. You must act by Monday, October 15, 2018.

You can view the comment submitted by Popular Resistance here. Read the affidavit submitted by Kevin Zeese: affidavit-for-the-nps-restrictions-of-the-first-amendment We focused our experience in organizing and participating in protests in Washington, DC, the history and impact of protest on changing the direction of the country, how protest is escalating and needs to be protected as well as on their responsibility to protect Constitutional rights and follow international covenants that the US has ratified. In addition, Popular Resistance joined with a coalition of organizations to submit comments prepared by the Partnership for Civil Justice. To read coalition comment download this file coalition-comment-on-nps-proposed-protest-rules.

Longest ongoing vigil in Washington, DC hstory. Anti-nuclear weapons vigil in Lafayette Park. Source MSNBC

The proposed rules would require organizers to pay high fees and costs to hold a protest in Washington, DC. The proposals would ban protests on the White House sidewalk and greatly restrict protests in Lafayette Park across from the White House. Costs could include the expense of erecting barricades, paying the wages and overtime of Park Service officers and the cost of repairing grass. The proposals would also restrict spontaneous First Amendment activities and give the police power to cancel permits for any “infractions”. Long-term encampments like Occupy would be banned, as would long term vigils like the anti-nuclear vigil in Lafayette Park.

Free Assange protesters at the White House June 19, 2018. From Gateway Pundit.

These restrictions would undermine hard-won victories for Freedom of Speech and the Right of Assembly in Washington, DC. We need people to take action now to comment on these proposals.

In an administrative proceeding like this, the evidence in the case comes from the record of public comments. Therefore we need you to write comments that reflect on the importance of protest at the White House and in Washington, DC. Popular Resistance will be submitting comments that cover our history of organizing and participating in protests in the nation’s capital, but your individual experiences will also be valuable.

Protest against the war on Syria by the ANSWER Coalition.

12 ways that the proposals undermine our constitutional rights

The Partnership for Civil Justice, which has litigated many cases involving DC protest, has developed an analysis of the proposed rules. Below are 12 ways that the proposals undermine our constitutional rights.

Standing Rock supporters took their fight to Washington and the White House. Credit: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

  1. Pay to Protest – – Part I. NPS to charge steep costs and fees on any demonstration activity. [?]
  2. Pay to Protest, part 2 – – NPS to deconstruct free speech activities and charge fees and costs on “special event elements” (i.e., music performances, exhibits) within a demonstration. Removal of the distinct protections and processing of demonstrations in order to treat them in part like corporate sponsored and commercial special events. This is a back-door way to assess prohibitive costs on protests. [?]
  3. Permits in Limbo and Suppression of Spontaneous Demonstrations – – Removal of the “24 Hour Deemed Granted Rule” that mandates swift action on applications and elimination of any deadline whatsoever for NPS to finally approve a permit application. Spontaneous demonstrations responding to breaking events can be stifled. [?]

    Hundreds of immigration rights activists gather on June 1, 2017 in front of the White House to denounce the immigration crackdown by the Trump Administration. (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian/flickr/cc)

  4. Closure of the iconic White House sidewalks to demonstration assemblies (leaving a five foot sliver for a pedestrian walkway) [?]
  5. Closure of other public spaces on the South side of White House [?]
  6. New Hair-Trigger to Shut Down Protests – – Allowing police to end a protest for any violation of a permit, no matter how inconsequential, by anyone (even a counter-protester) [?]
  7. Protecting Grass Over Free Speech – – Codifies the Turf Management Plan with its prohibitively expensive requirements, including forced rental of mega-expensive plastic “Turf Covers” so protester’s feet don’t touch the grass [?]

    Climate protesters outside of White House. Photo by Susan Walsh for AP.

  8. Ends Long Term Vigils and Protest Presences – – by setting a maximum period of 30 days, or less, for a protest (the current maximum is four months) [?]
  9. Expands the strictest restrictions on signs and banner size and material [?]
  10. Prohibits structures (e.g., stage, fixed sound) within the drop line of trees in Lafayette Park or the Ellipse – – but Lafayette Park is filled with trees [?]
  11. Prohibits structures (i.e., stage and sound setup or literature tables) without a permit, including in parks for which no permit is needed to have a demonstration [How can protesters use a no-permit-needed park for an assembly without stage or sound to reach the protest?] [?]

    Members of Korea Peace Network outside the White House in June. (Facebook/KPN)

  12. NPS also seeks comment on whether to decrease or increase the number of people, and parks, in which protest is allowed without any permit at all (i.e., Franklin Square, McPherson Park, potentially Dupont Circle, and more). Apparently, NPS thinks even fewer no-permit-needed spaces are a possibility. [?]

Creating an effective comment on these proposals

Remember your comment will help with stopping the National Park Service (NPS) from proceeding and could be helpful if these rules are challenged in court. They will provide evidence that lawyers can cite when arguing against these restrictions on our First Amendment Rights.
An effective comment will:
  • Explain how the right to protest is important to you. 

    Chelsea Manning freedom protest outside of White House, urging President Obama to pardon Chelsea Manning. From Chelsea Manning Support Network.

  • Tell the NPS how these changes will hurt you, and the organizations you work with as well as the issues that matter to you.
  • If you have specific examples of protests you have helped to organize or participated in, explain how these changes would have impacted you.
  • Review the 12 ways the new rules will undermine Freedom of Speech and describe situations where they would have affected your action or could affect your action in the future.

    CODE PINK sign at Korean war protest at White House April 26, 2017. Photo by Chris Owens

  • Try to comment on as many of the 12 issues as possible. Explain why you object to each.
  • You can discuss protests that have occurred in Washington, DC during the nation’s history.
  • If you have photos or videos relevant to the issues under consideration you can include those.

How To Submit Your Comments

You have until October 15, 2018 to make comments on the National Park Service’s proposed rule changes.

Your comments have to be submitted through the Federal Register.

We are not able to provide an automatic tool.

Please  click here to submit comments to add your comment to the Federal Register website to protest these proposed rules. 

  • rgaura

    Yo, here’s my submission; Dear Public Servants,

    I find the proposals to limit protest and free speech absolutely ridiculous. This is from a fascist, totalitarian handbook. All government needs to do if they want fewer disturbances, is to enact laws that the people want. Suppression of our free speech is not the way to go.

    All of these special regulations limit or charge exorbitant costs and fees and by doing so limit our constitutional rights. I am appalled that these sleazy rules should even be considered.

    Take heed in limiting the rights of the people. When you don’t allow steam to blow off, you create excess pressures that may take more destructive forms. And in limiting the rights of others, it is easy to see how your own rights will come to be abridged as well

    I urge you to do the right thing, which is chuck this odious document in the trash where it belongs.

    Thank you,

    Robin Gaura

  • Jon

    Excellent comment! What this proposal (and other matters) does is to turn up the heat and close off the steam release valve. it does not take a lot of imagination to envision what the result will be.

  • TecumsehUnfaced

    How is a government going to know what the people want and govern well, if it restricts the operation of free speech, assembly, and protest by which the people can tell the government?

    A National Park Service seeking to promote good government would be looking for ways to facilitate free speech, assembly, and protest, not restrain them. The proposed rule changes need to be re-written with that in mind.

  • tesseract3000

    And this is my comment:

    The burden of proof is on the Park Service to show that peaceful expression of our First Amendment rights has interfered unduly and unusually with public commerce around the Capitol. Like “voter fraud,” there is no proof that there has been danger to the public OR public officials during such peaceful protests.

    The ONLY argument would be the taxpayer cost of monitoring such protests. And considering that the demonstrations are constitutionally protected, such expense is expected if not “unusual.”

    These costs are minuscule as contrasted with the increasing taxpayer expenses necessary to support a President who vacations in a distant state regularly and flies to political rallies on the public dime. And certainly minuscule as contrasted with our record-breaking defense budget, regional earmarks, and other public boondoggles.

    Just because peaceful protest in the capital city might be “unsightly” or “inconvenient” does not justify abrogating the First Amendment for such protesters. And it would be educational for tourists to see and know that the US permits . . . nay, is proud of . . . our right to public protest!

  • kevinzeese

    That is definitely one of the issues, i.e. were these new rules necessary? They clearly restrict First Amendment rights so are they justified?

  • kevinzeese

    Exactly right. We argue in our comment that protests have been increasing since the 2008 crash and even more after Trump was elected because people see the corruption and know they are ignored. The court decisions equating money as speech have muted the voice of the people. These proposals will mute them more if they become law, i.e. if you don’t have money you cannot exercise your First Amendment rights. The democracy crisis in the United States is deepening.

  • Randino49

    This is what I submitted today.

    The proposed rule changes regarding rallies, marches or demonstrations in areas of Washington DC under the control of the National Park Service are examples of how to empty the rights of free speech and assembly of any content through petty regulations. It subjects our rights to assembly and free speech to a death of a thousand cuts.

    The parts of the proposed regulations that impose fees for demonstrations are just as repressive as out right bans on such events. The genius of our nation’s capital is that it is free and open to the public to walk through, and enjoy because it belongs to us – the people. The proposed regulations would be like imposing toll booths in front of the Lincoln memorial. Fees would restrict our right to peaceably assemble based on who could pay the fees. That is anti-democratic.

    The closure of certain areas of the area around the White House cuts our nations capital into a maze of go and no go areas. It removes the public from public spaces.

    The permitting and restrictions of signs, banners, sound equipment is not about reasonable regulations. It is pure and simple harassment. I have been involved in organizing demonstrations at home in Cleveland, OH. The petty regulations that we have had to face there, are duplicated in the proposed regulations for the NPS. Simply put exercising your right to peaceably assemble and enjoy the right to freedom of speech should not require a titanic struggle of jumping through an endless maze of bureaucratic hurdles.

    Finally, the presence of demonstrations, marches and rallies is a critical part of the ambiance of Washington DC. The end result of restricting such activities would be like removing the fog from San Francisco, the mountains from Denver, and the sky scrapers from New York City. I think the intent of the proposed regulations is not to protect good order and the public. It is to protect those who govern, from those who are governed. Washington DC without demonstrations, marches and rallies would no longer be Washington DC. It would be Tiananmen Square.

  • Leslie Miller

    Make your comments today is your last chance .