In the summer of 2013, I was arrested over and over again. My crime? Singing songs from the Wisconsin State Capitol rotunda during lunch hour. I was one of dozens of protesters who came out for the Solidarity Sing Along, a daily gathering of anti-Walker organizers. Over the course of three months, there were 200 arrests and hundreds more citations issued.
Today, the Supreme Court decided that when these kinds of anti-protest maneuvers happen at abortion clinics, they’re not ok. And even though I’m a liberal, I support this principle.
The Court’s decision to abolish protest “buffer zones” at abortion clinics will undoubtedly traumatize women (some just 15 or 16 years old) exercising their protected right to control their own bodies. The decision is targeted at the “consensual counselors” who hand out “information” to abortion-seekers (it pointed excludes anti-abortion protesters). It’s a high cost. But because protesters everywhere should have the ability to voice their opinion, the underlying notion makes it an essential ruling.
Despite its narrow interpretations, the Supreme Court declared that free speech is among the highest values. The court is right, and this logic should be applied to all protest buffer zones – not just those that protect vulnerable women from harassment, but also those that protect politicians and the court. The majority pointedly said that their decision doesn’t include these areas, but the spirit of their ruling should govern policy there, too. It’s my hope that their approach might someday become legal precedent to abolish all forms of protest crackdown, paving the way for more effective and free citizen actions in the future. [UPDATE: This language and the previous two paragraphs were tweaked to reflect a closer reading of the decision.]
Protest zones at national conventions are great examples of the “buffer zones” to which this rule should apply. At the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, demonstrators were confined to a small space surrounded by white trash bins positioned out of earshot of convention attendees, meaning that voices of opposition had little to no audience throughout the duration of the convention.
RNC protesters in Tampa were met with more than 10,000 heavily militarized police officers who enforced the corralling of demonstrators into an “event zone” far from the actual convention venue. And on the day of President Obama’s second inauguration, a permit for a large demonstration at Freedom Plaza was revoked, confining protesters to a 10-foot section of sidewalk.
Currently, it’s even illegal to demonstrate on the Supreme Court steps without risking arrest. If the court deems that women seeking abortions have to worm their way through crowds of protesters, then the justices who voted to void protest buffer zones should face their own crowds to get inside the halls of the Supreme Court.