Minneapolis City Council Upholds Occupy’s Right to Protest

By a 9-4 vote, the Minneapolis City Council voted against a resolution that would have effectively banned Occupy protesters from gathering in public plazas and parks after midnight without permits and given the police more power to crack down on demonstrations.

In lieu of striking the measure down outright, they sent it back to the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Health committee, which will discuss the measure on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. Activists and other citizens will likely have the right to comment.

“I object to a city council that would attempt to pass an ordinance without a public hearing,” said council member Gary Schiff. “Particularly an ordinance that calls for new penalties, new citations, new actions by our police department. If we’re going to change those rules, let’s have a fair, open transparent public process.”

“It’s a solution in search of a problem,” said council member Betsy Hodges, who was among the nine opposed to Johnson’s measure.

Meanwhile, activists in the room silently wagged their fingers in the air — a telltale tool of the Occupy Wall Street movement — in support of the council’s challenge to Johnson’s measure.

Surprise legislation to stifle free speech shows Occupy is angering political leaders.

“I don’t think there’s any need to add more things into our codes to stifle free speech,” said council member Cam Gordon. “I think it sends the wrong message to people who want to get organized in peaceful demonstrations. It also sends the wrong message to law enforcement about what policymakers and city officials want them to be doing.”

Gordon added that existing rules over public plaza use are adequate. Organized events like concerts, exhibitions and commercial ventures currently need a permit, but demonstrations of free speech do not. “I’m concerned when those people who are most engaged in the peaceful calls for serious reform aren’t consulted.”

Occupy activist Ben Egerman said that demonstrators only learned Council President Barbara Johnson’s surprise legislation after Gordon blogged about it the night before the council meeting.. Egerman called this an example of government trying to pass legislation under the cover of night without public comment.

“They want to give police cover for another violent crackdown like last week’s. We’re challenging the political establishment in ways they are uncomfortable with. We’re angering political leaders who obviously want us shut down.”

Just before the City Council addressed Johnson’s measure Friday morning, Mayor R.T. Rybak’s chief of staff Jeremy Hanson Willis emailed council members urging them to pass the legislation: “I’m writing to let you know that Mayor Rybak supports the resolution establishing rules for public plazas owned or controlled by the City, as proposed by Council President Johnson,” he wrote.

Jacob Wheeler

In addition to shooting videos for The UpTake, Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at the progressive political magazine In These Times, publishes the Glen Arbor Sun in his native Michigan, and authored "Between Light and Shadow," a recent book about the Guatemalan adoption industry. Wheeler's stories have appeared in such magazines as the Utne Reader, Earth Island Journal, Rotarian and Teaching Tolerance magazine, and newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor. He speaks fluent Spanish, German and Danish.

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