President Donald Trump is not fond of protests, having gone so far that he asserted the act itself should be illegal. Now, if a proposed new regulatory framework from the National Park Service proceeds to its conclusion, he could see at least some of his dreams become reality.
The proposal, which is open for public comment until Monday, would curtail the ability to protest in D.C. through means including closing off much of the sidewalk to the north of the White House, where a number of protests have taken place during the Trump administration, and possibly imposing fees for protesters too. There would have to be another separate effort to actually impose those fees, but the presently put forward measure would open the door to lumping activist demonstrations in the same category as special events like concerts. It would also limit impromptu style, rushed gatherings around the National Mall, which includes the Capitol Building and the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument.
Authorities have cast the move as an attempt at being the best stewards of public funds possible, pointing things out like the high costs associated with the “Occupy” protests some years ago.
NPS spokesman Brent Everitt explained:
‘At this time, we want to have a genuine conversation with the public about updating a comprehensive plan to best facilitate use and enjoyment of the National Mall while preserving and protecting its monuments and memorials. Permit fees and cost recovery considerations are just one part of that overall conversation.’
It’s difficult, though, to take the proposed new framework on its supposed own merits thanks to the incessant undercuts dealt by the president and GOP to the exercise of Americans’ First Amendment rights.
Trump, for instance, has routinely demanded that “fake news” be shut down, but it gets even more personal in this situation. Recently, he and top GOP allies have dismissed the very legitimacy of mass protests against credibly accused sexual predator and U.S. Supreme Court nominee — turned justice — Brett Kavanaugh as the actions of paid interests. In fact, millions of Americans find his nomination and confirmation to be repugnant, and it quickly proved verifiably historically unpopular. Republicans, though, wouldn’t even give those swaths of the American population a metaphorical place at the table — and now they might not get a physical place in D.C. either.
The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund’s Executive Director Mara Verheyden-Hilliard exclaimed:
‘This administration’s come in with the most bold and consequential overhaul. The consequences are enormous. There’s never been such a large effort at rewriting these regulations. I don’t think there can be any question that these revisions will have the intent and certainly the effect of stifling the ability of the public to protest.’
Democratic lawmakers have gotten onboard with the opposition, but their capabilities for launching a tangible challenge remain limited while they’re the minority party in both the U.S. House and Senate — although that could soon change.
Still, U.S. Reps. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.) and Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke:
‘National parks must be accessible and open to the American public for peaceful assembly… [T]he proposed shift could have the disastrous result of undermining the freedoms of expression and assembly — which are fundamental constitutional rights — in one of our nation’s premier public parks.’
For now, the shift remains incoming.
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