What No One Is Telling You About Political Convention 'Free Speech Zones'

The anti-abortion group Operation Save America and the lefist anti-war group Code Pink may not have much in common, but they do agree on one thing: the “free speech zone” set up outside the Republican and Democratic National conventions are unconstitutional.  

That may or may be not be legally accurate, but after reporting on both major political party’s conventions, I can attest that the fenced off Free Speech Zone area with a stage and a microphone is completely irrelevant and only serves to allow the protestors to pretend that their right to speech is being trampled on. From what I’ve seen, the First Amendment was alive and well in both Tampa and Charlotte.

Like most people, I’d heard these free speech zones derided as a form of American fascism at previous political conventions. The 2012 conventions are the first ones that I’ve personally attended, however, so I expected to see protestors sectioned off in barbed-wire cages miles from contact with delegates. That’s been the media narrative--so imagine my surprise when I saw plenty of real, live protestors everywhere in Tampa and Charlotte making contact with delegates, politicians and anyone else passing by. 

In Tampa, Ron Paul supporters cajoled delegates in a last ditch effort to take the Republican nomination and Code Pink was part of a march and a street theater performance where Medea Benjamin dressed up like a pig. In Charlotte, Christians from Operation Save America railed through a P.A. system against abortion and Sodomites, all right outside the convention center.

I wrote yesterday about Code Pink’s speech in the Free Speech Zone to an empty field. There is no reason to use the Zone because you are literally talking to nobody and could just walk a couple of blocks closer to the convention and actually get your message out to real people.

Predictably, Medea Benjamin spent a good deal of time complaining about the Free Speech Zone. I tried to speak with her later about the the issue but she ducked my attempts to talk to her. 

I spoke to someone from Operation Save America, who told me that they have had no problems with police for protesting outside the Free Speech Zone. When I told the young man that it seemed to me that Occupy and other protestors like Code Pink could easily peacefully protest outside the Zone as well, he remarked: “I don’t think the Occupy protestors want a peaceful protest.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. 


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