Challenge to our Free Expression Event

Yesterday I posted a description of the Empty Shoes of War event that I helped organize.

The event was continually challenged throughout the day (probably due to the graphic nature of the content) – not by the public, mind you……by the personnel inside the public library attached to the public plaza. I have written a letter of complaint to Salt Lake City. It explains everything that happened throughout the day (with copies sent to the library directors and to the ACLU):

The Desert Green Party of Utah applied for a permit on Tuesday, January 2, 2007 for an event titled “Empty Shoes of War” to be held on Saturday, January 27, 2007 between the hours of 9-5 on the library plaza.  The permit, #FS07-002, was approved by the Salt Lake City Corporation Special Events Department.

The hours of the event were adjusted to 10am to 2pm because of the cold temperatures.  Members of the Desert Green Party of Utah set up the display at 9:30am and tore down at 2:00pm.  The nature of the event was to display children’s shoes and photos of injured, sickened and dead Iraqi children to educate the general public on the effects of war on civilians.  The reaction to us from everyone that stopped was highly positive.

The Desert Green Party of Utah complied with all requirements per the permit, inclusive of item #5, to wit:

“You must position your activity and participants in such a way that pedestrians have safe passage and access to the sidewalks, Library and business entrances on Library Square.  You may not block or attempt to block any entrance or driveway.”

As part of the application process, we completed a diagram, which was approved by your department, outlining where our display would be located.  This diagram is attached.  I have also included photos of the actual display that day to prove that we adhered to the requirements of the permit approved by your department.  At no time was there ever a blockage of the doorway, in fact it was quite the opposite.  There are multiple witnesses who can attest to this. Additionally, at no time did we receive any complaints from the general public.

During the day on January 27, 2007, the Desert Green Party members were continually confronted by library personnel about moving the display.  Below is outlined the sequence of these confrontations, with times being approximate, except the last bulleted item which is exact.

1.        10:00am:  Two library workers came out to ask us to move our display “back” and to make sure we didn’t block the door.  We pointed out that we were complying with the permit we had been issued.  We did move the display back about a foot, more towards the fountain.

2.      11:00am:  Library maintenance employee confronted Desert Green Party members requesting the display be moved 25 feet from the door, quoting that request as “it’s the rule of the library.”   When we questioned him on this, he then stated the following (This is paraphrased and not a direct quote):

“Children walk by here every day.   Some children might be traumatized by this.”  When asked if he then was requesting that we move our display due to the content, he quickly corrected himself by saying “It’s the library rule.”

Upon reviewing our permit, we could not find any regulation to the 25 foot rule, nor could we find anything drawing a line between “library property” and “city property,” except the doors to the library building.   When we asked if the library director could come talk to us, the employee said “he is not here today, it’s the weekend.”   We then asked him to produce the document highlighting the library rule that stated we had to be 25 feet away from the door.  He said he would produce it.

3.        11:30am:  The same library maintenance employee came to the Desert Green Party members with a document in his hand that he showed to us and admittedly stated that the only “rule” referring to being 25 feet away from the door was with regards to smoking.  No such written rule was ever produced to us during the day.  When asked if there had been any complaints, this employee said “none at all.”

He then made it a point to tell us that if we had “any problems.” to make sure to call security.

4.        11:45am:  A library security officer came out to the Desert Green Party display and gave us his phone number and told us that if was had “any trouble,” to be sure to call him.

5.        1:15pm:  It was observed that a library worker came to the doors and remained inside while she surveyed the activity outside.  There were few people outside and there was no one at the doors.

6.        1:30pm:  The same library security officer came to the Desert Green Party display to make sure we were “alright.”

(NOTE:  We found it odd that we were continually being checked up on for our safety because at no time during the event did we ever have any indication of hostility or anger on the part of passersby, in fact, quite the opposite.)

7.        1:45pm (exact time):  Two women workers from the library approached the Desert Green Party Members running the event.  One woman identified herself as the Library Director.  She was very agitated and while communicating to us that she “remained neutral” on our event, we had to move our display to the opposite side of where we were currently located.  We challenged this, again, stating that our permit allowed us to be here.  She proceeded to tell us that the “library property” was from the south edge of the outside elevator (note elevator is located on library plaza and comes up from the parking deck below the library) proceeding westward and that we had to move our display on the south side of that imaginary boundary line (note that this was in contradiction to the first request of moving our display to the opposite side of where we were located which was in front of the elevator, causing confusion in exactly what was being asked of us and what the Library Director was telling us was “the rule”).

When asked if there had been complaints, the Library Director said “yes.”  When asked what the nature of the complaints were she said that our event was “being perceived as a library sponsored event.”  When asked why the library issued a permit to the group sponsoring an event inside the library, which was explicitly anti-war, she responded that the group had reserved the room, and that they were presenting all points of view.  This is not true, and again, represents a judgment based on the content of the event, not the neutrality of the library. We replied that this is not our issue but, rather, an issue between the library and the Special Events Department and that we were complying with all the requirements of the permit we had been issued.

We told the Library Director that we were tearing down our display at 2:00 (15 minutes from the time she approached us).  The Director said “That isn’t good enough – you have to move now.”  We told her we would not to which she responded, “I will move it myself.”  She proceeded to move towards the display with the intent of touching the items, but stopped at our emphatic “NO”.  We then moved the confrontation to the news camera where the rest of the disagreement was recorded, ending with the Director telling us she would be contacting the city and then us with the results of her complaint.

     It is important to note that at the same time as our event, there was an anti-war activity being held inside with a crowd of people in the Urban Room, less than 25 feet from the library doors, crowding around literature tables waiting to go into the auditorium for a panel discussion.  When we brought this to the attention of the library director, she said that they had signed up for the room per the library rules.  Yet just prior to this she had told us that “of course no antiwar event could sign up to use the Urban Room.” There was a crowd of about 50 people blocking the walkway in the Urban room on the inside of the south doors to the library!

It was also observed that the organizers of the inside event, while their event was scheduled for 2:00pm, showed up at 9:30am., placed all of their materials on tables inside the Urban Room and sat there until it was time for their event.  To our knowledge, if they had not signed up to be at that location at that time, they were never challenged on their presence there.

Due to the sequence of events and the nature of the confrontations throughout the day, we feel almost certain that we were being challenged and discriminated against due to the nature of our event.  We were complying with all regulations of Salt Lake City, per the permit that is issued to us and were not making any violations of the permit.

     I would also like to point out that as a participant with tabling organizations at events such as PRIDE, displays and booths have been situated in such a way that there is less than 25 feet space between booths and the doors.

                We therefore request that if a complaint comes from Salt Lake City Library personnel, that our organization, Desert Green Party of Utah, not be penalized since we were within the purview of the Free Speech Permit issued to us for this event.  If there are inconsistencies in policies of the library and Salt Lake City Corporation, we view this as an issue that needs to be addressed between the respective agencies and not be taken as an action of civil disobedience on the part of our organization.

   Thank you for your time in reviewing this communication and we hope that we can continue to obtain free speech permits for our non-violent peaceful assemblies and events.

 Sincerely,

Deanna L. Taylor
Desert Green Party of Utah

cc: 

Nancy Tessman, Director (postal mail)

Salt Lake City Library

 Chip Ward, Assistant Director, wardchip@hotmail.com
Salt Lake City Library

 American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Representative unknown at this time – faxed to general number

Eileen McCabe, Member
Desert Green Party of Utah

One response to “Challenge to our Free Expression Event

  1. Funny how people whip out “rules” that turn out to be non-existent when pressed. Way to stick to your guns.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s