From the Women’s March of January 2017 to the recent #StopKavanaugh protests, resisting the Trump administration has sent millions of Americans into the streets to exercise their First Amendment rights. Now Trump’s National Park Service wants to start charging us for our constitutionally-protected free speech. In a letter sent by People For the American Way and allied organizations, we make clear that the ability to afford protest permits must not be a factor in who gets the opportunity to demonstrate on public lands like the National Mall and Memorial Parks and President’s Park in D.C. You can download our letter here.
Dear Mr. Joyner:
We write to express our deep concern over proposed rulemaking RIN 1024-AE45, issued August 7, 2018, which would revise the National Park Service’s protest permitting process regarding demonstrations at the National Mall, Memorial Parks, and President’s Park.
This proposal would infringe on Americans’ rights to free speech and assembly. Forcing Americans to pay to lawfully assemble at our most iconic and politically significant sites places a financial barrier that precludes equal opportunity and access, dissuading and prohibiting Americans from demonstrating. The ability to afford fees for permits must not be a factor in who gets the opportunity to protest on these public lands. Introducing fees for First Amendment demonstrations would represent an overwhelming departure from American values.
We strongly urge you to revise the proposed rule and maintain access to vibrant, participatory democracy for all Americans regardless of socioeconomic status or support from wealthy donors. Protesting is a cornerstone of American democracy. The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech … or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Over centuries, Americans have come together from near and far and lifted their voices, from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech advancing the civil rights movement to the 2017 Women’s March, the largest demonstration in American history. Americans have cried out signifying ardent diversity of thought on a wide variety of issues spanning from war and peace to the economy, the environment, civil rights, human rights, and more. There is a fundamental personal dignity in protest—the insistence that one’s voice matters. Protesting is also a patriotic act, as Americans show up to help steer the path of our country. As we work to fulfill the promise of this country, we must never restrict access to the public lands surrounding its halls of power.
Thank you for your commitment to preserving our cultural history and natural resources. As you work to manage an increase in requests for permits and maintain your commitment to preserving visitor experience, resource protection, and public safety, we trust you will reconsider this proposal and ensure that the right of all Americans to express their beliefs in our nation’s capital will be safeguarded.