Restrictions on protest signs?
March 19, 2004 2:34 PM   Subscribe

We are having an antiwar rally here in Fayetteville tomorrow...and of course there will be a counterrally as well. My question to you all is this: We have been told that we are not allowed to carry signs larger than 2 feet by 2 feet-which is smaller than the average size poster board. Have any of you ever participated in a protest and been restricted in such a manner? (this is by police order, and I am rather stunned.)
posted by konolia to Law & Government (25 answers total)
almost every (i would say "every" but i'm trained by profession not to) assembly in public space in the USA is contrained in some way. and it's perfectly legal, constitutional and (IMO) rational to do so.

i don't find this particular restriction stunning.
posted by crush-onastick at 3:01 PM on March 19, 2004

Response by poster: Well, the point of having a sign is being able to have a legible message on it. I'm going to have to be pithier than I'd planned. Measure it out and you will see what I mean.

I mean, free speech only up to a certain size? What's so dangerous about 3x3? I wouldn't DROP it or anything...
posted by konolia at 3:28 PM on March 19, 2004

Relax, konolia. I have a feeling that the rules aren't really intended for your side, and I mean that in a helpful and straightforward way: having eperienced the war protest/war rally confrontation before, I can assure you that the cops will immediately posture such that it's clear whose side they're on. You can probably go with whatever sign you wanted.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 3:36 PM on March 19, 2004

The general constitutional rule is that you can make reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on speech. Pretty much the only time where a restriction becomes a problem is when it targets the content of speech (then you've opened a can of worms).
So, essentially, if the cops say 2'x2' and it applies to both the rally and the counter-rally, its pretty much cool under the law.
posted by dicaxpuella at 3:36 PM on March 19, 2004

"Antiwar"? Anti-what-war?
posted by hama7 at 3:38 PM on March 19, 2004

Response by poster: No, we have been warned directly we have to adhere.
posted by konolia at 3:44 PM on March 19, 2004

Response by poster: Here's a link, Hama7. (I'll be across the street from these folks. )
posted by konolia at 3:46 PM on March 19, 2004

No, we have been warned directly we have to adhere

Just get an obnoxiously large flag, and look at 'em all funny if they suggest you get rid of it.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 3:48 PM on March 19, 2004

Legally, I don't see that there's any reason the cops can't place such a restriction. It's wrongheaded, and serves no good purpose, but a sign size restriction is not at all unheard-of. Your town may even have a local ordinance about it, but even without it the cops can pretty easily mutter something vague about public safety and put the constraint in place.

Signs, however, are not the be-all and end-all of getting your message across. Perhaps your organization can ask about the use of banners?

'"Antiwar"? Anti-what-war?'

Ask MetaFilter is not your soapbox. Please don't treat it as such; that's deeply disrespectful of its purpose and usefulness to others.
posted by majick at 5:05 PM on March 19, 2004

DEFINITELY BRING A FLAG. you know they'll have 'em, too. also, i'd make two posters. one that's 2x2, and one that's the size you actually want. if you see a lot of large posters and the cops aren't doing anything about it, use your large one.

but the, they can't possibly tell you to put that away.
posted by taumeson at 6:07 PM on March 19, 2004

The protests in SF last year were actively hounded, split apart, dispersed, and generally shut down by full riot-gear cops working around the clock. I was shocked to come up out of the underground and find myself in a crowd full of people being herded down the sidewalk. Circling helicopters kept the ground troops informed of any dense clusterings of people, which were systematically divided and subdued. In between these skirmishes, the cops stood in lines in the streets, ready for the next round of pushing and shoving. Step off the sidewalk in front of one of them? Off to the paddywagon with you.

They shut down the streets so that we couldn't, basically.

Your 2' rule sounds like more of the same bullcrap that brought us "free speech zones." I surrendered my sign exactly once, and it was to a store manager who agreed to let me use his bathroom as long as I didn't parade through his shop. That was fair enough, but in a public space, these "rules for engagement" set out by the cops are ludicrous.

I don't blame you for being stunned. The way that civil protest has been whittled down to a nice box-size, and herded toward a padded, bar-coded cardboard box, is disgusting. I mean, more than 2' just ain't peaceable, is it now?

The long and short of it is that the establishment, far from being surprised and caught off guard by civil protest, has now had about 40 years of experience dealing with it. It's become a practically useless gesture, unfortunately. Especially if you follow their little rules.

Anyone really interested in staging civil protests should be ready to get arrested. Before you make this commitment, you should learn how to minimize the risk you face from the cops who will take you away. There are specific techniques for lying down in a human chain, being carried away etc, that will help you avoid getting hurt. Learning what to expect is half the battle, I think. I'm behind in this regard myself. While I'm not afraid of getting arrested, I don't want to have my shoulder dislocated again if I can help it.

I would suggest concocting some scheme that takes you outside the little rules. Just because they're there. Even if it is only making a 25" square sign, do something. Making an impact is what it's about. Otherwise, why not just stay home and chant "no war" at the wall?
posted by scarabic at 7:42 PM on March 19, 2004

I *heart* scarabic. I do.

I have a tendency to get arrested at rallies. I don't believe in "free speech zones". By god, my family hasn't been fighting for this country for 200 years so that I can stand in a freaking box when the government does something I don't like.

I'm an American. I vote. I pay taxes. I contribute to the economy. I have more dead relatives in military graves than out of them. I have spent much of my life on base because my people believed that America was the land of the free and that we owed it to the country to defend her. I will be free until they jail me for doing it.

Screw the rule. Make your sign however you want to make your sign. I don't care which side you're on. It doesn't matter. There is a bigger issue here...and the issue is whether we as citizens are willing to be herded like children and told what to do and when to do it.

I, for one, am not having it. Kon, darlin' what your conscience tells you to do. There is no other "right" answer.
posted by dejah420 at 8:07 PM on March 19, 2004

Other idea; break your sign into 2x2 sections. Sections that two people could hold together. Now you could build a 20x2 sign.
posted by filmgeek at 8:51 PM on March 19, 2004

Response by poster: I made the sign and it'll be okay at the "legal" size.

Fear and free speech sure don't like to share space, do they?

On preview: I was thinking about doing that, filmgeek.
posted by konolia at 8:56 PM on March 19, 2004

I like the direction this thread is going. Fight the power!
posted by vito90 at 10:41 PM on March 19, 2004

Response by poster: It's gonna be an interesting day. We are gonna have communists, anarchists, pacifists, Vietnam vet bikers, Freepers and heaven knows what else in one general area.

Oh, and one Mefite with a sign.
posted by konolia at 5:59 AM on March 20, 2004

if you don't own an anti-gas mask, bring at least a few lemons -- they'll come in handy if the cops start tear-gassing. very quickly, bite the lemon and rub the juice around your cheeks and forehead and chin. or, you should bring a large piece of cloth or a bandanna, drenched in vinegar, for the same reason. good anti-tear gas remedy.
if you wear glasses, by all means get rid of them, if the cops start charging -- you don't want to scratch a cornea or something.
if you own a helmet, by all means you should bring it with you.

The protests in SF last year were actively hounded, split apart, dispersed,
SF Antiwar Protest Pics

Oh, and one Mefite with a sign.

please, at your rally, don't say anybody you're a member -- they'll think we're a warblog, or something

posted by matteo at 9:02 AM on March 20, 2004

With you in spirit, konolia. Do Good!
posted by five fresh fish at 9:51 AM on March 20, 2004

Response by poster: I'm back, no violence, lots of good clean American yelling. (Oh, and various and sundry news media.)

The rally seemed to be buy-one-get-five-free as they advertised it as "bring our troops home" and it turned out to be a soapbox for various liberal and socialist groups whose speeches had next to nothing to do with the troops.

It was fun. I met real Freepers.
posted by konolia at 1:25 PM on March 20, 2004

Response by poster: Oh, btw, not all the signs were small, and there were banners. Nobody seemed to care.
posted by konolia at 1:35 PM on March 20, 2004

I'm back, no violence

*clearly disappointed, removes all by-now-useless lemons/bandanna/vinegar/helmet/Che Guevara t-shirt/pillow anti-cop gear from thread*
posted by matteo at 5:14 PM on March 20, 2004

Response by poster: Matteo, that kind of info is good to have on hand. This IS an election year, after all. ;-)
posted by konolia at 5:36 PM on March 20, 2004

do that ulysses thing - put a letter on each sign and walk in a line.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:32 AM on March 21, 2004

matteo - you inspired me. I finally put my pictures, and a couple of video clips up here.
posted by scarabic at 11:33 AM on March 21, 2004

I'll be across the street from these folks.

Any sensible person would be.

I met real Freepers.

What are "freepers"? I don't think it warrants an AskMeta post, but I've heard it in reference to Right-Wing* sites such as Free Republic, but is there something more?

posted by hama7 at 8:02 PM on April 2, 2004

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