Joe Lavin

July 27, 2004

Free Speech Now! Over There!

It says something about this country that the organizers of a political convention have to create a special "Free Speech Zone" outside the convention. Here at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, the Free Speech Zone is nestled comfortably underneath what used to be a subway bridge far away from the entrance to the convention. The ground is asphalt, and taller protesters might have to duck in certain spots so as not to hit their heads on girders. For "security reasons," a chain-link fence surrounds the Zone. There is also barbed wire, military police above, and a big net running from the top of the fence to the bridge, just in case Free Speech tries to make a run for it.

On Monday, I had the pleasure of standing inside the Free Speech Zone. As you can imagine, it was incredibly liberating. While there, I could have said absolutely anything. And, let me tell you, I had some very choice words indeed. I would tell you more about what I said, but as far as I'm concerned what's said in the Free Speech Zone stays in the Free Speech Zone. Besides, now that I am back in the Non-Free Speech Zone, also known as the remainder of the United States of America, you can never be too careful.

As a concession to the protesters, the city did allow them to march in a special parade on Sunday, alongside police in riot gear. For the last few days, many of the protesters have been busy protesting against the Free Speech Zone itself. Basically, instead of protesting against what they came here to protest against, they have been protesting against the fact that they aren't allowed to protest the way they want to protest. I suppose this is the new way to deal with protesters. Don't arrest them. Just distract them from their causes.

Aside from the fact that it's been described as an "internment camp for protesters" and "the freedom cage," there are other problems with the Free Speech Zone. For example, while it's across the street from the Fleet Center, it's not at all near where the delegates and media are entering. The whole world would be watching, if, that is, the whole world could actually find the Free Speech Zone.

There isn't much spectator space either, which is something of a shame. When I first heard there would be a fence around the Zone, I was truly excited. After all, how many times have you wanted to watch some wacky protesters but were concerned for your safety and didn't want to get too close? Now, though with a convenient chain-link fence surrounding all the freaky fringe protesters, there's no need to worry.

It's almost like going to the zoo -- a special kind of zoo where all sorts of different animals with all sorts of different opinions are put together in a small, confined space. Yes, it's like going to a zoo where they keep the lions, tigers, and monkeys all in the same cage.

So it all seemed like a great idea, except that you can't really stand on the other side of the fence and watch. To see what's going on, you pretty much have to enter the Free Speech Zone yourself, which really defeats the whole point of the convenient chain-link fence. Hopefully, in 2008, the Democrats will finally get it right.

Still, you have to hand it to the organizers. They have finally come up with a special sort of protest area where the only people who can see the protesters are other protesters.

If this were the Republican convention, the only way it would be any different is that the Republicans would probably be charging admission for us to watch the protesters. Actually, Rupert Murdoch could probably turn it into a Fox reality show.

"300 Protesters! 300 Opinions! One big cage! Coming this fall to Fox, Free Speech Zone, where it's time to put up or shut up!"

I hear that Jerry Springer is here as a delegate for Ohio. I wonder if he has time to moderate some of that Free Speech.

©2004 Joe Lavin

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