by Max Brantley
A group of demonstrators went out to be seen during the Arkansas Republicans' fund-raising riverboat ride on the Arkansas River Friday night with the Republican national chairman. Sounds like they were not welcomed by city officials, who, according to a letter from Samuel Kauffman, tried to invoke a George Bush-style "free speech zone" to move demonstrators far from the sight of Republican revelers. Bad show, if true. His letter:
The North Little Rock Police and Visitors Bureau should be ashamed of their unconstitutional and un-American actions on Friday. Approximately 60 concerned Arkansans peacefully rallied at Riverfront Park to protest the corrupt and ineffective policies advocated by the Republican Party. Our diverse group advocated the dignity of workers, the value of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and education, and the need to raise taxes on the rich.
This message and the peaceful way in which it was advocated butted heads with the authoritarian practices of the NLRPD and Bureau. As we marched toward the Arkansas Queen (where the Republicans were holding their event), a Bureau representative, with police in tow, told us that our group was not allowed to leave a designated area approximately four hundred feet away from the ship. This incident was the first unconstitutional act by the police and Bureau. Ten of us left the main group and stood within sight and shouting distance of the Republicans. Again, the Visitors Bureau and police attempted to make us leave. We explained that we left the larger group and were ten independent citizens voicing our First Amendment protected rights of free speech and assembly. After asking for an officer’s badge number, the police and Bureau stopped their unconstitutional harassment.
This conduct by the NLRPD and Visitors Bureau is outrageous and undemocratic. Their actions seem more at home in dictatorships like Iran or China than in democratic and free Arkansas. It goes against the very nature of our Republic, and it violates the purpose of police and government. The entire group should have been allowed to assemble peacefully anywhere in the public park, as the Constitution encourages.
The demonstrators were noticed by the GOP party crowd, based on Twitter feeds I saw last night.