The Trump administration wants to limit protesters’ rights to demonstrate near the White House and on the National Mall, according to the ACLU.
The National Park Service proposed 14 changes to how they handle and define First Amendment protests. One of those proposals would put limits on spontaneous demonstrations, close 80 percent of the sidewalk in front of the White House and require protest organizers to reimburse the agency for the security and support it provides.
The Park Service plans to limit demonstrators to just five feet of the 25-foot-wide White House sidewalk along Pennsylvania Avenue. The sidewalk is the site of famous protests, including those of the women’s suffrage movement and the Vietnam War.
The proposed closure would violate an earlier court order that allows at least 750 people to demonstrate on the White House sidewalk because a lower limit would be “an unconstitutional infringement of plaintiff’s rights to freedom of speech and to assemble peaceably and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Park Service spokesperson Mike Litterst says, “The idea came out of just the sheer cost to the Park Service and Park Police putting on and supporting some of these events” and that the agency is just asking the question at this point. Litterst notes the Park Service has had to use emergency funds to pay for permit processing, security and restoration of areas used for protests.
Currently, the Park Service requires protestors to provide on-site emergency medical responders, toilets, trash pickup and more. Samantha Miller, who works as an organizer with a group that helps advise and run protests says that organizations with small budgets might not be able to afford the proposed Park Service requirements, according to a Washington Post report.
Miller adds, “Imposing any more cost on people expressing their First Amendment rights is just going to stop people from doing that, or it’s going to increase the number of unpermitted protests, which can be a concern when you want to keep people safe.”
She says if the Park Service moves forward with its proposals, they will probably face legal challenges and, ironically, protests against the agency.