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Thursday, 10 July 2014 10:23

Planet Irony: SCOTUS Buffer Zone Ruling Could Protect Environmental and Anti-War Protesters

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aaaFirstAmendmentZone(Photo: Brandt Luke Zorn)While Americans were watching fireworks explode on the 4th, and laboring under the sad delusion that the United States is the land of the free and the brave, I was thinking about the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Massachusetts’ abortion buffer zone law and how some people are free to petition their grievances while anti-war demonstrators, Occupy Wall Street protesters, and environmentalists are either locked away behind chain-link cages designated “free speech zones”, or they’re violently assaulted by the police and thrown in jail. 

Recently, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down Massachusetts’ abortion buffer zone law, ruling in favor of anti-abortion protesters who argued that 35 feet away from clinic entrances is a violation of their freedom of speech. The decision rolls back a proactive policy intended to protect women’s access to reproductive health care in the face of persistent harassment and intimidation from abortion opponents.

As reporters have pointed out, buffer zones are not entirely unusual policies. “There are already buffer zones around funerals and polling places,” explained Tara Culp-Ressler at ThinkProgress.  “Ironically, the Supreme Court itself has a large buffer zone around it to prevent protesters from picketing on its 252-by-98-foot plaza, requiring demonstrations to take place on the sidewalk.” 

And let’s not forget the largest buffer zone of all: The White House, which is more like a military fortress than the People’s House.  

On closer inspection of the ruling, it appears that there is a catchword that can be applied to defend protesters, should protesters want to get right in the face of their adversaries; and that word is “counseling” vs. “picketing or protesting.”

It sounds foolish, but that is the reasoning delivered by the Supremes.  It all hinges on this word “counseling” which differs from “picketing” women entering reproductive health care clinics who need to have an abortion:

“McCullen and the other petitioners consider it essential to maintain a caring demeanor, a calm tone of voice, and direct eye contact during these exchanges. Such interactions, petitioners believe, are a much more effective means of dissuading women from having abortions than confrontational methods such as shouting or brandishing signs, which in petitioners’ view tend only to antagonize their intended audience. In unrefuted testimony, petitioners say they have collectively persuaded hundreds of women to forgo abortions. The buffer zones have displaced petitioners from their previous positions outside the clinics.” 

(The argument that persuaded the Justices to rule in favor of the anti-choice protesters.)

Okay, so if that’s the condition that eliminates security buffer zones, then Gulf residents, for example, who want to protest BP’s deplorable oil drilling practices, should be able to peacefully do so right in front of BP’s main offices.

As concluded in the ruling, protesters can argue that they are “counseling” the oil oligarchs to consider the dire consequences of mass extinction from global warming.  And just as the anti-choice protesters are concerned about the preservation of life, so too, citizens against fossil fuel polluters are now free to protest, oops, I mean provide “counseling” to oil CEOs with the message that they must consider their children’s fate if global warming increases from man-made pollution. If you look them in the eye and refrain from using expletives as they pass, if instead, you calmly explain to the polluters that there are alternatives, that it doesn’t have to be this way when they can profit from renewable energy; such interaction may persuade the oil executives to consider their decisions from a moral and religious change of heart.

Let’s talk about free speech and buffer zones for a moment: Quite a different story during the non-violent demonstrations against Bush-Cheney’s illegal invasion of Iraq, the Supreme Court Justices sat idly by while the Bush administration ordered chain-link cages for protesters, designated “Free Speech Zones” that were out of sight and out of mind when the President’s limousine-motorcade drove by in public.  W. never saw a single protester: Protesters were herded behind a chain-link fence in a remote area while supporters of George W. Bush were allowed to line the motorcade route.

Currently, our universities should also be open to college students and professors who want to exercise their right to peacefully demonstrate on campuses, but they, too, have been either harassed by campus security, (college cops used pepper spray on students at peaceful sit-in protests during the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations), or herded into designated “protest zones.”  

Now we know what the secret code word is for "up close and personal protesting" without being pushed behind buffer or remote protest zones under the Supreme Court ruling:  All protesters have to say is they’re offering counseling for guidance.

Speaking of free speech, journalists have also been denied their freedom of the press right to report on corporate and government abuses: Think Julian Assange of Wikileaks, Edward Snowden, and other whistleblower reporters that revealed illegal national and international NSA surveillance as just one example from many.  Journalists couldn’t even report on the BP Gulf oil disaster:

President Obama passed a law banning journalists from the Gulf premises; if journalists were caught taking photos of BP workers disposing the mass extermination of mammals, birds, and fish at secretly guarded dumps, they would be charged  $40,000 dollars and sentenced to prison for committing a federal crime.    

Watch this CNN video clip of Anderson Cooper’s anger over Obama’s 2010 law of banning journalists at the Gulf coast. Anderson Cooper reiterated, “We are not the enemy.  The public has the right to know what’s going on here.”  Not according to the Supreme Court, Barack Obama, BP, Exxon-Mobil, Chevron and Shell executives.  

So folks, there’s a mini-history lesson of the U.S. government’s hypocritical interpretations (or abolition) of our constitutional rights concerning the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. 

In sum, Americans have the right to protest under the First Amendment without buffer zones or being forced behind chain link fences if the protesters’ views happen to be pro-government, pro-corporate, pro-capitalism, and pro-Christian conservative.

But wait! Did the Supreme Court Justices accidentally leave an opening for Occupy protesters and environmentalists?

As mentioned, according to the recent Court’s anti-abortion buffer zone ruling, if protesters petition as “counselors,” then they should be allowed to express their views to government and corporate officials to end the oil wars, to stop polluting, to prosecute Wall Street criminals, at their entrance ways, without buffer zones or the fear of being arrested.


Jacqueline Marcus is a contributing guest writer for Buzzflash at Truthout.org. She's the editor ofForPoetry.com and EnvironmentalPress.com and author of Close to the Shore by Michigan State University Press. Her E-book, Man Cannot Live on Oil, Alone: Time to end our dependency on oil before it ends us, is available at Kindle Books.