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Libertarians make a misguided political statement at the Jefferson Memorial
|| 4/17/2008 || 4:50 pm || 2 Comments Rendered || ||

I’ve been reading some of the coverage about a group of DC Libertarians who tried to stage a flash mob at the Jefferson Memorial last weekend.

The plan was simple: show up at the Jefferson Memorial at a set time and dance with their iPods for 10 minutes to celebrate Thomas Jefferson’s birthday and leave. But all did not go as planned:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

What is funny, and why I’m wasting my time to write about this, is that the group is claiming that their right to assemble was genuinely violated. They felt that they should have been able to conduct their little flash mob celebration and be on their way.

And in many respects, I agree that they should have been able to conduct a flash mob without hassle. They are free to do that. Yet what I have issue with is how naive the group has been when it comes to the rules and regulations of National Park property.

As someone who has had to deal with the National Park Police, the U.S. Capitol Police, and DC Metropolitan Police Department dozens of times when conducting protests, rallies, and demonstrations throughout Washington, DC, I know very well the rules and regulations regarding the freedom of assembly on federal property. If you have a *group* of people assembling at a national memorial, you need to have permits, simple as that.

You can assemble on the sidewalk– no problem. Even have a dance party on the sidewalk with a paper cutout of Jefferson and the police will not arrest you. Take the celebration to a busy street for higher visibility, and make a parade out of his birthday. You can hold up the paper cutout of Jefferson and block traffic and still not get arrested. Thanks to efforts of some of my friends, the MPD will have to give you three audible warnings before arresting you. That’s quite a bit freedom and I think Jefferson would be proud in that regard.

Yet federal property, the American People’s property, is different and National Park Police happen to be some of the meanest police that I’ve encountered in all my activism. They don’t have to warn you before detaining you if there is probable cause (which everyone knows can be just about anything) and if they tell you to leave because you are dancing, parading without a permit, or assembling in large numbers, and refuse to leave, you can and will be arrested. The can and will generally relate to how cooperative you are toward the police. By watching the second video, you can see the Jefferson One trying to argue with the police officer, and because she failed to follow his orders, she was arrested.

Jefferson’s celebration could have featured DJs and bumping sound system or gone as originally planned if they would have gone through the proper procedures and from my understanding, they didn’t, and they are naively crying fowl.

Worse is that they treated the police rudely, which only provoked them to take further actions. Had they moved their little dance party outside of the memorial when asked the first time, they probably could have continued, but they didn’t. Yet out of naive principle, they chose to make a misguided political statement.

What if 500 Libertarians decided to show up, the police did not intervene, and while dancing someone scuffed the floor or accidentally damaged the American People’s property? The freedoms being celebrated by the Libertarians would end up costing the American taxpayers money because the floor would have to be cleaned up by National Park staff. Yet if permits were obtained, the group would be responsible to clean it and the freedom to assemble could be enjoyed again and again without substantial police interference.

Imagine a group of Republicans showing up at the Lincoln Memorial to celebrate his birthday and they decide to square dance. While the aspect of square dancing in the Lincoln Memorial is not at issue, its the assembly of a large group of people inside of a national monument. They would need to secure permits or they’d face the exact same type of expulsion. What if 20 graffiti artists decided to randomly show up at the memorial and celebrate Cool Disco Dan‘s birthday? Would there not be alarm that a group of people who are assembling, with unknown motive, and might damage a national treasure? Spray paint cans or line dancing with iPods, its about respect for the property by following the rules of assembly so that others may be given the chance to express themselves at the venue in the future.

My advice to the DC Libertarians: there are better battles to fight, treat the police nicer, and next time get permits, they are not hard to obtain. I’ve got access to a nice portable sound system and next year we can really make Jefferson proud by having a proper permitted celebration with music.


A supplementary note on permits:
It’s very important that every item involved in the demonstration, celebration, protest, rally etc. be listed on the permit. I’ve had National Park Police limit my freedom of speech on a few occasions because the permits did not explicitly state what equipment was being used.

For example, although I had permits in early 2007 to have a sound system setup in the park next to the Federal Courthouse on Pennsylvania Ave. for a demonstration to observe the 5th year of Guantanamo Bay’s illegal creation, I was not able to because of the National Park Police being rude. As I was setting up the sound system, the National Park Police threatened me with arrest because the permit did not state that we would have 2 car batteries to supply the sound system’s power. We then countered their rudeness by threatening to setup the permitted sound system in the street (10 feet away from the permitted location) and wait for MPD to arrive and give us two warnings. We were then informed that Pennsylvania Ave is controlled by the National Park Police and the MPD shares jurisdiction on what most people assume to be a public street and would still be arrested.

We ended up packing the sound system and going home because we knew there was no point in arguing with the unreasonable National Park Police. While it was assumed that the speakers had to be powered by some external source (we did not request access to the park’s power supply), the author of the permit made an important omission that prematurely ended the afternoon’s rally. Was our freedom of speech & assembly impeded? Yes. But did we list everything properly on the permit? No. The police could have been nice to us and let us go with the schedule, but they were not happy with how other demonstrators were treating them and decided to give us a hard time. Sound familiar?


Related Jefferson Memorial Entries:

Related Activism:



Post Title: Libertarians make a misguided political statement at the Jefferson Memorial
Post Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in: Activism, Commentary, DC, Jefferson Memorial, Location, Mall
Last edited by Nikolas Schiller on 3/31/2009 at 1:50 pm



  1. Just wanted to let you know that there is only a permit required for a demonstration of more than 25 people, the organizers knew this in advance, so they kept it small. Even with the people who showed up late there was a max of around 22 people. No permit would be required for this.

    Comment by Xaq Fixx — 4/18/2008 @ 2:47 pm

  2. If two more people showed up, which could have easily happened, would the organizers have turned them away? I doubt it.

    Comment by blog@nikolasschiller.com — 4/18/2008 @ 2:51 pm

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