Youth poets from around the country pose for a group picture at Lafayette Park
A couple weeks ago I was contacted by my friend who owns a sound system that is frequently used for outdoor demonstrations, rallies, and press conferences. Since he has a couple of businesses that siphon much of his time, he normally contacts me about doing the sound for these events. Over the years I’ve helped a wide array of disparate groups amplify their voices and help facilitate their freedom of speech through my sound engineering skills.
Yesterday’s event was organized by a DC non-profit Sol y Soul in conjunction with Youth Speaks‘s 2008 Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam. Throughout last week over 450 different youths between the ages of 13 & 19 from around the world came to DC to compete, learn, and forge new friendships through spoken word poetry. This competition culminated into a final competition tonight in Lincoln Theater that will be recorded by HBO for a future episode of their Def Poetry series.
Friday afternoon’s event was called “Hear the Children Speak” and the theme of the poetry was about No Child Left Behind and America’s educational system. The permits allowed the organizers to construct a stage on the west side of Lafayette Park and have me setup a sound system that allowed each student the ability to recite their poetry on the microphone.
For the first two hours everything went superb, then a National Park Police Officer decided that their poetry, their 1st amendment, was too much and told one of the organizers we need to turn off the sound system.
I have done sound at Lafayette Park (also known as President’s Park, which is located just north of the White House) over a dozen times in the last few years and never before I have been told to turn off the sound system. I’ve been told to turn it down, but never off. After consulting with the organizers, I decided to contact the ACLU about what transpired and below is my initial e-mail which lays out exactly what happened: