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Defeated Grand Rapids City proposal attempted to further manage public dissent

May 24, 2017

Yesterday, activists and organizers discovered that the Grand Rapids City Commission was going to vote on a proposal to further limit the ability of people to dissent.

The language of the proposal (read pages 231 – 241) referred to the growing dissent as, “Expressive Activity.” The proposal put forth at the City Commission yesterday states in part: 

As has been the case in cities across the country, Grand Rapids has seen a steady increase in the numbers of parades, rallies, marches and other activities. Since November of 2016, Grand Rapids has hosted at least 40 such events, averaging more than six per month.

The proposal goes on to say:

A “Notice of Intent to Engage in Expressive Activity” is required for groups of fifty (50) or more persons. The notice includes the date, location and a contact person, who shall be the “Receipt Holder” for the activity. The City will, in turn, provide a “Receipt of Notice”. This receipt is not a permit; it is merely an acknowledgement by the City to the Receipt Holder that City staff has received the information. Such notice allows the City to coordinate efforts and proper staffing across departments. City staff will also use the receipt as an opportunity to provide information to the receipt holder, including any logistical concerns the group may wish to take into consideration, such as overbooking of the location or capacity concerns about the crowd expected. Groups of fewer than fifty persons are not required to provide notice, but may do so, if they wish. No fees will be charged for filing a notice.

The Grand Rapids City Commission proposal wanted to have organizers give notice of when they would be having a march (for instance), where it would be and the person or persons in charge.

Towards the end of said proposal, the city lists what they refer to as Standards of Conduct, which, apparently we are all supposed to abide by. These Standards of Conduct are:

  • The participants shall not block access to buildings, nor impede ingress or egress to any parking lot, park, facility, or event. Under no circumstance shall any participant impede vehicular or pedestrian ingress or egress to any hospital, fire station, or other emergency response facility.
  • The participants shall not obstruct vehicular or pedestrian traffic. Under no circumstance shall any participant impede access to any interstate highway, including ramps, access roads and bridges serving such highways.
  • The Expressive Activity shall not constitute unlawful activity. Participants must follow all Federal, State, and Local, laws, statutes, ordinances, regulations, and rules.
  • The Expressive Activity shall not include the use any amplification devices.
  • The Expressive Activity shall not include littering, or posting materials on City property, utilities, or sidewalks. Participants shall be responsible for picking up any printed materials dropped on the ground around the areas of distribution.
  • Parking lots,ramps,and garages are not designated or suitable for Expressive Activities, and placing flyers on windshields is not permitted.
  • The Expressive Activity must occur during the normal operating hours of the facility in which it is held.

The City Commission, during the Tuesday morning session voted down said proposal, which was a small victory, but we should not confuse this vote against the proposal as a signal that the City of Grand Rapids is in favor of dissent and resistance to local, state or federal government policies, white supremacy, US imperialism, transphobia, patriarchy, environmental destruction or any other form of oppression.

The City of Grand Rapids, primarily through their use of the police department, has always been about the business of managing dissent. Whether we are talking about the 1911 Furniture Workers Strike, the opposition to the Vietnam War, the 1967 race riot or any organized resistance in the past few months, the City of Grand Rapids wants to manage public dissent.

This most recent proposal, although not approved, is just another confirmation that the city does not approve of dissent, unless it does not disrupt business as usual.  If people organize a picket, a demonstration, a vigil, a march or any other form of protest, the city could care less, as long as it doesn’t disrupt business as usual.

If however, an action disrupts traffic, shuts down a business or prevents the normal functioning of commerce, then the City of Grand Rapids will respond with force, as people saw during the May 1 action in support of A Day Without Immigrants.

We Don’t Need No Stinking Permits

The whole history of dissent in the US, or any other country, that has been effective, is predicated on the ability of those who dissent to disrupt business as usual. Tactics such as a strike, a sit in, shutting down a military recruitment station, preventing the normalized violence against women, taking over a highway, chaining yourself to trees slated to be cut down, riots against police violence or any other action that costs businesses money are things that are effective and therefore, are the very things that system of power try to prevent or persuade us from participating in.

  • We have to stop asking permission to engage in resistance and dissent.
  • We have to start thinking about effective tactics of dissent and resistance that will cost systems of power, both monetarily and morally.

No government ever gave us rights, we have to fight for them and for our collective liberation.

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