Why should we go to all the trouble of putting on the Winter Olympics with all it entails and then allow some frowny-faced demonstrators to protest our big celebration?
Because this is America, damn it!
Some Utahns and others who are imbued with the Olympic Spirit have apparently forgotten something about the American Spirit. They seem to have misplaced the memory of the Boston Tea Party and such things as the Bill of Rights. But like it or not, demonstrating is as American as apple pie.
Staging the Olympics following the Sept. 11 tragedies is no small matter when it comes to security. But curtailing traditional freedoms, most notably speech, in the name of security sounds a lot like tyranny. Does Tianamen Square ring a bell? The notion that descendants of Americans who shed blood for such freedoms would willfully throw them down in order to more efficiently stage an international corporate gala is a poor reflection on our values, whether or not you support the sporting events themselves that are said to bring the world together.
There is, however, good news to report: Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson, unlike some others, can make the distinction between those who would like to protest within the law and anarchists and terrorists. Terrorists, you see, don’t apply for demonstration permits.
On Jan. 14, after months of haggling, Anderson’s administration finally granted permits to groups that wish to demonstrate peaceably. Among them were the Utah Animal Rights Coalition, the Citizen’s Activist Network and the Kensington Welfare Rights Union. (See “Crashing the Party,” page 14).
In order to do that, the mayor had to buck law enforcement groups and the Salt Lake (Olympic) Organizing Committee, who would limit demonstrations to ridiculous levels. “We understand the concerns of SLOC and law enforcement agencies,” Anderson told City Weekly, “but we also have a responsibility to weigh those concerns against the rights of the people to peacefully express their viewpoints.”
Anderson’s move came just in time, because those who wanted to demonstrate legally feared they would be forced to break the restrictive regulations on free speech established in the name of preventing terrorism at the Games. Although it was a step in the right direction, the drama that will be the Winter Olympics is still to unfold. With post-Sept. 11 security tension ratcheted up, law enforcement officials may act first to squelch speech freedoms and ask questions later. But they should remember that terrorists don’t carry placards and hand out literature before setting off bombs.
As civil rights attorney Brian Barnard has opined, if our freedoms have been squelched in the aftermath of Sept. 11, then the terrorists have won.