UPDATE, 3:06 AM Central: I don't know how many people are still reading this, but Occupy Nashville has been evicted from Legislative Plaza. There were 14 protesters there, and the state sent 100 troopers, PLUS dogs. Arrests have been made. Still trying to get more information.
This is going to be a quick diary, but the state of Tennessee is threatening to evict OccupyNashville from its encampment on Legislative Plaza in front of the State Capitol, and the eviction could come as soon as midnight tonight.
I no longer live in Nashville, but it's my hometown. Nashvillians are far more progressive than the teahadists who currently control that Capitol building. The 99% have occupied Legislative Plaza--a longtime public forum that has always been the site of demonstrations outside the Capitol--for three weeks, even making news on this site. I want to help in any way I can, and I'm trying to get the word out as far as possible.
The statement from the Tennessee Department of General Services, which has jurisdiction over the Capitol grounds:
Effective immediately and until further notice, all assemblies and gatherings of persons on the State of Tennessee Legislative Plaza, War Memorial Courtyard and Capitol grounds areas in Nashville, Tennessee shall require a use permit from the Tennessee Department of General Services. Use of any portion of the Capitol grounds also requires the approval of the Tennessee Capitol Commission.
The Department of General Services may issue permits upon proper application and satisfaction of use fees, security and liability insurance requirements for use of the Legislative Plaza, War Memorial Courtyard and Capitol grounds between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
Special use permits for the Legislative Plaza, War Memorial Courtyard and Capitol grounds during hours outside of the 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. period may be approved at the discretion of the Department on a case by case basis.
Notwithstanding the above, the Legislative Plaza, War Memorial Courtyard and Capitol grounds areas are closed to the public from 10:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. daily and no person shall enter upon those premises during this curfew period without specific authorization by the State of Tennessee. In no event shall overnight occupancy of the Legislative Plaza, War Memorial Courtyard or Capitol grounds areas be permitted by any group or individual.
And the accompanying statement makes it absolutely clear why, after years of demonstrations at Legislative Plaza, the state feels this necessary now. Basically, because of those "dirty effing hippies":
Criminal activity and deteriorating sanitary conditions over the past several days on Legislative Plaza have created an environment that is unsafe for the protesters, state employees and everyone who works, lives and enjoys downtown. As a result, the Department of General Services is adding to its policy for permitting and use of Legislative Plaza, the War Memorial Building and the Capitol grounds. Permits will be granted on a daily basis from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Side note: The Occupy Nashville protesters had previously raised the safety issue to the state, concerned about people not affiliated with Occupy Nashville harassing and threatening them. The state's response? Don't deal with that problem, just get rid of Occupy Nashville!
This is a blatant violation of the First Amendment rights of the demonstrators. For the non-lawyers: the government is subject to heightened scrutiny when it tries to regulate speech in a public forum. A state is allowed to make reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on public speech, but only if the restrictions 1) are content neutral, 2) narrowly tailored, 3) serve a significant governmental interest, and 4) leave open ample channels of communication. There's no question that this fails on at least the second prong of the test--to serve the governmental interest of keeping Legislative Plaza safe, no one, even people who aren't demonstrating, are permitted to gather on the plaza without a permit? And, of course, the fact that this is being applied to Occupy Nashville now, when the teahadists were free to protest there all they wanted, indicates how "neutral" this really is.
And of course, there is nothing in that ordinance stating how the state would determine who gets a permit. It's entirely left to the discretion of the Department of General Services.
Frankly, I've been around Tennessee politics for long enough to know how this will play out. This will never, in a million years, be enforced against a conservative protest or against a prayer rally where the participants hold up gruesome pictures of bloody fetuses. If you look at the comments on Nashville Scene or the Tennessean, it's clear that the teabaggers firmly don't believe this would apply to them, just to them lawbreakin' hippies.
You can watch the streaming video of Occupy Nashville here.
Right now, the General Assembly is debating whether to apply for the permit or not, or to pay the fee or not. The consensus has already been reached to reconvene if evicted.
In the meantime, call Tennessee officials and tell them to stop trampling on Occupy Nashville's constitutional rights:
Governor Bill Haslam: 615-741-2001, email@example.com
Steve Cates, Department of General Services: 615-741-2081, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dalya Qualls, Tennessee Highway Patrol: 615-251-5131
WE ARE THE 99%.