Free speech showdown at Jefferson Memorial Saturday, dancers predict victory

Steven Nelson Associate Editor
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Free speech advocates and the U.S. Park Police are poised for a standoff at high noon on Saturday, when organizers plan a massive silent dance party at the Jefferson Memorial.

Dancing, even silently, is forbidden at the monument. Last Saturday, five people were tackled to the ground and arrested by police for dancing, which is a violation of rules re-affirmed by a May 17 court ruling that declared the memorial should retain a “tranquil and contemplative mood.”

A Facebook page for the event lists approximately 3,000 confirmed guests.

Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin was among the five arrested last weekend. She anticipates that there will be hundreds of participants. “I predict several hundred (my rule of thumb is that about 1/10th of those who sign up actually come),” Benjamin wrote in an email to TheDC.

Benjamin said that she expects the dancing to go off without a hitch this time. “I predict that the park police will let us dance. I think they’ve had enough bad publicity for this already,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin described that in reaction to the dancing last weekend, “The police cleared out the entire Memorial as if they were protecting the tourists from some kind of terrorist threat, then threw us in a paddywagon and hauled us off to jail. Three hours later, after mug shots and fingerprinting, we were charged with ‘dancing in a restricted area’ and cited to come back to court.”

Protests are nothing new to Benjamin, but she says that “of all the issues I have been part of in recent years… few have struck a chord like this. People around the nation, both progressive and conservative, are appalled that the police would so violently arrest people for dancing—silently—in a memorial built to a man who was this nation’s most passionate defender of the rights of the individual against the state.”

The Facebook page for the Saturday event pitches it as “not a protest.” It quotes Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul saying, “If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.”

Russia Today host Adam Kokesh, who was also arrested last weekend, said that he hopes that Park Police “dance better than last time.” Kokesh said that “there will be at least 5 of us” and that the powers of internet will “render the government obsolete.”

Several questions remain unanswered about how the police intend to respond. It is unclear what guidelines police will use to define dancing, how large crowds will be handled, and whether there will be any changes from last weekend’s reaction.

TheDC made repeated attempts, unsuccessfully, to contact Park Police spokesman Sgt. David Schlosser for comment on this story.

UPDATE: The National Park Service issued a press release Friday to clarify that it “supports dancing and other forms of expression in its parks.” The statement, however, compared dancing inside the Jefferson Memorial to “using a cell phone in a movie theater or someone dancing in front of your view of a great work of art.” The Park Service did not mention the intentions of police, but asked would-be participants to dance outside of the monument.