Occupy Denver's legal team explores precedents regarding tents and symbolic speech
With 23 arrests related to Occupy Denver this weekend, the group's legal team is constantly adapting. This includes a new decision to request that arrestees go through the public defender's office instead of receiving volunteer counsel, as well as frequent reflections on precedents. At this weekend's arraignment, occupation legal strategist Charles Nadler pointed out a particularly pertinent one.
In 1984, a Supreme Court case took on an issue similar to the assertion that Occupy Denver's use of tents can be considered symbolic speech. On Saturday, protesters set up and decorated three tents with symbolic symbols -- Gandhi quotes, the anarchy symbol, "99%." But those tents, like all the previous ones, attracted immediate negative attention from riot police, who removed the tents and arrested twenty people during an evening of cat and mouse from Civic Center Park through the 16th Street Mall.
The 1984 case, however, offers the benefit of hindsight. In 1982, the National Park Service allowed the nonprofit homeless shelter Community For Creative Non-Violence to establish two symbolic tent cities, with a permit, in Lafayette Park and the National Mall. However, the approval came with fine print: Demonstrators could set up the tents, but they couldn't sleep in them. Any attempt to do so violated area regulations allowing camping only in established campgrounds, an official sector that did not include the areas where the symbolic tents were set up.
Kelsey Whipple Protesters gather in front of tents erected this Saturday before police intervention.