Sunday, January 20, 2013

Occupy Asheville celebrates our Legal Defenders

Steve Norris & Ben Scales celebrate resistance
On the occasion of Occupy Asheville's Thank You celebration for Ben Scales, our tireless pro bono lawyer and rousing singer and songwriter.  Thanks to Rosetta's for the great meal and for once again opening the doors to Occupy Asheville. And to all the folks who helped bring this revival celebration together!

"If you've been to jail for justice, I want to shake your hand..."
      Martin Luther King, Jr. understood that “Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application.” 
     Dr. King was arrested and jailed on numerous occasions on a charge of “parading without a permit.”
      On its face an ordinance requiring a parade permit, or a curfew in a public park, even a" No Trespass" sign, may, at times,  be understandable and just, but as the civil rights warriors understood, such laws become unjust when used to curtail or deny 1st Amendment privileges of peaceful assembly and protest.
       “Political demonstrations on public streets and sidewalks are a cornerstone of American democracy,” the State ACLU asserted when challenging Asheville’s “exorbitant” and “unnecessary”  $1,500 demanded for “fees and services” in 2006 for an Immigrant Rights May Day march. ACLU lawyer Frank Goldsmith, stepped forward to challenge this and won.
      Over the years, the persistence and willingness to risk arrest of numerous individuals and groups, including Women in Black and Veterans for Peace have established and sustained a weekly presence in the center of Asheville, helping to keep Vance Monument as a “traditional forum” for free speech and assembly. 
Occupy's eldermen listen to speeches
Every street corner and public square of every U.S. City should be reclaimed and sustained for the people's expression of dissent—“the cornerstone of American Democracy.
     Asserting 1st Amendment rights has been a large part of the Asheville Occupy movement. And it hasn't been without cost.
       We learned early on in occupy, thanks to the advice of Attorney and Occupy volunteer Jenifer Foster, that language is everything when it comes to how we mobilize:  A moving picket, single file and mindful of traffic lights and not impeding pedestrian passage, was and is allowed.
      But stepping out into the street, inconveniencing the orderly movement of automobiles, in a spontaneous  expression of dissent, as Occupy Asheville did on Nov. 2, 2012, can set into motion some disturbing civil liberty violations.
     As the system gets more aggressive in the face of the people’s resistance. As government infiltration  is uncovered, as activists are targeted for reprisals. We need to be smart. We need to support each other. We also need the help of trained legal professionals to advise us and to stand with us when ever anyone of us has to face the system.
Bev & Grace hold the ground
     When we step out of the orderly lines and take to the streets to challenge injustice, the system fights back. A Legal support Team is critical to our movements for change.  And we have the beginnings of a comprehensive team here in Asheville. 
      When the arrests came down in Occupy Asheville, Ben Scales stepped up.
      In November 2, 2011, Occupy Asheville marched  to Vance Monument and stood vigil in solidarity with Occupy Oakland and the excessive force of police violence.
      That night, 24 occupiers stood their ground in a disciplined and moving challenge to the 10 p.m. Curfew.
      On November 11, 4 U.S. veterans also stood up for our 1st Amendment freedoms—freedoms they had sworn to protect.  They were arrested and led off in handcuffs.
     And for weeks after, the arrests continued:
Others, identified from police video, were singled out and  picked up on warrants with bogus charges of
     “Resisting public officers, impeding traffic, unlawful assembly.”
Susan, James, TJ and others at Rosettas
     Sometimes the charges we face bear no resemblance to the actions we have taken.  It is important to know our rights and weigh the risks.
     A National Lawyers' Guild trainer speaking at a Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining demonstration last year in West Virginia advised us:
     “This is your Know Your Rights Training: You have none.  End of Training.”
     To this he added:  “Don't snitch. Cops Lie. Shut Up. Get a lawyer.”
     When Occupy Asheville's arrests came down, aren't we glad Ben Scales stepped up!
     At many Occupy Asheville and other public demonstrations over the past year, National Lawyers' Guild Legal Observers have been present—trained by another lawyer who stepped forward:  WNC ACLU president Curry First.  Legal Observers are part of a comprehensive legal support network designed to enable people to express political views as fully as possible, without unconstitutional disruption or interference by the government and with the least possible consequences from the criminal justice system.
     And when, one after the other, Occupy Asheville participants had our day in court,  Legal Observers were there, and some of us were called to the stand as witnesses.
     Ben Scales, serving without pay as our attorney of record, helped defend us in court and advise those of us who opted to serve as our own attorney for our Pro Se defense.  Together we challenged the system. Together we learned a little bit more about the fundamental injustices that persist.
     On Valentines Day 2012 City Council voted 6-1, to extend the boundaries of Pack Square Park to cover the patch of land once filled with the tents of Occupy Asheville campers. Council designated that area and the one in front of Vance Monument "public forums" exempt from the park's 10 p.m. curfew. Under the new rules, protesters can now demonstrate 24/7 at both spots, but they can't camp.
Lindsey & Milton
     Every street corner and public square of every U.S. City should be reclaimed and sustained for the people's expression of dissent—“the cornerstone of American Democracy.”
     Another City Ordinance essentially further criminalized homelessness, banning camping and storage of personal property on city land.
      Our work is not over.  But tonight, we gather to say Thank you to Ben Scales for standing with us, and to all the others who came forward and took a stand.  We gather tonight to encourage one another and to say again that solidarity is critical in these movements for change. 
      As Tolstoy, that great Russian anarchist wrote:  “Standing up for your rights as a rational and free person, and defending them …without any concessions and compromises, is the only way in which moral and human dignity can be defended.”

“Only people who have something which they will on no account and under no circumstances yield can resist a government and curb it.  To have power to resist you must stand on firm ground.”

Our 1st Amendment Rights to free speech and to peacefully assemble and petition government for redress of grievance are our Constitutionally protected firm ground. We must not yield.

Get up. Stand Up. Stand up for your rights. And remember:  “Don't snitch. Cops Lie. Shut Up. Get a lawyer.”

Remarks at Occupy Asheville gathering and celebration of our pro bono legal counsel, Ben Scales.

January 20, 2013  By Clare Hanrahan, Occupy Asheville Nonviolent Direct Action Trainers Group

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