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Mar/Apr 2001 issue (#50)


'60s Dream Lives On

Party Troopers

Suit Filed Against George W. Bush

"Friends in High Places"

Baby Bush Bombs Baghdad

Don't Put the Utilities Back in Charge

Biblically-Grounded Movements For Progressive Change In Washington

How to Run for City Council

Mad Cow: Coming to the U.S.?

Monoculture and Mad Cows

Itching to Ride Light Rail

Is Work Killing You?

Escaping the Globalized Gym

Seattle's Clattering Poets

A Puppetista Manifesto

Living Outside Empire

Don't Put the Utilities Back in Charge

ACORN's Falling

Social Transformation Explained? Technogod

Spokane Free-speech Battle


Reader Mail


Urban Work

Media Beat

Nature Doc

Rad Videos

Do Something!

Reel Underground

Spokane Free-speech Battle

by Ron Myers, contributor

On November 3, 2001, the Spokane police cuffed activist Patricia Hughes, 44. Pat is a mild-mannered but determined and brave woman. She had refused to give up the state and federal free-speech rights she believed were her guarantee. So they toted her off to jail.

Spokane Falls Community College (SFCC) had rented out its gym on November 3 to a Republican operative who in turn arranged a political rally, officially designated as a kickoff to his party’s Victory 2000 Bus Tour. The main attraction was to be a pep talk by George Bush, the former president. Mrs. Hughes, who was then a student at the school, arrived early for the rally, attending out of curiosity as much as anything but carrying a soft plastic Nader/LaDuke sign in her hand. When she heard it was probable that Bush would be delayed by weather, she left the building.

Returning, she found the gym packed and people waiting in the hall, some carrying Bush or Gore signs. At a certain point, a campus security person, at the insistence of the secret service, told Pat she must remove herself and her 24” by 18” sign from the hallway to a designated protest zone out in the cold some distance away. She did not like the sound of this and asserting her rights politely refused.

Campus security, again under orders from the secret service, summoned a city policeman who called for a patrol car. In no time Hughes was in the lockup and charged with criminal trespass. After an unpleasant three hour stay she did manage to scrape up the $500 bail.

It is tempting in this case to hearken back to the Spokane of 1909, where and when the modern free speech movement (or fight as it was then called) was born. Cops in those days delighted in dumping street speaking Wobblies into the local hoosegow. Among those collared was the famous teenage firebrand from New York, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. Then, Flynn told the country about her arrest and the Spokane jails through the press, and later told the world in her book Rebel Girl.

Spokane had not grown much more tolerant by 1968 when a young man in a crowd was arrested for calling Spiro Agnew a war monger. Now, how could that be against any civilized law?

But the situation of Pat Hughes is more subtle than those blatant abuses, though just as scary. For example, it is tough to precisely locate the villains within the tangle of legal details now thrown in one’s face.

The first line of defense for authorities has been that the rally was a private event of the Republican Party. And it was up to the Republicans to make the rules. But wait a minute. What about RCW 42.17.130 which “Forbids use of public office or agency facilities in campaigns?” Can the state lease away our rights? And what about the protest zone? Had that been leased? And can the secret service order around local lawmen?

A second line of defense has been that the matter was only a misdemeanor and the charges, after all, have been dismissed. Well, a look at this dismissal is interesting. A preliminary hearing was held on December 18 in Spokane Municipal Court. When Pat’s case was called, the city hit her with a surprise offer: The prosecutor would ask for a one year continuance; and if during that year Pat behaved herself, the charges would be dismissed. A hurried hallway conference was convened among Pat, her attorney and a few Green Party supporters. Pat wanted to know how much jail time she might get if convicted. When her attorney said it could be 90 days, Pat replied she wanted to go for a jury trial, no deal. After returning to the courtroom and passing this answer onto the prosecutor, Pat and her attorney were allowed to sweat and watch while some lengthy sentences were handed down to garden variety perpetrators. When Pat didn’t crack, the city finally asked for a dismissal of the case with prejudice (cannot be refiled) and in the interests of justice.

The campus security person involved was pleased to hear of the dismissal. And the arresting officer was not surprised by it, seeing the decision as normal procedure. He could not see any free speech issue; but if there were one, settle it in court. The department has no plans to do anything different next time.

But Pat Hughes will not let the matter rest. She has contacted a civil rights attorney for help in legal action against the city, taken her case to the Spokane Human Rights Commission, and requested an explanation from the president of SFCC. Though nothing definitive has yet developed on any front, and while Pat will not be moving into any treetop or onto any building ledge, she is resolved to send out a loud and clear message that free political speech will finally find root in Spokane—or else.

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