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July 4 and Free Speech in Fresno
Utah Phillips said: "The state can't give you free speech, and the state can't take it away. You're born with it, like your eyes, like your ears. Freedom is something you assume, then you wait for someone to try to take it away. The degree to which you resist is the degree to which you are free..."
The head of security at the Fashion Fair mall repeatedly warned me that arrest was eminent as a group (about 75) of us set up a soap box to stand on so we could read the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights at the front entrance on the 4th of July. I could picture myself, the attorneys, a judge, and numerous community activists being arrested and hauled off to jail for reading the Constitution on the 4th of July. That might have made national news!
What led to that bizarre confrontation in 2003?
While the police did not arrest me or anyone else in our group that day, that was not the case a few years earlier when 19 of us were arrested for protesting at Fashion Fair against The Gap’s use of Sweatshop labor. You can see photos and a couple of articles (archived on the old Community Alliance newspaper website) from that incident here:
The reason we returned, after all of the charges in the incident (from 5-6-2000) were dropped and we won a settlement against Fashion Fair, was that they kept threatening progressive political activists with arrest if they exercised their Free Speech rights. Even though we had won the court case and received a settlement, they (Fashion Fair security) kept threatening people with arrest if they so much as handed out a flier.
The public act of Civil Disobedience that we engaged in on July 4, 2003 was our effort to prove that Fashion Fair can not get away with arresting you for standing up for your Free Speech rights. Yes, they threatened us with arrest, but when confronted with determined activists who stood up for their rights, Fashion Fair security and the Fresno Police blinked. We won!
You can read some commentary and see photos of the July 4, 2003 action here:
When I think about the 4th of July and all of the patriotic celebrations going on, I think about that day 11 years ago, when this brave group of progressives stood their ground and made Free Speech more than just a concept.
On this day I’m reminded of this quote from Utah Phillips:
The state can't give you free speech, and the state can't take it away. You're born with it, like your eyes, like your ears. Freedom is something you assume, then you wait for someone to try to take it away. The degree to which you resist is the degree to which you are free...