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amendment I: Freedomof Assembly page 2
The First Amendment's assembly and petition clauses--eviscerated by Big Money?

 Martin Luther King addressed civil rights supporters in 1963, relying on First Amendment protection of the right to assemble.
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Date published: 12/4/2005

continued

Second, those who hire well-connected (and expensive) lobbyists to deliver a petition have an advantage. Recent news has focused on how lobbyists Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon allegedly defrauded their own clients, but the main problem with the lobbying industry is the routine way it skews the political process toward those who can afford to hire the big guns to influence policy.

Money talks--and squelches

Should we place stricter limits on paid lobbyists? Some argue it is a restriction on political freedom to limit anyone's right to spend money in attempts to influence public policy. But in a world in which the playing field is so tilted toward the wealthy, can we pretend that traditional libertarian defenses of money-as-speech can adequately address the contemporary political crisis?

Moreover, while the right to peaceably assemble is established in law, there remain struggles to ensure that the right to do so isn't undermined by sophisticated police tactics that appear to allow public protests but use pre-emptive arrest, physical barriers, and "free-speech zones" to limit protesters' ability to engage the public. Such heavy-handed operations were effective in Miami during the protests of the 2003 meetings about the Free Trade Area of the Americas and in New York during the 2004 Republican National Convention.

Yet the most disturbing threat to freedom of assembly isn't from the ways in which police officers restrict movement in public space, but from the disappearance of public space itself. Our conception of political assembly is rooted in a geography that is increasingly rare--the town square, the public meeting ground, a collective space in which people gather expecting political engagement.

Today the space that is most public is privatized: the shopping mall. If one wanted to distribute a political pamphlet and engage fellow citizens in conversation about the issues of the day, the mall would be the optimal site--a place where people of all ages and classes gather for commercial and social purposes.


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