After the recent “spontaneous” demonstrations in front of the Southampton 7-11 with no police in sight, usually comprised of a few white guys having a cigarette and a beer while carrying placards urging people to protect them from illegal workers – you would think that we had reached the limits of social consciousness. After all, demonstrations of any sort used to guarantee responses from the SWAT-team mentality in Southampton Town. A few years ago, police and reporters in full blown riot gear descended upon a group rental for violating a law to file for a rental permit. The courts routinely mail out criminal summonses for crimes as egregious as not having a street number on your house. Arrest warrants are issued for notices sent by the court and served illegally. And, the Police here are not known for their international laissez-faire views on dissent. So, the 7-11 experience, no police in sight, no demand for permits to demonstrate – is neither a secret nor is it surprising. It’s just the way things are in the Hamptons, wink-wink, nod-nod.
Well, not entirely.
It seems that the Village of Southampton, under the guiding light of Mayor Mark Epley and with the political finesse of William Frankenbach, have decided to re-write the rules for participating in the 4th of July parade in that Village. Following on the heels of a series of “dictatorial” pronouncements similar to those attempted in Sag Harbor Village, the Village of Southampton has attempted to deny the rights of certain groups wishing to participate in the parade. Specifically, any group wishing to display peace signs or make any form of “political statement” was disincluded and disinvited from marching.
How? Well first of all the rules for participating were changed by Mr. Frankenbach and a convenient little committee appointed by the Village and the Mayor called the Commission on Veteran Patriotic Events. The Mayor is a member; it’s paid for by the Village and clearly one of the reasons for its existence is to have the taxpayers pay for the parade – which was formerly paid for by the Combined Veterans of Foreign Wars, Frankenbach’s group.
The second reason for the existence of the CVPE is unattractive. And, its modus operandi is even less attractive.
The CVPE changed the rules for any groups wishing to obtain permits to march, left little time for certain groups to apply, and then denied permits to those they deigned undesirable—clearly for political reasons. All this, while they claimed to be trying to keeping political statements out of the parade. In the past, the parade restrictions were limited to keeping commercial messages out of the parade and preventing any disruptive behavior.
What is at stake here is the “Right of Free Assembly” and the “Right of Free Speech.” At least, that is how it is viewed in most other American towns, cities and villages. It was, as we understand it, the rights that soldiers went to war to protect.
However, Chairman Frankenbach of the CVPE, sent out a letter to those who had marched in previous years advising them that the rules for being granted a permit to march in the July Parade had been changed to eliminate “political propaganda” or “political protests. “ According to Frankenbach’s discussion with several plaintiffs, this prevented the carrying of a UN flag, as well as any anti-war emblems or placards. Anyone appearing with “political” material, no matter what their behavior was, would be subject to forcible eviction from the Parade, and possible arrest.
Now, let’s get this straight. Veterans and others want to march to express, among other things, the fact that soldiers have died for our right to speak our minds – to fight and die for the right that we all wish to keep – for free speech, to demonstrate without reprisal, to write about how we feel about our government without fear of being silenced – and Frankenbach and Epley want to take that away from us on the FOURTH OF JULY!
Fortunately, Federal Judge Seybert agrees with the plaintiffs who took them to court --
THE REV. ALISON CORNISH, the BILL OF RIGHTS DEFENSE COMMITTEE, WILLIAM R. DALSIMER, JAMES S. HENRY, JOSEPH GIANNINI, MICHAEL O’NEILL, MYRNA TRUITT, the REVEREND GEORGE A. WILSON, the EAST END VETERANS, and the UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST CONGREGATION OF THE SOUTH FORK – are all plaintiffs in a case brought against Mayor Epley, Frankenbach and the members of the Commission on Veteran Patriotic Events.
According to the complaint filed:
Quote -- The real reason for the CVPE’s new “exclusionary rule” for objectionable
“political propaganda” that it finds objectionable appears, upon information and belief,
to be quite simple: the last year’s growing opposition to the Iraq War, compared with the
political views of Frankenbach, in particular, as well as several politically-influential,
Conservative veterans groups. This has produced a blatant attempt on the part of these
factions to curtail dissent and discriminate against anti-war veterans groups like EVE -- unquote.
Seybert heard arguments this past Friday and opened the court today in order to hear further arguments in the matter when Mayor Epley called and advised the plaintiffs that they could march. Of course, Mayor Epley theoretically doesn’t have the power to offer that since it’s not his committee (or is it?).
It should also be interesting to see how the local media reports this since both the Southampton Press and Suffolk Life are basically owned or operated by Republican, conservative, right wing politicians. There is no center or left of center press in the Hamptons. They would never survive the advertising blackout.
Curious, isn’t it, how ephemeral the Bill of Rights is in the Hamptons?
The First and Fourteenth Amendments are endangered species in this here part of the woods.