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National call for action in Missoula MT

by Jim Squatter Friday, Aug. 17, 2007 at 1:14 AM

My name is Jim Squatter. I'm a medical marijuana advocate who has been active in the San Francisco Bay Area for decades. Recently, I came to Missoula MT, to carry on the struggle here.

I called my first demonstration at the Federal Courthouse for 12 noon on July 27th in Missoula MT. because of the failure of the Hinchey-Roharbacher amendment in the US House of Representatives and the DEA attacks on the Medical Marijuana dispensaries in LA, CA.

I got there and set up a small folding card table and two folding chairs and set out literature but no donation jar and held up a sign. A couple of people showed up but the "crowd" never numbered over four at any one time.

Approximately 45 minutes after I arrived I was approached by a "downtown ambassador," a stooge for the downtown merchants association with a cop in tow. She informed me that I needed a business license and I would need to go to the Business License Office, pay , get a police background check and even then any merchant could tell me to "move" and I must comply. I asked a few questions of her and she said that one could stand and distribute printed materials but sitting was the line in the sand as well as having any type of display or table. I then brushed her aside and went up to the cop and asked if she were correct. He asserted she was. I asked if he would issue a citation if I refused to leave. He vacillated at first but then thought aloud he would do so. I told him that we would review this question at a later time perhaps more convenient to both of us. At that point I left.

I went to the City Business License Office to seek a waiver for first amendment activities. I was told no such waiver existed nor would one be forthcoming, and was referred to the City Attorney's Office. I went to the City Attorney's Office to again seek a waiver for a Street Venders License for the distribution of free political literature. I was told by an Deputy City Attorney that there was no waiver and none would be issued. I said that this question might be revisited in a court and she replied, "Fine".

I then began seeking a lawyer to back my efforts and found that all of the criminal/civil rights lawyers were on vacation. I then shopped the case to the ACLU and it is now being reviewed by them. They have said though that they will only take the civil portion if they decide to and will do no criminal work.

So at this point it is clear the City wants to fight it and is now harassing lots of people off the street, like musicians, and anybody putting up a literature table. Even the Christians that street preach are being hassled. This is not the first time free speech has been under threat in Missoula.

1909, young orators for the Industrial Workers of the World began speaking downtown. Standing on a makeshift soapbox, they appealed to homeless, and hungry workers in the lumber and mining industries, railing against capitalism’s abuses. They were soon joined by legendary IWW agitator Frank Little and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn among others, and when they began to draw notice with their fiery speeches and free literature, police began enforcing Missoula’s ordinance against street speaking. Little was hauled off to jail, as were replacements who stood and read from the Declaration of Independence.

The IWW was telegraphed for reinforcements, and within days hundreds of IWW members --Wobblies --poured in. The spectacle began to draw crowds, who watched as men stood up, began their speeches with “Fellow workers and friends,” and were promptly arrested. Nearly 100 were locked in Missoula’s jails, demanding jury trials, and when hundreds more marched through downtown, town leaders began to grasp the scope of the battle. City Council declared that people could speak when and where they pleased, and the first free speech fight came to an end. Flynn and the IWW used this same technique successfully in Spokane and other towns across the West. In the first mass organized free speech fight in US history.Every group I approach in town wants to fight it. This is really starting to unite people across all lines. I'm getting introduced to Democratic party leaders even. It looks at this point like I will challenge this and arrests will start in the week of the 20th-25th August. The strategy is pretty much the same as in 1909. If they don't suspend the law and it's current application the goal is to overwhelm their enforcement capacity. To have so many people arrested they can't hold them in jail and people will re-offend until the City of Missoula and the merchant's association come to their senses.

We have two demands. One, they rescind the current law and two, erect a bronze soapbox commemorating the first organized free speech fight in the US at the location of Front St. and Higgins Ave., where it began in 1909. It will then be known as free speech corner.

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