Monday, May 1, 2006

Dispatch from the front lines

I was picketing Planned Parnethood last Thursday morning when an employee of the city Planning Department came down and told us we could not have free-standing signs. One of the protesters had put a few pro-life signs onto yard sign frames so they could stand without someone holding them. Basically, people picketing PP have the right to have the signs there, but they must be attached to a human being.

I understand the issue of not allowing any signs in the right of way and reserving that area for traffic signs, street signs and so forth. However, I think it is a silly technicality to come down on our signs, since they are part of a protest and the signs are only there during a protest. If people were standing in one place for two hours holding the signs, it is for all intents and purposes no different than having the signs be freestanding. Surely city employees have more productive things to do than complaining about freestanding signs at a protest. Nonetheless, the request will be obeyed.

That said, Planned Parenthood also puts signs into that same grassy area each year, especially when they are looking for "peer educators". If Planned Parenthood wants to play the complaint game, they can expect that pro-life people will be calling city planning to complain as soon as they put their yard sign in the public right of way in front of their facility. They may also have pictures of their signage violations posted on the Internet.

Enforcement of signage violations is complaint driven. The problem I have with this is that it sets up a situation where signage rules can be enforced arbitrarily. My other problem is that complaints can be logged anonymously. After all, people do have a Constitutional right to face someone who accuses them of breaking the law. While signage violations can be independently verified, it is well within the realm of possibility that a political campaign can steal an opponent's yard signs, place them in the right of way and then file a complaint to make the opponent look bad.