I hope all of our visitors had a blessed and peaceful Thanksgiving holiday. I took an extended (and unannounced) holiday break myself and very much enjoyed time with family. I even enjoyed chasing dust bunnies and scrubbing word work in preparation for our usual Thanksgiving visitors. My computer was off and if a TV was on at all in a room where I was working, I turned on a movie. (I even watched three different versions of James Bond.) I am grateful for the break.
The one exception to my news and politics holiday black-out was on Monday, November 22, when I watched part of the City Council meeting, which my husband had turned on. (Yes, he IS a glutton for punishment.) While there is very much I could write about the aggravating hour+ of that meeting I watched, including warm-fuzzies for three members of Occupy Lincoln who used the open mic session to sing the City’s praises for its accommodation of their group. There were even some questions asked of the Occupiers.
I was heartened when I saw that Julie Schmit-Albin, Executive Director of Nebraska Right to Life, got up to address the City Council on the same subject. Julie did a very good job of letting the Council members know that she is concerned and she is watching. Not surprisingly, she was asked no questions after her remarks.
Following the meeting, I returned to my “media black-out”, not to re-emerge from it until this past Saturday. Fortunately Linda had been following events and was aware that there had been an article in the Lincoln Journal Star about Julie’s appearance before the Council. Linda was also aware of the comments on the LJS’ article online, which had reached new depths of vitriol. She engaged in a valiant effort to be a voice of reason and civil debate – no small task amongst that crowd.
Beyond cowardly anonymous website postings, as readers of this site know, we have been expressing concerns about the City’s handling of the Occupy Lincoln group, the turning of the rule of law on its head, and the bizarre efforts to bend over backwards to accommodate the group. We issued the press release, below, because we wanted to support Julie’s effort and to echo and expand upon her concerns.
It has been sent to press in the Lincoln and Omaha areas. Occupy Lincoln has received extensive press coverage since October 15.
F O R I M M E D I A T E R E L E A S E
November 29, 2011
Nebraska Right To Life Not Alone In Concerns
About City Of Lincoln’s Handling Of Occupy Group
In addressing the City Council on Monday, November 22, Executive Director of Nebraska Right to Life, Julie Schmit-Albin, did more than raise questions about how enforcement of ordinances for size and placement of signs has affected her organization, says another Lincoln-based group.
Shelli Dawdy, founder of the limited government advocacy group, Grassroots in Nebraska (GiN), stated, “We’re grateful that Julie took the time out of a very busy holiday week – time that GiN’s leaders didn’t have – to point out some of the problems with the City’s ordinances and enforcement of them. There is a growing list of questions about City officials’ decision making and how it impacts citizens’ First Amendment rights, about taxpayer liability, about public safety and the future of the rule of law in Lincoln.”
Dawdy’s group has been troubled since the Occupy Lincoln encampment sprang up on the Centennial Mall in mid-October and has been actively monitoring developments both locally and nationally, while researching Lincoln’s Municipal Codes. GiN’s leadership team has noticed some differences in the City’s handling of groups like GiN, Nebraska Right to Life, and others, when contrasted against the handling of the Occupy Lincoln group. As taxpayers, members of GiN are increasingly concerned about the City’s potential exposure to costly legal action resulting from such disparate application of the law affecting citizens’ ability to exercise their First Amendment rights.
City officials stated in October that the Mall is not a City Park, but a “public right-of-way”, despite a long history of management by the Parks and Recreation Department which includes budgeting, maintenance, long-range planning, and publication in print and the City’s website that the Mall is a park. Parks and Recreation has required groups to follow permitting and use ordinances for parks when convening events on the Mall in the past. Occupy Lincoln’s encampment violates a list of City ordinances under any classification of the Mall, especially since indefinite overnight camping is involved. The City’s past enforcement of permit requirements for First Amendment related events, including marches and street closures, are now due renewed scrutiny.
“There seems to be no objective standard for how groups are treated,” Dawdy noted, “Some groups are granted one kind of permit, while other groups are required to get another kind of permit in the same space for the same kind of event. Still others, including Occupy Lincoln, are not required to get a permit at all. We can’t find a way to make sense of City policy associated with First Amendment expression, including those regarding signage. City officials’ statements about camping on Centennial Mall, whatever officials want to now call that location, makes the least sense of any aspect of this issue.”
Following the publication of an article in the Friday, November 25, Lincoln Journal Star about Schmit-Albin’s November 22 appearance before the City Council, GiN’s leadership team decided to let other Lincolnites and Schmit-Albin’s critics know that an all-volunteer, unincorporated group with a broad mission has many concerns about Lincoln officials’ handling of the matter. As of Sunday evening, the majority of comments on Journal Star’s web version of the article were dismissive, personal attacks on Schmit-Albin, including her status as a paid employee, her pro-life advocacy, and even on her family life, not on any of the substantive issues about unequal application of law or encroachment on First Amendment rights.
Dawdy and Schmit-Albin have both separately stated that they support all citizens’ ability to exercise their First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly, but both have stated that they believe citizens – including Occupy Lincoln – should do so within the confines of the law.
GiN Article About City of Lincoln and Occupy Lincoln Group:
Occupy Lincoln Shanty Town: City of Lincoln PERMITing Hypocrisy
Other GiN Articles About Occupy Movement:
Occupy Lincoln: The 99 Percent, The Proletariat OR The 99 Percent?
For a Grassroots Spontaneous Movement – Occupy Groups Are A Lot Alike
Grassroots in Nebraska (GiN), founded in March 2009, is a Lincoln, Nebraska, based group whose mission is to actively promote a return to Constitutional, limited government according to its original meaning. As an all-volunteer, unincorporated group, GiN organizes various actions in working to fulfill its mission, including rallies (some of which were tea parties), meetings, and periodically joins forces with other groups in Nebraska and across the country. GiN’s core focus is on research, analysis, and dissemination of information about current public policy issues, role of government, and history. The GiN website has become an increasingly popular information source for Nebraskans looking for independent assessments and analysis of state politics and important issues such as the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline Project.
GiN’s founder, Shelli Dawdy, who serves as media spokeswoman for the group, was an original member of the team who helped coordinate the 40+ simultaneous tea party events on February 27, 2009, but decided to form a group focused on Nebraska which was independent of national and political party influences. GiN and some of its leadership team individually have been covered by Nebraska media outlets since 2009, including KLKN-TV, WOWT, Ch. 10/11, KHAS TV and Radio, KFAB 1110, KLIN 1400, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha World-Herald.