Yesterday the Niskanen Center submitted a comment letter on the National Park Service’s proposed changes to the rules governing demonstrations and protests in Washington, D.C. Remarkably, the proposed changes read like they were drafted by minions of Rodrigo Duterte, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, or Vladimir Putin.
Our letter, which was co-signed by 35 prominent individuals and 8 organizations, focuses on just three of the more galling proposed rule changes: requiring all demonstrations to get permits, making demonstrators pay for these permits, and closing the White House sidewalk to protesters.
Here’s a thought experiment: imagine asking Ben Franklin, Sam Adams, Thomas Jefferson, or any other signer of the Declaration of Independence whether they thought it would be a good idea to necessitate the King’s permission (and pay for the privilege of doing so), before they could protest the Stamp Act or the Townshend Duties.
It actually gets worse. While the Park Service at least said what it was planning to do about permits and fees, it did not say a single word about closing the White House sidewalk to protesters. Instead, it quietly slipped that provision into the proposed changes to the regulations without any discussion in the regulatory prologue, which is where agencies describe what changes they are proposing and why they are doing so.
That is correct: the Park Service tried to ban demonstrations at the most iconic public forum in the country without letting anyone know it was doing this.
If the Park Service gets away with this, the nation’s capital would effectively go silent. This is how authoritarianism begins.