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Chalkwriting is a first amendment activity

As our nation moves ever so much closer to an offensive, first-strike pre-emptive military attack on Iraq, it is more important than ever that we citizens use every means at our disposal to spread our message. Chalk-writing has been a time-honored means to do so, and chalked messages appear at nearly every demonstration of any size I have been to. Here in Santa Cruz, there is no law against chalk-writing, though our repressive police have lately come up with a creative interpretation of MC 9.20.010 to use against activists and activists alone, backed up by City Attorney John Barisone and a low level commissioner.

This is content-based discrimination and is illegal. The police are simply not citing kids drawings or hopscotch, or the big chalk festival that has happened on First Night for the past few years.

Hence, when I wrote a hopscotch pattern on the sidewalk outside the Vets Hall on Thanksgiving, I was expressing a constitutionally protected first amendment right. Those who picked up a piece of chalk after me were also engaged in the same activity.

You, who felt differently about our work, also have a right to dump a bucket of water on our work and remove it if you so desire. For chalk is a very temporary message, easily removed, and not intended to be permanent.

If, on the other hand, you choose to be a police snitch, then you are joining the legions who are out to suppress freedom of speech whether it be to arrest a newspaper vendor (such as the SCPD has done to Steve Argue), or the efforts by the FCC to shut down Free Radio Santa Cruz, or Councilmember Ed Porter's latest hair-brained suggestion to require permits for street musicians.

The first amendment is under attack all the time. It is our responsibility to exercise our rights, and to fight against those who would curtail them.

What harm is the chalk on the sidewalk doing in front of the Vets Hall? It is purely aesthetic. Some think it improves the look of a dull, grey, dirty sidewalk. The messages against the Sleeping Ban surely gave heart to the homeless people who came to dine. Chalk is made up of crushed seashells and vegetable dyes. Chalk does not even present an environmental hazard. And if anyone doesn't like it, or wants to remove it, a simple garden hose can remove the chalk in a matter of minutes. If left alone it will wear away, blow away, or be gone with the next rain.
 


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