Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Free-Speech Rights Affirmed

Jan Proctor, Chesapeake City Attorney, finally gave a formal written reply to my free-speech issue on public sidewalks outside of Chesapeake public libraries. Here is her reply as emailed on 12/12/17:

I apologize if you were expecting additional information from me regarding your right to occupy the public sidewalk to engage in expressive conduct.  It was my understanding that you and others obtaining signatures on petitions were able conduct these activities at the Chesapeake Library without a permit or express permission from the City Manager.

Also, for your knowledge, we have been working with the City Manager’s Office to develop and implement expressive activities policies applicable to traditional and limited public fora.  The intent of these policies is to protect the First Amendment rights of citizens.  However, as you are no doubt aware, constitutional law can be very complex and multi-faceted.  Therefore, we continue to research and work on these policies, as well as proposed amendments to the City Code.  In the interim, Section 46-16 of the City Code, which requires the a permit for certain political activities inside public buildings, has not been enforced to the extent that it pertains to expressive conduct in traditional public fora. 

Currently, political and other expressive activities conducted outside the Chesapeake Library are allowed without the necessity of obtaining a permit or express permission of the City Manager, subject to the following requirements:

·       No interference with the free passage of pedestrians and motor vehicles
·       No signs should be mounted or posted (affixed) to public property
·       No tables, seats or structures may be erected
·       All litter must be removed

These rules, which are derived from various sections of the City Code, will eventually be supplemented with the expressive activity policies.  We will be happy to provide you with copies of the policies once they have been completed and are then approved and implemented by the City Manager.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Our Revolution Conference Call 9/20/17

This is the "debut membership call."

Our Revolution is a grassroots group and mostly volunteer, even its Board. Anyone who attends a meeting or event or contributes any amount is a member of the organization. Our groups join groups or start any groups (ten members or more). There are over 450 groups across the U.S. and its territories and even some other countries.

Groups work on:

1. Work on issues. This can be working on "big issues" campaigns, like Bernie's Medicare for All plan, or working on local/regional issues, such as anti-pipeline issues.

2. Endorsing local candidates who support progressive issues. Now endorsements must come through local groups and only through local groups. Groups also work on progressive ballot measures.

3. Party building, either within the Democratic Party or joining with others to help independent candidates or Green candidates who support progressive issues win. We should help turn people out at the polls, like recent successes in Massachusetts and Alabama (the latter now in a run-off).

Volunteers have made great efforts, especially the texting teams. Grassroots volunteers are the lifeblood of the group.

Summer for Progress was successful this summer. This was a concerted effort to contact legislators in support of progressive legislation. This generated an "incredible" number of co-sponsorships.

The Denver chapter shared its process in getting started and its team approach and how it vetted, researched, and interviewed candidates for endorsement. They found it important to define voting membership to avoid candidates flooding a meeting last-minute with their supporters. Beyond endorsement, there is a process for actively supporting candidates. They've vetted candidates from the local (school board) through the state level.

They found it important to have face-to-face meetings at least monthly and to have informative and fun events, such as guest speakers like candidates. 

A speaker for the texting team talked about her efforts on a variety of texting campaigns. The most memorable event helped defeat a ballot question, "Question 2," that would have diverted money from public schools to a charter school initiative. She also started Greater Worcester for Our Revolution.

Go to OurRev.US/t4OR to join the texting team. It organizes through Slack. Responding to requests from Our Revolution by making requested calls or texts helps show the political establishment that our movement is growing. It's important to make them.

Join a group, start a group, build your group, "solidarity forever."

Monday, July 31, 2017

Our Revolution Summer for Progress Training

What is the People's Platform? Why now?

  • America is in crisis
  • Our representatives and senators represent not the needs of the wealthy and the political elite
  • Politicians use dog whistle politics to instill fear and turn us against each other
  • climate catastrophe pending
  • Almost 50% of Americans live at or near the poverty line
  • We are the richest country in the world and we can band together to get the things we need and deserve

How can we win? We need an aspirational message with an unapologetic, progressive platform to help people with issues they face every day. We can motivate people to take back power. We need to pressure Democrats to the left by pressuring them to co-sponsor bills. We will prepare a scorecard at end of the campaign

Campaign and Timeline

  • Petitions already signed and delivered over 120,000 signatures
  • Now we are in trainings and direct action phase with contact with members of Congress over recess
  • Group leader or member with a strong connection can make a meeting with member or highest level staffer in District Office
  • Maintain good relationships
  • If we cannot meet 1:1, try to go to a public event, preferably less formal through calendar or website. If possible, ask for a meeting 1:1.
  • Deliver petitions by district. Can put in a box with a flash drive if too many too print
  • Assigned roles in the meeting: 
    • facilitator, 
    • scribe, 
    • issue speaker(s), 
    • broadcaster = video to either livestream or post on social media to hold accountable, 
    • petition deliverer, 
    • hard ask (cosponsor bill) by someone very persuasive and with straightforward question to get clear answer, 
    • validators
  • Get together and practice and time this before the actual meeting

How to schedule a meeting with your representative and how to prepare

  • Share tips for meeting with Congressional Members
    • dress professionally (not Bernie Ts) with business casual or at least clean, pressed clothing
    • polite even when disagreeing
    • arrive at least 15 minutes early and do final rehearsal and practice
    • facilitator introduces and takes control of meeting, describes goals, has agenda and paperwork to turn in, paperwork explaining People's Platform, makes sure up front how much time to meet and keeps meeting on time and tight
    • Ask for a signed pledge card before we leave
  • After meeting, debrief and have followup plan
  • Send a thank-you note or email and follow up on any questions s/he may have asked
  • Get whatever s/he agreed to or didn't agree to on the record
  • Fill out report card form

How to track which bills your member has co-sponsored

How to conduct first meeting with member of Congress

What's next?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

2nd Ballot-Petition Email from Jan Proctor and My Reply

Click here to see how this got started.

Dear Ms. Burke:

Please accept our apologies for any misunderstanding.  The attached guidelines were applied strictly, but it has now been clarified that there is room for flexibility.  If you plan to gather signatures on public property in the future, we would ask that you seek approval from the City Manager in accordance with the guidelines.  The process is easy and will help the City plan for any measures necessary to ensure the safety of all involved.  We understand if you cannot always meet the five day requirement for advance notice.

I will be happy to discuss this with you further if you would like to give me a call.

Jan L. Proctor
City Attorney

My reply:

Dear Jan,

Thank you. I prefer not to ask the City Manager for permission or a letter of understanding to enjoy the use my civil rights, now or in the future. Please rest assured I will not use attached signage, verbal abuse, etc. I will simply stand on the sidewalk with a clip board and talk to passersby who are willing to stop and talk to me. I will not enter the library except to use the public resources (restroom, drinking water) there. If there is a safety issue, I have a cell phone and will call 9-11.

If there are questions about my actions or words, a librarian is welcome to come verify that I am following the law. Anyone who signed the ballot petitions can verify (if need arises in court) that my actions are polite and legal. If anyone walks into the library and complains I *talked* to them, the librarian can inform him or her that I am acting within the law and constitution in a public space. Libraries are for educating the public, after all.

Librarians should also keep in mind that a complainant may belong to another party or support another candidate or may just dislike politics or talking to people. If so, complainers should not have an easy pass to interfere with our lawful activities.

As far as security measures, a simple handout on what is allowed/not allowed when ballot petitioning would suffice (no verbal abuse, attaching signage, etc.) 

I am not an uncooperative citizen. I am simply too busy to ask for permission or inform the City Manager, and the law is on my side.

Mary Lou Burke

Update: On June 27th, Jeff Staples and I both spoke about our concerns before Chesapeake City Council as speakers under non-agenda items. Video of the work session and entire meeting is available online. (Our speeches start at about 3:14). Council Member Ella Ward was unhappy about our treatment and promised both at the Council Meeting and in a phone call the next day to follow up.

I hadn't heard back from her, so I called her back today (8/9/17). She said, "It is in the City Council policy." I still don't see how it can be Council policy to trod upon freedom of speech and of assembly, which are both Constitutional guarantees.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Dear Jan, Respectfully

Here is my emailed response to the email I received in reply to my complaint about city employees interfering with my right to collect ballot-petition signatures on a public sidewalk in Chesapeake, Va:

Dear Jan, Respectfully,

Friends and I were peacefully and politely collecting ballot petition signatures on a public sidewalk OUTSIDE of two Chesapeake public libraries when we were told to leave the premises. We were not blocking anyone. I have attached a copy of the document used at the Major Hillard Library in Deep Creek on the afternoon of Sunday, May 21st, as justification for telling us to move along. We were told this was a new policy from a recent training about two weeks ago, and that it applies to ballot petition signature gathering as well as "events" as listed on the attachment. This is putting a chill (I believe that's the legal term) on our First Amendment rights. Please correct this immediately. My next step is to address a public meeting of City Council. After that it's the ACLU.

Mary Lou Burke

Here is the letter I just emailed to the State Department of Elections, which I thought (in afterthought) I'd try before City Council and the ACLU:

Dear Virginia State Department of Elections:

Please see the (forwarded) exchange below. Is it legal for the City of Chesapeake to require residents peacefully collecting ballot-petition signatures on a public sidewalk to get written permission from the City Manager first? The candidate I support for State Delegate and I were both told to leave the sidewalks in front of two public libraries while we were politely and peacefully talking to potential voters and signatories on Sunday (May 21st, 2017). We did not block anyone, nor did we display any signage, nor were any elections going on in the library buildings that day, which I'm sure you can confirm.

On Monday morning, our candidate called the City Manager's Office to ask for an expedited letter, but he is still waiting. This could seriously and adversely affect our efforts to collect sufficient signatures by the upcoming Virginia State deadline. Is the state able to extend the deadline due to the City's interference in this matter? If not, please advise if we have any recourse or if you can offer any other assistance.
Mary Lou Burke

Initial Response from City of Chesapeake, Ballot Petition Question

I received a response from the City today regarding my complaint that I was told to leave public sidewalks in front of two Chesapeake public libraries last Sunday because I was peacefully engaged in collecting ballot-petition signatures, required by Virginia State Law to put a political candidate on the ballot. The response came from Jan L. Proctor, copied to  Wanda Barnard-Bailey James E. Baker Sandy M. Madison Victoria Strickland-Cordial-Library Mary Lynn Pinkerman Helen V. Melton Susan V. Rowling Leonard Brown Jr. Debbie Ritter Dr. Alan P. Krasnoff Ella Ward John de Triquet Lonnie E. Craig Rick W. West Rick West Ritter Robert C. Ike Roland J. Davis Suzy H. Kelly.

Here is the reply:

 Dear Ms. Burke,

Thank you for expressing concerns about gathering outside of public libraries in order to obtain signatures for a petition.   The policy you referenced is attached and is based on historic practice, as well as general authority under state law and several sections of the City Code, as follows:
Section 15.2-1800(E) of the Code of Virginia provides, in part, that  a locality may operate, maintain, and regulate the use of its real property.
Sec. 46-13 of the City Code - Loitering; obstructing free passage of others.
(a)  Any person who in any public place or on any private property open to the public unreasonably or unnecessarily obstructs the free passage of other persons to and from or within such place or property and who shall fail or refuse to cease such obstruction or move on when requested to do so by the owner or lessee or agent or employee of such owner or lessee or by a duly authorized law enforcement officer shall be guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor.
(b) Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit lawful picketing.
Sec. 46-16 of the City Code - Political activities in public buildings.
(a) It shall be unlawful to display in any public building any political literature or paraphernalia or use any other means of communication used to advertise political candidates, issues or political parties, except that public buildings may be made available to all political candidates on an equal basis for the purposes of introducing candidates for public office to the general public and the conduct of the business of any political party in compliance with the following procedure: Application shall be made seven calendar days prior to the proposed use to the city manager. The seven-day application period may be waived by the city manager where it can be shown that no inconvenience or disruption of normal public activities in such building will occur.
(b) This section shall apply to all elections and political activities conducted in the city.
Sec. 50-27 of the City Code - Merchandising, advertising, signs.
·       c)  Unless otherwise expressly permitted by this Code, no person shall paste, glue, tack or otherwise post any sign, placard, advertisement or inscription whatever, nor shall any person erect or cause to be erected any sign whatever on any public lands such as parks, beaches, athletic fields, trees or roads adjacent to a park.
Sec. 66-8 of the City Code - Obstructions.
It shall be unlawful for any person to place on any sidewalk, street, right-of-way or alley in the city any object which may obstruct the safe and convenient use of the same by vehicles and pedestrians, including, but not limited to, any fence, gate, porch, step, post, barrel, bench, bar, table, box, carriage, buggy, wagon, merchandise, goods, wares or other fixtures or articles whatsoever, whether they be for sale, exhibition or any other purpose

In summary, permits are required for political activities conducted in public buildings.  City Manager approval of activities conducted outdoors on public land is required to ensure compliance with the provisions above, as well as to ensure public safety and fair access to all.  
We apologize for any inconvenience. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Me, again. Here is the attachment, which is the same document our group received from the first library we dismissed from on Sunday. I will copy my reply to my next post

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Chesapeake Ballot Petition Signatures Question

An Open Letter to Our Mayor and Members of Council:

I was out peacefully gathering ballot petition signatures on public sidewalks today in front of two different public libraries. Each time I was told to leave. I was told there is a new policy that residents may no longer gather ballot petition signatures without a written letter of permission from the City Manager.

I am writing to you to find out if this is, in fact, a new (or newly-publicized) policy, or if it is a miscommunication, or if the City Manager is over-reaching his authority. It is difficult enough to get candidates on the ballot in Virginia without additional barriers. As a citizen, voter, and taxpayer, I feel my civil rights are being trampled on if I need to get written permission to exercise my political rights peacefully on public property. Please advise.


Mary Lou Burke

Click here for the  City's initial response and here for my reaction and here for the initial resolution plus here for the (hopefully) final resolution.