That's the gist of the argument presented to the Street Use Staff Commission hearing this morning by the "We Are Wisconsin" group. They got their permit, and Walkerville will begin tomorrow, June 4th, and continue until June 20th. Meade was there, and I edited his video. The first speaker in this clip, representing We Are Wisconsin, is David Boetcher. After him comes Jeremy B. McMullen, who represents the Madison Fire Department on the Commission, and then Peter Rickman, who, according to this recent student newspaper editorial byline, is a University of Wisconsin "Law & Graduate Student," chair of the TAA Political Education Committee, and chair of the Democratic Party of the 2nd Congressional District.
0:00 — Boetcher likens the historical concept of Hooverville to the current protests over the Wisconsin budget, which is supposed to explain why camping on the street says something that people carrying signs does not say. (Click on that Hooverville link to see that the real "Hoovervilles" were makeshift places of residence for people who were actually homeless during the Great Depression. The thousands of people who want to come to Madison to protest are not homeless. They are protesting on behalf of employed people who are losing some of their benefits and collective bargaining rights.)
0:21 — McMullen clearly states the crucial legal principle: The nature of the message to be conveyed is irrelevant to the commission, which is mainly worried about setting a precedent that might require granting other permits in the future for other protesters.
0:30 — Rickman says this event is "unprecedented," and if anyone in the future tries to rely on it as a precedent "distinctions — differentiations — will be able to be drawn." He says he's sure there are "plenty of capable city, uh, city, uh, staff who are law trained, who can go ahead and help you all make that distinction and difference." Yeah, don't worry about the precedent. Let it go and when the time comes you all can go ahead and distinguish the precedent. Rickman adds that he's "not a real lawyer yet" and has only had "a few years of law school." (Law school is only 3 years. If you've done "a few years," aren't you done? Maybe there's some distinction that I should have my staff go ahead and figure out for me. I don't have time for that now.)
1:36 — Boetcher takes over with less legalistic idealism and more hardcore reality. These thousands of people are going to come to town anyway, permit or no. But if We Are Wisconsin doesn't have a permit, they can't provide port-o-potties. Even though he's leading the group that is promoting the rally, he's acting as if he's just passively expecting the crowds and trying to help out the city out with crowd control. If you don't give them the permit, you'll still have people camping out... but — what? — pissing in the street?
2:05 — Boetcher says that if you put restrictions in the permit, then you're forced to decide what to do if it's violated, "and what is that going to do to the whole rest of the trust" with respect to everything else that you might want to try to get people to do. Once people are in violation of one thing, they'll lose interest in avoiding violating other matters. (I would note that as a general principle, this is a good reason to regulate sparingly: It preserves respect for the law and increases compliance. If the rules are too picky and constraining, people scoff at rules and become rule-breakers, and maybe they lose track of the value of a system of rules. But does that general principle really apply to this tent city?)
2:42 — "It would be a bit of a sham to create a permit that basically automatically goes against what's going to happen and then expect people to follow any of the rules that are in the permit." Think about what that means. There's a huge crowd about to descend on the city, to do something they will do whether or not there is a permit — Boetcher keeps referring to the "mindset" of this descending crowd — so the city ought to grant a permit that accepts those things that are going to happen, in order to preserve respect for the rule of law. As a law professor, I find this notion fascinating. Make the law embrace the things people are going to do regardless of the law, or people won't follow even the rules that they would follow if you didn't undermine their desire to comply with the law.