Greater Greater Washington

Public Safety


Park Police arrest people for dancing at Jefferson Memorial

On Saturday, in the temple to America's greatest defender of freedom, Thomas Jefferson, the US Park Police arrested several people who had gathered to quietly dance.

In 2008, Mary Oberwetter and some other people gathered to silently dance to celebrate Jefferson's birthday one night. Park Police told them to stop, and when Oberwetter refused, she was arrested. A federal district court judge dismissed her lawsuit alleging this violated her First Amendment rights, and this month an appeals court agreed.

A number of individuals went to the memorial Saturday to protest the decision by dancing some more. Police told them they would be arrested if they chose to dance, then immediately did arrest one couple who appear to have broken off from the group and started dancing anyway.

That video excerpts from a longer one that shows the officers telling people they'd be arrested without further warning if anyone danced, then turning around and arresting a couple who had started very subtly shuffling back and forth while embracing in a somewhat dance-like way.

You also can see the officers roughing up and even choking a few people during the arrests. However, the man being choked did appear to be resisting arrest. As Don of We Love DC points out, the physical force started once one protestor tried to pull another one away from an officer trying to arrest him.

Like Don, I agree with the protestors' mission. It's ridiculous to preventing quiet dancing at the memorial under the argument that it should be reserved for "quiet contemplation," especially since schoolkids are often quite rowdy. The government has an interest in stopping loud protests that might disrupt others, but to arrest that couple who are silently swaying back and forth in an embrace looks ridiculous. But protestors who physically fight the officers don't help the cause.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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This is disturbing. I'd rather the police around here stick to what they're supposed to be doing: throwing homeless men out of wheelchairs.

by David G on May 30, 2011 10:51 am • linkreport

What the F is going on here, is right?! This is wildly disturbing. I thought these practices were going to end when Bush and Cheney left office; sigh.

I think this calls for a dance flash mob at Jefferson today.

by Shipsa01 on May 30, 2011 11:23 am • linkreport

ironic that the police are arresting people in a monument dedicated to the man who once said "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". I sometimes wish we would go back to the time when police were helpful and maintained social order instead of arresting and roughing up normal people.

by CB on May 30, 2011 12:00 pm • linkreport

The courts said that they could not dance and they did it anyway. The police told them to stop and they did it anyway. When they were told they were under arrest, they resisted. The officers followed the laws dictated by the courts--this is how the American system is set up. If you have a problem, fight it in the courts, not with the officers. They chose to not follow the officers instructions, they chose to resist arrest--it's not the actions of the officers but the disgusting and disrespectful behaviour of the protesters that's appalling.

by Gus on May 30, 2011 12:53 pm • linkreport

Gus: The 2008 event was meant to be a quiet celebration at midnight. It was. Brooke Oberwetter was arrested not for dancing, but for asking "why." The legalistic interpretation of the case is the sort of thing that causes people to get upset.

Government rules by the consent of the governed. When the government gets huffy about minor issues that are hurting no one, you are going to get opposition.

Part of the motivation for the original event, IIRC, was a growing sense among young people that the governement (then, the Bush administration) was not taking seriously our rights as free citizens. People wanted to celebrate Jefferson and his concept of "inalienable" rights. The government's response only confirmed their view that something was wrong.

I expect this protest to continue.

by SJE on May 30, 2011 1:03 pm • linkreport

"it's not the actions of the officers but the disgusting and disrespectful behaviour of the protesters that's appalling."

Idiot. They were doing nothing wrong until the Gestapo said that you can't dance or you will be placed under arrest. The Gestapo couldn't cite which law the people were violating.

So peacefully expressing yourself at Jefferson's memorial who is a Founding Father, wrote the Constitution, 3rd President of the US, and a stark advocate for the Bill of Rights warrants arrest? Maybe in Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, but not the USA "the land of the free".

"All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent."--Thomas Jefferson (ironic, eh Gus)

by Wow Gus on May 30, 2011 1:13 pm • linkreport

Even if this rule is wise, which I find very questionable, surely the offense is less severe than turning right at a red light without coming to a full stop, or driving two or three miles an hour over the speed limit. A $25 ticket is more appropriate to the offense than handcuffing and arrest. Imagine if these police were assigned to traffic enforcement!

by Ben Ross on May 30, 2011 1:13 pm • linkreport

"It's ridiculous to preventing quiet dancing at the memorial under the argument that it should be reserved for "quiet contemplation," especially since schoolkids are often quite rowdy."
This may be a double standard, but it's expected that kids are noisier than adults, especially on school field trips.

"The government has an interest in stopping loud protests that might disrupt others, but to arrest that couple who are silently swaying back and forth in an embrace looks ridiculous."
Sure, the people were quietly dancing, but it is still visually disruptive to other people at the memorial who came to see the memorial and not people dancing. Also, the couple dancing together could be interpreted as PDA (public display of affection) which is still quite taboo in today's society even though it's 2011.

Also, just because you have a right to do something, doesn't mean you should abuse it to prove a point (i.e. dancing at a solemn memorial).

by Gus Supporter on May 30, 2011 2:01 pm • linkreport

These officers should be charged with assault.

by Jaspen on May 30, 2011 2:06 pm • linkreport

i'd be interested in seeing some of the required behavior of american citizens on national parks in writing ... it makes sense that those who are out there to fight for rights they feel are in writing ... the first amendment of the bill of rights ... are being told that they are criminals by those who are supposed to uphold a citizens rights ... and furthermore the physical actions of the police are deliberate and psychological ... it's oppression of the masses ... these behaviors by those in authority will only bring about an equal rage and need to use force by those who see it too often ... it's time for law makers and law enforcement to use reason and sense ... if it doesn't look criminal ... leave it alone ...

by joseph hugh o'brien on May 30, 2011 2:31 pm • linkreport

The first couple arrested Saturday were dancing quietly, nor did they resist (although the male did get loud after they restrained him - and frankly I would too if a police officer tried to arrest me claiming "we warned you" when clearly he had not warned that couple at all. There was NOTHING under 36 CFR 7.96 they were doing that is against any law, or against Civil Federal Rules. It is not illegal to dance.

by Barbara Barrett on May 30, 2011 2:41 pm • linkreport

As soon as we pass a law that officers are personally responsible for their actions while in the line of duty they will stop assaulting people and violating their rights. A dozen or so officers bankrupt from lawsuits and/or in jail for civil rights violations and this kind of crap would stop right quick. Taxpayers should not be on the hook for the illegal actions of officers.

by xpdx on May 30, 2011 3:05 pm • linkreport

Gus Supporter: the original dance occurred at Midnight. The only people there were the dancers and the security guards.

by SJE on May 30, 2011 3:07 pm • linkreport

and another win for the park police. is anyone keeping score?

by wd on May 30, 2011 3:12 pm • linkreport

wd: Is this a tournament? Park Police vs. Civil Liberties? They're playing First Amendment Bingo — violate people's rights in each of the six components of the First Amendment and win a special prize?

No establishment of religion
Free exercise of religion
Freedom of speech
Freedom of the press
Right to peaceably assemble
Right to petition the government for redress of grievances

by David Alpert on May 30, 2011 3:34 pm • linkreport

@Barbara Barrett
If you watch the full video, they are warned

Also from dcist article responding to the initial arrest

In a 26-page opinion, U.S. District Judge John Bates ruled that "expressive dancing" does constitute an act that undermines "an atmosphere of calm, tranquility, and reverence" at the memorial.
"A prohibition on expressive activities in a nonpublic forum does not violate the First Amendment if it is viewpoint neutral and is 'reasonable in light of the use to which the forum is dedicated,'" Bates wrote. "Here, the ban on demonstrations at the Jefferson Memorial satisfies these requirements."

In the opinion of the judge that is a lawful arrest.

@ Wow Gus
"the land of the free"--that does not mean do whatever the hell you want. This is a memorial, a place of remembrance. Would you go to Cemetery and dance on someone's grave? I sure hope not. So why would you do it at a memorial to one of the greatest presidents in our history? Protest in the streets, not in a solemn place of remembrance.

Oh, and if your going to assault a police officer, resist arrest, or not respond to an officer when one talks to you, don't cry when you get a few bruises.

The people in this video who are protesting the legal system though it's kind of funny how they are most likely going to use the same one to sue the US Park Police.

Everyone is always complaining about how bad the police are, how they over react. However, they put their lives on the line everyday for the safety of all and for little compensation for the risks they face.

At the end of the day, who are you going to call when someone breaks into your house?

by Gus on May 30, 2011 3:47 pm • linkreport

Why do people find really rediculous things to protest? Who would want to dance at a monument but a disrespectful person anyway? If you have to dance there, rent it out for a couple hours, invite your friends and dance to your hearts content. Otherwise, respect the people that may have traveled far to see these monuments in Washington without witnessing your little revue.

by more of the same on May 30, 2011 3:48 pm • linkreport

By "in the temple to America's greatest defender of freedom, Thomas Jefferson" I assume you mean white people's freedom, right?

by Tom on May 30, 2011 4:10 pm • linkreport

Dancing is not against the law. I called the Parks Police in Washington DC and asked under what authority they were arrested, and they told me 36 CFR 7.69. I looked it up, 36 CFR 7.69 does not prohibit dancing. Whats more, although it prohibits organized sports in specific designated areas (including the jefferson Memorial area within the collumns), and it prohibits demonstration and other actions designed to ATTRACT ATTENTION in a like manner without express permits, the Obberwetter case specifically stated that it was a memorial designed to contemplate in reverence, and the first couple arrested was dancing quitely, it might even feasibly be said they were acting in a respectful manner in accordance with both the Civil Code, and the case law of Obberwetter. Plus, her dismissal does not translate to dancing being illegal. Her cae of civil liberties a=was dismissed. She should have filed against the "Park Police" for illegally arresting her. No law was broken. This is flat out wrong. Someone needs to put a stop to it.

by Barbara Barrett on May 30, 2011 4:11 pm • linkreport

I agree that dancing at the Jefferson is nit disrepectful and should be allowed. What about the vietnam memorial? Arlington cemetery? What about ground zero? Do we draw a line somewhere?

by Falls Church on May 30, 2011 4:16 pm • linkreport

wd: Is this a tournament?

well my comment was made in jest, as I support people being able to peacefully pay tribute how ever the hell they want to. I'm dismayed at the Gus' of the world who say things like 'who are you going to call when someone breaks into your house?'... well I'm going to call a police officer because either my property of self was violated. Any one who thinks the episode at hand is a violation of TJ's sanctity is nuts, in my book. Hell, lot's of marriage proposals have happened at TJ... is that wrong (it is a beautiful place especially around dusk)? Perhaps there was some kissing and swaying when those happened... where does one draw the line Judge John Bates?

by wd on May 30, 2011 4:16 pm • linkreport

So what if a widow and her son want to dance at Ground Zero to remember their departed husband/father? Should they be thrown to the ground and arrested?

by Tom on May 30, 2011 4:21 pm • linkreport

@ Gus: I did watch the whole video, and no, the parks officer walked away from the people he was warning and arrested the woman (and another officer arrested the man) that was dancing. Also, the Parks Police are saying that CFR 36 7.96 was the authority they were arrested under. The couple was dancing, not loudly, and no at all aggressivly. They ere swaying together. This is not in any way an attempt to Attract attention such as in a demonstration. No where in CFR 36 7.96 does it prohibit dancing, or kissing or holding hands. So what exactly were they arrested for???
How ironic that they were arrested at the memorial to the father of the Constitution, that very foundational document which guarantees freedon and liberty and civil rights, an a memorial to the very man who said: "The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive."

by Barbara Barrett on May 30, 2011 4:23 pm • linkreport

@Barbara: Jefferson was the father of the Declaration of Independence. He had nothing to do with the Constitution as he was the Minister of France at the time.

by Tom on May 30, 2011 4:26 pm • linkreport

What kind of people raised these kids??? If you are one of their parents I feel sorry for you. It's Not the Fact they were Protesting Hec I am sure everyone been a part of one. But THE ONLY REASON They did what they did was because they were told they couldn't do it.They were told "You can Dance Here,You can dance there,But you just can't dance there!!!( RESPECT !!)But Hell No .....they said because they were told "No!" that's where they were going to do it. Then to resist the police?????? What kind of people are you all raising????

by Cher on May 30, 2011 4:45 pm • linkreport

Cher: if part of the point is to bring to attention the arbitrary and ridiculous laws, then what else should they do?

by SJE on May 30, 2011 4:58 pm • linkreport

Here is the extreme stupidity of the Park Police. If they had ignored them they would have danced for 10 minutes and then left and that would have been the end of it. No one hurt. No embarrassment to the Park Police. No tweets and FB entries and blog entries and ultimately news stories. Instead the Park Police look like brutal animals and embarrass themselves.

by Tom on May 30, 2011 5:04 pm • linkreport

What would have happened if the police officers, instead of threatening the dancers of their impending arrest to stop dancing, redirected them to take their dancing outside the memorial as a courtesy to the people who came to solemnly see the Jefferson Memorial? As a teacher, I know that people, in general, respond best when reasonably communicated with and given a reasonable explanation. As soon as any negative connotations are added, then a defensive tact is taken. These officers were asked what law was broken and they were answered with a threat of arrest. The officers could have just responded to the dancers by telling them that they were interfering with other people's solemn viewing of the memorial and redirecting them to a better place to dance close to the memorial.

by cookie on May 30, 2011 6:04 pm • linkreport

Odd that people who went to the Memorial to conduct their form of a protest are complaining when the police arrest them for protesting.

Sure it's a rather silly thing for the Park Police to enforce. But isn't the solution to petition the Interior Department, the White House, and Congress to fix the issue, rather than doing stunts like these?

Barbara believes the federal regulations don't prohibit dancing at the Memorial, regardless of the recent federal court case ruling. Well, then perhaps the arrestees need to take their case to trial and try their luck. And if the court agrees with the Park Police, then we'll see yet another stunt of kinda-sorta dancing.

by Fritz on May 30, 2011 8:02 pm • linkreport

Fritz: If people have inalienable rights to free expression, then they should be able to celebrate that in a reasonable and respectful manner without requiring any approval from the government.

by SJE on May 30, 2011 8:20 pm • linkreport

Fritz - This isn't 2081, no one is violating the 211th or whatever Amendments to Constitution, and General Glampers hasn't been born yet. This is 2011, George Bush is out of office and we still have our civil liberties - for the time being.

by Shipsa01 on May 30, 2011 8:47 pm • linkreport

There is nothing solemn about the Jefferson Memorial. It's not a monument to dead soldiers or anything like that (which, as we know, are easy to find in DC). In any case, the 1st Amendment to the Constitution is there specifically to protect unpopular and/or distasteful speech. I don't personally find dancing at the Jefferson Memorial to be distasteful, but I would find a racist speech there distasteful. Should someone be arrested for doing either one? No.

by David on May 30, 2011 9:09 pm • linkreport

in the temple to America's greatest defender of freedom

Wait, there's a John Adams memorial?

by David C on May 30, 2011 9:58 pm • linkreport

Stupidity and dancing at the Jefferson Memorial have one thing in common: neither is against the law. If you want to dance at the Memorial, get a permit, and you can do so to your heart's content.

Who knows whether Thomas Jefferson would have wanted people to be arrested for people dancing in his memorial (most of the actual evidence points to the notion that he would have never wanted a memorial erected in his honor in the first place), but one thing Jefferson would have certainly applauded is the police's enforcement of the court's interpretation of the constitution, even if he disagreed with the interpretation (further evidence suggests that being a strong advocate of the separation of powers, he would have not wished his personal feelings on the matter as a president to influence the court's interpretation of the constitution).

People are turning this into a freedom of expression issue, when it's really just an issue of people protesting things about which they are not informed. If people wish to protest the regulatory system of obtaining permits for dancing and other demonstrations, or protest the entire notion that they should be able to dance without a permit, then they should take it up with the courts, not with the Park Police. It's what Jefferson would have probably wanted.

by Scoot on May 30, 2011 10:40 pm • linkreport

Someone should send this to the President. The Park Police work for him. Maybe the President can discuss it with the Secretary of the Interior and the Attorney General.

by Freedom Forever on May 30, 2011 11:21 pm • linkreport

Welcome to Washington DC Police State. There everywhere but you do not see them yet..Get ready to Sieg Heil

by Betty on May 30, 2011 11:26 pm • linkreport

Basically the Park Cops should say "Stay in your homes, Martial Law has been declared", Don't come to this monument even though your tax dollars pay for it's up keep. These thug's are just like they probably were in high school throwing people around. So much Liberty, Justice, and the American Way.

by Nafrican on May 30, 2011 11:48 pm • linkreport

Paula, people will defend anything.

Absolutely anything. It does matter how idiotic it makes them seem, they will defend it. If Hitler were around today, someone on this page would find a way to defend his action.

There was a recent video of a man in a pickup truck in Kentucky trying to kill someone in a motorcycle. The guy was swerving all over the place trying to kill the guy on the motorbike.

Of course, people were defending his murderous rage.

(And the police, even when presented with the video, did not arrest the driver).

by JJJJJ on May 31, 2011 1:41 am • linkreport

I hate people who want to just forgive idiotic behavior because someone is "just doing their job", especially for someone is law enforcement like this. In my book these park police guys are all a bunch of losers because none of them had the personal conviction to just say I'm not arresting people for dancing this is fucking stupid. They are just little cowards afraid of losing their jobs but more than happy to aggressively shove around others. We got to many wage slaves in this society any more and not enough citizens.

by Doug on May 31, 2011 3:22 am • linkreport

Yet another example of how the US public school system has failed yet another generation.

1. People are invoking Bush and "gestapo" but Brooke Obetwetter, the girl who despite being warned, then took this to to Federal Court and lost, was a long time employee of Republican stalwart, CEI. She got arrested on purpose. There was nothing surprising about her getting arrested, and certainly surprising about multiple Courts denying her claim.

2. It is forbidden to dance at The Jefferson Memorial. There is a sign there that says no dancing. These recent folks knew it was illegal before they went. They were informed it was illegal once they were there, they were warned again by the police and they decided to do it anyway. Their act is not a noble one, but a completely dumb one illustrative of the inane mental state they are apparently blessed with.

3. Who dances at a memorial other than someone who is purposely an attention junkie?

4. Why is dance prohibited? Because who is to decide what is "allowed" dance versus what isn't? Anyone hang out in a club in DC recently, chaperone a high school prom? What folks call "dancing" looks more like simulated sex to me. If you allow "dance" you have to take the good with the bad.

5. You want to protest a rule /law, don't do it with the people on the public line who don't make the rules, but simply enforce them while barely making above minimum wage. Take it to court. Oh, thats right...they did and lost.

by freely on May 31, 2011 8:06 am • linkreport

if you want to DANCE go to a spot where DANCING is permitted, i guess i had the police not used such focre people wouldnt be complaingin

by Jerome on May 31, 2011 8:11 am • linkreport

"Sure it's a rather silly thing for the Park Police to enforce. But isn't the solution to petition the Interior Department, the White House, and Congress to fix the issue, rather than doing stunts like these?"

I wonder how this person would have reacted to Rosa Parks, Freedom Riders, or protesters who occupied seats in segregated restaurants.

"Civil disobedience" is a time-honored and effective way to attract attention to unjust laws -- it's not a "stunt," and without it the elites who control the legal system would have little reason to redress grievances.

Anyone who thinks politely petitioning the government can usually affect change is naive.

by Zoroaster on May 31, 2011 8:17 am • linkreport

I have removed a comment by Paula Product that called another commenter an idiot. I know there are strong feelings on this issue and that's probably appropriate given the importance of civil liberties to a free society, but we still need to keep this a welcoming space for all people to comment which means no calling other people names or making personal attacks. Please continue debating but restrict the rhetoric to the issue not to the people.

by David Alpert on May 31, 2011 8:30 am • linkreport

I have removed a comment by Common Sense which also made ad hominem attacks by listing a variety of information about the individual protestors in a disparaging way attempting to discredit them.

by David Alpert on May 31, 2011 8:38 am • linkreport

Tossing people to the ground and handcuffing them just seems excessive. Just give them a $50 ticket if you want to ban this kind of behavior and move on.

by MLD on May 31, 2011 8:42 am • linkreport

Time for Jefferson Memorial dance in.

by Redline SOS on May 31, 2011 8:44 am • linkreport

@Zoroaster: "Civil disobedience" is a time-honored and effective way to attract attention to unjust laws -- it's not a "stunt," and without it the elites who control the legal system would have little reason to redress grievances.

I agree 100%. It appears, though, that many posters believe the park police acted improperly by arresting the dancers. But that's the whole point of civil cisobedience - to peacable demonstrate and get arrested, thereby calling attention to an unjust law. These people were protesting a decision that upheld a prohibition on dancing by going and . . . dancing. OF COURSE they were arrested. How could they (and some of the posters here) expect anything else?

by dcd on May 31, 2011 9:13 am • linkreport

Thank you to those that ruined an otherwise pleasant day for the people that came to the memorial to make a memory and remember.

I am not talking about the police officers either. They were put in an untenable position where they had to uphold the law against a bunch of screaming thugs with video cameras and a t-shirt that reads "Disobey".

There is a time and a place for everything and although freedom of speech is protected and I respect that, the children [and you ARE children] that staged this mini protest should realize that the officers were only doing as the courts ruled. It is their JOB.

It is too bad your parents never taught you respect. I am pretty sure you don't even realize what the word "solemnity" means. You are a disgrace to all that America stands for and you shamed those who fought to give you the right to be so stupid.

The only thing you juveniles did was create memories that people who come to Washington DC don't need/want to have.

Grow up. Everything isn't about being on "YouTube".

I think the police handled this VERY well considering what their constraints were in light of the courts ruling.

by Bob on May 31, 2011 9:38 am • linkreport

"they hate us for our freedom" is not a reference to any Middle Eastern terrorists, is it?

by Eric D Greene on May 31, 2011 9:39 am • linkreport

Let's not go overboard here. No one is buried at the Jefferson Memorial. It's not a cemetery. This isn't like dancing at Arlington on the graves. Jefferson was a slaveholder who raped one of his slaves and illegally held her children as slaves even though under Virginia law they were white. Hemmings was 3/4th white making her children from Jefferson 7/8th white, legally white in Virginia at the time. So other then writing the Declaration of Independence, the guy wasn't exactly Mr. Wonderful.

And I doubt that anyone who was there that day really cared that a few people were dancing (without music since they had earbuds). I bet though they cared about being kicked out because the Park Police went beserk.

by Tom on May 31, 2011 10:06 am • linkreport

@JJJJJ:If Hitler were around today, someone on this page would find a way to defend his action.

Hitler is the original builder of Germany's Autobahn system. That would never make him very popular here...

So, if you wanna pull a Godwin, pull a valid one.

by Jasper on May 31, 2011 10:26 am • linkreport

Please explain how the court system said it is within your 1st Amendment rights to protest loudly at ACTUAL funerals, but quietly dancing at a public statue is illegal.

When I need a police officer, I'll call one. Otherwise, I stay the hell away from them. They exist to serve the state, not the people.

by greent on May 31, 2011 10:38 am • linkreport

This comment thread is one Niemöller short of the glibertarian superfecta.

Minor trangressions compared to Nazi Germany
Middle class white people who lack the dignity and courage to get arrested peacefully compared to Rosa Parks
Inaccurate hagiography of founding fathers (especially Thomas Jefferson)
First they came for ...

by jcm on May 31, 2011 10:39 am • linkreport

None of the rights mentioned in the Bill of Rights are absolute. You can't just toss out "freedom of speech" and "freedom to assemble" and assume you are done making your argument. Assemblies generally require a permit and this process has been upheld. Speech that threatens the peace, by way of inciting violent action or otherwise promoting violence or otherwise dangerous behavior, is not protected. These protesters cannot then stand on principle and say what they did or were trying to do is protected.

Instead, they have to make an argument as to why it should be allowed. This argument would then be compared to the arguments the state makes in saying it shouldn't be allowed. Apparently, these arguments have already had their day in court and the courts have ruled that the state's arguments are more convincing. Perhaps the judges are wrong, perhaps additional lawsuits will result in changes. But it seems unlikely. Instead, what you might hope for is a change in procedure at the police officer level. As someone pointed out, if the officers had ignored this display, it probably would have ended rather quickly and with no negative effects. But who knows - maybe another visitor to the monument would have found the dancing to be inappropriate and annoying and made a comment which led to a confrontation. Not a desirable result.

I think any comparison to Rosa Parks or lunch counter demonstrators is stretching it quite a bit. There is no righteous cause on the part of those who want to dance at the Jefferson Memorial. There is no striving for equality, to be treated equal with other human beings. It is, truly, a silly cause. There may be plenty of reasons here in DC (and across the nation) to feel as if the security / police apparatus has too much power. This is really not one of them. Get the same bunch organized to stage a similar disruption at a TSA checkpoint, I'll support them 100%. That's a part of our lives where conditions truly approach oppression.

by Josh S on May 31, 2011 11:03 am • linkreport

For those who say that they should have gotten a permit: IIRC, the original dancers checked to see that they were complying with the relevant laws.
-They were below a specified number required for a permit
-Their activities were not prohibited by any clear regulation or sign
-There was not one else at the memorial to be disturbed at midnight
-All dancers wore headphones and so were not making noise

In that context, you can see why they were legitimately surprised to be arrested.

by SJE on May 31, 2011 11:33 am • linkreport

Clearly, if there were a law stating that one must stick their thumb in their asses while visiting TJ Memorial, they'd do it, no questions asked.

by Eric D Greene on May 31, 2011 11:36 am • linkreport

This is so bizarre and kafkaesque to me (@jcm-put 'Kafkaesque" on your checklist!)

What is the definition of "dance"? What if I moved in slow motion using forms that, if speeded up look like "dance" moves? What if those moves, though very slow, are 'regular" movement like walking and scrating my head? What if I stand very still for a very long time? What if my friend and I choreograph "accidentally" bumping into each other while backing up to read the inscription? Is that dance? What if we do that repetively, but only noticeably repetive if you watch us long enough?

Any movement done deliberatley can be defined as dance. There is even a legitimate pot-modern definition of 'found dance" in the same way as found poetry and found art.

One can even legitimtely argue, from the perspective of the definition of art, that the police were performing a dance. It has all the elements. They responded to cues from others and made predicted, practiced movements.

And +1 to Doug.

by Tina on May 31, 2011 11:54 am • linkreport

Most of the comments here exhibit a lack of knowledge of the law being enforced by the Park Police, a person's Constitutional rights to free expression and assembly, and the D.C. Circuit's recent Oberwetter opinion. Because of this, there are lots of bad comparisons drawn between what these people were doing and the civil rights movement, and a false belief that this is a sign of impending tyranny. So lets get some background.

Yes, Americans have a right to free expression. And assembly. The relevant question is what are contours of that right? Is it absolute? Nope - and its not particularly controversial except to people who are hardcore libertarians (and they are usually people whose beliefs are contradictory). The Court has recognized that fighting words, obscenity, incitement, defamation, and certain other categories of speech are not protected. Reasonable "time, place, and manner" restrictions are also allowed (no loudspeaker trucks in the middle of the night), cities can require protest permits, etc. Most restrictions on speech and expression are the result of a recognition that allowing speech may increase the freedom of the speaker, but in certain circumstances it reduces the freedom of the listener by harming them - whether it is the old couple trying to sleep at night in their home awoken by a loudspeaker truck, or the person who is defamed and humiliated by a tabloid, or the person who is lynched by the mob incited by a demagogue.

Outside of these categories, the Court faced another problem when it came to free expression on government property. The Court has also created what is known as "Public Forum Doctrine" to determine when and where free speech can occur on government property. The reason for the doctrine is that the government has a great many functions where allowing any kind of speech is not appropriate - these are generally functions that are business like, such as buses or the post office, or are places where allowing any and all free speech would be disruptive (a prison, an office building, etc).

There are three types of fora - "public" fora, "limited public" fora, and "nonpublic" fora. A prototypical public forum is a park or a sidewalk - in these forums, restrictions on speech are not allowed except for reasonable "time place and manner" (no loud protests in teh middle of the night is an ok restriction). The National Mall is a prime example of a public forum. Free speech here is basically unlimited except for time place and manner restrictions, the most prominent of which is a requirement for a permit for protests over 25 people.

Limited public forums are forums open to expression for a limited purpose. A teacher's mailbox in a school is an example. Anything beyond that purpose can be regulated, so long as its not discriminatory as to viewpoint (so banning outside communications in teacher mailboxes is ok, but banning only a union flyer in a mailbox, because its a union flyer, would not be ok). Bus ads are another example - the government can put certain requirements on what the content of a bus ad can be, so long as it doesn't allow republicans to place ads but not democrats.

Non public fora are places where the government doesn't allow speech at all. These can be government properties where they restrict entry, such as a prison or office building. You simply don't have a right to drive into a prison yard and start protesting, because that might harm security in the prison (for the record, I think that particular decision was terrible on its facts). But thats the law.

Oberwetter, the DC circuit decision, held that the Jefferson Memorial was a non-public forum. It was a forum opened by the government to the public so that people could appreciate Thomas Jefferson etc. This is not a controversial holding. From that, it follows that the Park's Department can regulate speech so long as its not viewpoint discriminatory. The memorial was not opened so that people could place "GOD HATES GAYS" signs everywhere. The Parks department made a regulation saying you can't have a protest or any kind of demonstration in the memorial, because that would interfere with the purpose of the forum. You can protest outside, (so long as you have a permit if its over 25 people), but the memorial itself is off limits to a demonstration. So long as the restrictions are viewpoint neutral (there's no Republican dancing and no Democrat dancing), the restrictions are Constitutional, and do not infringe your rights.

This caselaw is widely accepted and unlikely to be overturned. Oberwetter was a unanimous decision between a liberal democrat (Judge Tatel) (in my opinion, as a liberal democrat, one of the best judges in the country), and two GW Bush appointees (Judge Griffith and Rogers). That's the constitutional law. Its clear, and Oberwetter would be upheld in the Supreme Court. It won't even get cert.

That said - yes the Park regulation on dancing is probably dumb, and the Park police should probably overlook it. But you won't find a solution in the courts or the Park's Department. They are about to allow the memorial to become a free speech zone, and there is about 50 years of Supreme Court precedent saying they don't have too. And if we agree that the Westboro Baptists can't have one of their disgusting protests in a memorial because its a limited public forum, where do we draw the line? And if your answer is that Westboro should be allowed to protest in the memorial, ask yourself if there is anywhere that restrictions are allowed. Can they place bus ads on WMATA? If WMATA was a private company, they certainly wouldn't allow it. Why should WMATA? Are you such a free speech absolutist that you can't recognize that some places are not appropriate for Westboro to come in? The fifth floor of the Department of Education's building? And what if its worse than Westboro? What if people start protesting miscegnation in the Jefferson memorial (which would be an oddly appropriate venue). Is the line between what's allowed in the memorial and what's not just going to be based on how disgusting and awful some expression is? I have a fertile imagination. ...

Whatever your answer is, would everyone please calm down. The Gestapo are not about to arrest you in your homes. The police acted according to long held, perfectly reasonable Constitutional law. I have my disagreements with it, but its not ridiculous, and the level of rhetoric here is way to heated.

by DY on May 31, 2011 11:54 am • linkreport

^ "...POST-modern.." not pot-modern (heehee)

by Tina on May 31, 2011 11:58 am • linkreport

To all the people who justify the police officers' actions with some variant of "they warned the dancers" ... who cares? The officers were out of line. You don't get to roughhouse strangers just because you wear a blue shirt and warn them in advance. A real police officer enforces the law; he does not degrade it. These U.S. Park Police officers are a disgrace to their profession.

by tom veil on May 31, 2011 12:00 pm • linkreport

@DY (there's no Republican dancing and no Democrat dancing)

But what is dancing? Do you think the courts get to define that too? As I said above, I can move in a way that is definitely dancing but may not be recognized as such by the police. Then what?

by Tina on May 31, 2011 12:04 pm • linkreport

Ok, so dancing isn't allowed. What about exercising? If five people started doing push-ups would they get arrested? What if five people held a loud conversation? What if someone stood outside with a loud speaker and shouted about TJ being a rapist, would that be a violation of the law? What if they stood outside and read the Declaration of Independence? Or is the law whatever the cops decide should be illegal?

by Tom on May 31, 2011 12:08 pm • linkreport

What if it started raining and a bunch of people came into the memorial to get out of the rain and weren't there to actually honor Jefferson in any way? Is that illegal too? Its not "honoring" Jefferson afterall, and that could be construed as offensive to others.

by Tina on May 31, 2011 12:12 pm • linkreport

@Tina -

What counts as dancing is indeed a matter of dispute. At bars and clubs, I move in ways that I *think* are dancing, but my fiancee always rolls her eyes and tries to avoid standing near me. So maybe it is, maybe not.

But anyway, what I mean by viewpoint discrimination (no republican dancing and no Democratic dancing) is that the government can't allow one group to have a demonstration and not allow another - eg, if a demonstration is prohibited, pro-choice protesters can't be allowed while anti-abortion protesters are not. That's all that viewpoint discrimination means-and its never allowed.

As to whether the police could cite me for what I think is dancing, my guess is that the Parks Department gets to make a "reasonable" interpretation of its own rules - eg, they can interpret their regulations of what a "demonstration" is so long as that interpretation is reasonable. A court will ultimately have to agree in order to make the citation enforceable. You could challenge a citation and say "its unreasonable to say that my actions constituted dancing, which is prohibited by the regulation as a form of a demonstration". A Court might agree if you present evidence of what you were doing, but the police would get to testify that "they were swaying and trying to make a demonstration that is prohibited by our rules." You could challenge the Constitutionality of the rules as a violation of the First Amendment, but you would lose just like Oberwetter did.

The point of the demonstration in the video was a bit circular - they were demonstrating to demonstrate that they could demonstrate. But the couple that was swaying was clearly trying to run afoul of the regulation, but they didn't realize that by trying to demonstrate against the dancing regulation, they were demonstrating. The police interpretation of the rule is not per se unreasonable, and I think it is likely to be upheld.

by DY on May 31, 2011 12:19 pm • linkreport

@DY The police acted according to long held, perfectly reasonable Constitutional law.

Do you really think it was reasonable to throw the man to the floor and handcuff him? The negative reaction to this is, I think, as much about the overreaction of the police to a clearly harmless and unthreatening person. The police acted like brutes unneccessarily.

by Tina on May 31, 2011 12:19 pm • linkreport

And of course the best part is that the land of the free and the home of the brave looks like a police state all around the world. An interview on Australian TV made the park police look like evil animals. Maybe the park police should think about the implications of what they are doing before they do something. As I said before, if they had ignored these people for 10 minutes they would have given up and left.

by Tom on May 31, 2011 12:24 pm • linkreport

"Do you really think it was reasonable to throw the man to the floor and handcuff him?"

For what it's worth, the man ignored and continued to resist after at least two "final warnings" that the officer was in no way legally obligated to offer. Anyway, the law DY was referring to speaks to the ability to demonstrate inside the memorial, not to alleged police brutality.

by Scoot on May 31, 2011 12:28 pm • linkreport

There is a time and a place for everything and although freedom of speech is protected and I respect that, the children [and you ARE children] that staged this mini protest should realize that the officers were only doing as the courts ruled. It is their JOB.

This may be the most succinct and comprehensive synopsis of the thinking behind the "banality of evil" I've read. Remember folks, your civil rights end where the sensibilities of the American "middle-mind" begin.

If Thomas Jefferson came back today and saw what was being done in his name, he would never stop throwing up.

by oboe on May 31, 2011 12:31 pm • linkreport

@Tina - where a person you are trying to arrest is trying to get away and won't submit to arrest, it is reasonable to use a reasonable amount of force to subdue him. They didn't tase him. They didn't pull out nightsticks. At least some of the people were clearly resisting.

And yes, I have the same visceral reaction anytime the cops act like idiots - I think the better example of that is the recent U street incident. But in the world of police brutality, this aint it. If you want to be peacefully arrested, hold out your hands and say - go ahead, arrest me. If you resist - dancing away, trying to pull your arms way, or continuing to do the action that is getting you arrested - you're going to be subdued, and I don't know how it could be otherwise.

And PS - my call to tone down the rhetoric includes rhetoric like calling people "brutes" and "animals."

by DY on May 31, 2011 12:32 pm • linkreport

@Oboe

The banality of evil refers to the ability of normal people to accept the premises of the state and thereby legitimate the great evils of history. If you think this is one of the great evils of history, you need to reread your Arendt my friend.

And if Tom Jefferson came back today, he would be disgusted by many things, including the fact that African Americans are treated fairly and that the government would dare to provide people with Medicare. Or maybe he wouldn't. Who knows, he's dead, he was flawed, and we don't know what he would think. And I won't spend much time worrying about it.

by DY on May 31, 2011 12:36 pm • linkreport

@DY, just a PS -you don't get to decide for me what I think is unneccesarily brutal action by any police in any situation.

by Tina on May 31, 2011 12:41 pm • linkreport

@DY:

The banality of evil refers to the ability of normal people to accept the premises of the state and thereby legitimate the great evils of history.

I think you might want to go back and read your Arendt, my friend, if you think that there was no general lesson to be learned, and that it was simply about how uniquely awful the German people were. Clearly you missed the memo.

Secondly, I think we can take a pretty good guess as to what Jefferson's philosophy entails, given that, y'know, he wrote books 'n' stuff. If we're not going to give a shit about the man's legacy, or make any attempt to respect his body of work, what's the point of having that marble edifice?

Jefferson "Memorial", indeed.

by oboe on May 31, 2011 12:48 pm • linkreport

maybe if people stopped acting like A holes the police would not have to take
action. I support the police!!!!

by karen V on May 31, 2011 12:58 pm • linkreport

@karen V - I support the police!!!!
any time, any where, for any action????

by Tina on May 31, 2011 1:03 pm • linkreport

Me: "The banality of evil refers to the ability of normal people to accept the premises of the state and thereby legitimate the great evils of history."

Oboe: "So you think the German people were uniquely evil! idiot!"

When I say "normal people" I am referring to non evil people who participate in an evil act, or accepted it, because they accepted the premises that the state and its ends were legitimate. You misread my comment completely. As for Arendt, my point was that whatever you think of the protest, people expecting the police to enforce park regulations hardly constitutes everyday citizens accepting evil actions by the state. A False equivalence.

Interesting that you don't explicate Jefferson's philosophy from, you know, books'n stuff. What books are you referring too? What is his legacy, and how is it relevant here? Citations please. And PS, why should we accept his views in regard to freedom to dance anywhere, and not, say ours. Especially when our primary debt to Mr. Jefferson is not the Bill of Rights or the Constitution (which he had nothing to do with, and probably opposed because he favor the Articles of Confederation, but he was in France in 1787), and more to the ideas of the right to rebel against ACTUAL tyranny, equality, the vision for the US (Louisiana Purchase).

@Tina - I wasn't telling you to think anything. I was asking that you tone down the rhetoric- its not helpful to any debate about anything, it makes a debate about how the police act descend into a battle of hyperbole. I know you feel passionately about this - many do, but name calling rarely convinces anyone who doesn't agree. You can make an argument about why those dancers should have been treated differently, and how they should have been treated, without hyperbole. Try it.

by DY on May 31, 2011 1:11 pm • linkreport

@DY - Contrary to what you say you want I find your way of expressing your judgement of others' written thoughts to be negatively provocative and passive aggressive in your use of condescension and, in the case of your last comment, hypocritical. You can make an argument without insulting the people you are trying to communicate with. Try it.

by Tina on May 31, 2011 1:27 pm • linkreport

@oboe:This may be the most succinct and comprehensive synopsis of the thinking behind the "banality of evil" I've read. Remember folks, your civil rights end where the sensibilities of the American "middle-mind" begin.

@DY: The banality of evil refers to the ability of normal people to accept the premises of the state and thereby legitimate the great evils of history.

It's been a while since I read Eichmann in Jerusalem, but I'm pretty sure that I disagree with both of your definitions. As I recall, Arendt's point was that Eichmann, who did such evil things, was not a monster, but rather an ordinary, boring, everyday kind of person.

Still: Godwin's Law, some more (because there were already Hitlers and sieg heils, up thread).

by Miriam on May 31, 2011 1:34 pm • linkreport

@Tina and @Oboe - man we are getting meta here. On reading my last comment to Oboe, I agree its a little insulting and I apologize. My original point to Oboe was that it was unfair to reference "The Banality of Evil" in regards to a person defending the police's actions, and he misinterpreted my response and I responded. But you're right.

I don't quite know how to respond and have a discussion without going at each other a little bit, but I know we can do it civilly, and I am trying to be civil, but like everyone, I can do more. My is it easy to get mean on the internets.

by DY on May 31, 2011 1:50 pm • linkreport

DY has had by far the most reasoned and reasonable response here. There is no right to demonstrate inside the Jefferson Memorial. And there won't be. And this shouldn't be a controversial decision. The fact that these people were dancing is a red herring. It's irrelevant to the issue at hand.
The police "brutality" is a separate issue. How should the police behave when enforcing the law when confronted by those resisting? There was some physical force here, but I don't know that anyone was hurt. As DY pointed out, no tasers were used, no nightsticks. There was no beating. Looking at the lead officer in the video - he didn't want to be there. He didn't want to arrest people for dancing. But he couldn't allow people to demonstrate and the people forced his hand.
And for what greater purpose? What great injustice is involved here that must be fought against and overturned? You can stage a protest against jaywalking laws and get on YouTube and get yourself arrested by continuing to stand in the middle of the street and it would have about the same import. It's a protest for protest's sake - there is no civil rights cause here.

by Josh S on May 31, 2011 1:51 pm • linkreport

@Miriam - yes, that was my takeaway, I was trying to generalize it to the whole German people (eg normal people), but it was not well. said. @Josh S - agreed - this was a protest to be able to protest (though free speech is of course a civil right itself - its usually a right in service of something substantive in of itself).

by DY on May 31, 2011 1:58 pm • linkreport

While we're playing the "shorter" game:

Shorter DY: "Don't worry about the dynamics, there are no lessons we can take from Arendt--or history for that matter--until the US literally rolls into the Sudetenland." Anyway, you're fooling yourself if you think the American people wouldn't gladly follow in the footsteps of Arendt's subjects given half an opportunity--and it's exactly these attitudes that would enable it.

As far as making some sort of elaborate foot-noted treatise on Thomas Jefferson and the civil liberties, obviously I'm not going to engage in that; it would be pointless. I was merely speaking to your glib assertion that "Who knows, he's dead, he was flawed, and we don't know what he would think. And I won't spend much time worrying about it."

Which, if nothing else, seemed jarringly at odds with your previous pose as a sort of hyper-rationalized seeker of knowledge.

by oboe on May 31, 2011 2:00 pm • linkreport

@Oboe - I guess you sensed my dislike of originalist legal philosophy and founding father hagiography popping up. Thats a long story that no one cares about, but that's where the glib comes from.

I don't know where your getting my reading of Arendt from, but whatever. For what its worth, I think your use of the past tense is wrong - the American people DID follow the footsteps of Eichmann in regards to accepting torture. I just don't think the defenders of the police actions in here are necessarily exhibiting that mentality of state subserviance.

But whatever, its a side debate. The interesting questions to me are: should the memorial be a free speech zone? Should Westboro Baptist be allowed to stage a demonstration inside? Should we allow them to take out WMATA ads? (I like to use Westboro Baptist as my stand in for "Absolutely the worst people in the world").

by DY on May 31, 2011 2:12 pm • linkreport

@DY , your expression of humility is appreciated. I try to stick to "I" statements, i.e. "I disagee. I don't think the police acted unneccassarily like brutes or over reacted in any way b/c..." instead of "you don't know how to communicate. You're using hyperbole". Well, maybe its not hyperbole from my perspective, which is different from yours. I have been treated unfairly and badly by police before. That informs everything I see them do. In fact I am so impressed when a police office treats me with dignity I always thank him/her for it. The fact that others disagree w/you does not make us less informed or less sophisticated.

And besides, my original comment was about the definition of 'dancing" and the prohibition of it, that even with your long explation of the law and judges interpretation just seems stupid in the original case. I'm not a lawyer and I don't care about long lawyerly explanations. I care about what looks like a really stupid enforcement, and an unwise reaction by the police.

It is meta. Its about the definition of art and freedom and the powers of the state.

by Tina on May 31, 2011 2:27 pm • linkreport

@Josh S What great injustice is involved here that must be fought against and overturned? . Exactly. So what was the big deal with the original case? Why did the police/state care so much about such a seemingly inconsequential and harmless action? If it so inconsequential why did they get involved? Because it was "deviant"- they'd never seen anyone doing that there before? B/c it was midnight, they were going to be on duty all night (the police) and were bored? This is my whole problem with it. Why did they care? It was harmless. So was this latest "dancing".

by Tina on May 31, 2011 2:37 pm • linkreport

The police had the option to let this one go-- they were under no obligation to arrest and brutalize the dancers. Lord knows, this being DC, the police are perfectly content to ignore a lot of other stuff.

The truth is that, Gus's authoritarian personality notwithstanding, no one likes to see people brutalized for engaging in harmless activities. Eventually, the police are going to have to give up, if the protesters are willing to continue this.

by JustMe on May 31, 2011 4:48 pm • linkreport

I believe that the main objection is less about the law per se, but the tendancy of the police to arrest anyone who says boo.

by SJE on May 31, 2011 9:13 pm • linkreport

This is stupid. Yea, I get the whole "we have the right" thing. But you shouldn't be dancing at the memorials. Yes, kids -KIDS- do a lot of stuff and if they get too rowdy, they are quieted down (chaperones or police). But adults dancing there- just because you can?
It just seems like silly white people stunts. If you had more fear of police and arrest, you'd question your "freedom dance" mission more.
The July 4th plan is stupid and disrespectful too all!! Terrorism is still an issue (albiet overblown). Holidays are higher risk. To distract police with this nonsense is ridiculous.
{I hope all you folks who are protestin this live in neighborhoods that have no restrictions on where you can park, how high your fence is, or the type/style of signage a merchant can hang on his shop,whether you can cut down trees on your own property- or any of the RIGHTS we have that have been taken away because people want their tree lined views, or bike trails, and cozy/hip/upscale look of their neighborhood. There are a lot of things we have the RIGHT to do, but shouldn't do under certain circumstances!

by freda on Jun 8, 2011 3:38 pm • linkreport

I just saw this video on FB, and this left me totally breathless. It's why I have looked for some further information and have come to this blog. I'm an european, seeing USA from far away. My comment here will simply reflect the unanime impression this causes amongst europeans.
One more time USA looks ridiculous in front of the whole world. We can't understand how such a thing could happen. It seems so unrealistic. There is no way a policeman would do this here. There is no public threat, just people dancing and protesting. It's peacefull and harmless. In court, the complain against such a public action would not even be taken seriousely. However the way the police acted would cause so much anger in the public opinion, that even a minister would have to resign.

by Manu on Jun 12, 2011 4:30 pm • linkreport

Thank you Manu. This is what I expected. I am glad that someone from Europe has verified my thoughts on this.

by Tom on Jun 12, 2011 10:25 pm • linkreport

Okay. Is it silly to be arrested for dancing at a memorial? Well, as we see here there are different opionions on the matter. But everyone is missing the point. A court made a decision that one should not dance at the memorial. What is so hard to understand about that??? I know you may think it's stupid/unconstitutional, but take it up with the courts that made the decision....Not the police officers enforcing the laws. I'm a police officer in the state of Texas and I can tell you; I don't always agree with the laws. But, I STILL HAVE TO ENFORCE THEM. People always want to protest something and have no clue on how to properly do so. They should have hired a civil liberties attorney (probably could have found one to take this on for free) and took it to the courts. And if you're gonna protest a law, you have to know that you might be arrested for doing so. Why resist and create more problems? I'm so tired of all the "That's stupid" and "This is disturbing" comments. The officers look like the bad guys but a judge made a decision, and it was/is their jobs to carry out that decision.

by KENT on Jun 15, 2011 3:31 am • linkreport

The cops arresting and assaulting people for dancing just goes to show youwhere this country is headed. And the cops wonder why they are hated? Well they just need to watch this video. Imagine what people from other countries were saying went they went back home? I can only imagine.

by mike on Sep 3, 2011 5:13 pm • linkreport

Americans are fools for tolerating this type of harassment from their police and also to have this behavior condoned by their courts. Oh, and on another note, in Canada, when someone breaks into our homes, we call an ambulance.

by Tim on Oct 20, 2011 10:52 pm • linkreport

Everyone of these police officers should be fired. They forget who they work for and what they represent.

by Mark on Dec 16, 2011 8:54 pm • linkreport

Organized protestors taught police until they're arrested

That's should be the title of this article.

by uncle one sock on Dec 17, 2011 12:49 pm • linkreport

Oh, oh my. Didn't know it was a problem to dance at the park. Woww...

by Jennifer on Mar 28, 2012 7:59 pm • linkreport

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