Protest groups say they are being barred from Donald Trump’s inauguration

Harbinger of free speech.
Harbinger of free speech.
Image: Reuters/Jason Reed
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Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration isn’t until next month but protesters are already rearing to go. On Dec. 7, lawyers for a number of activist groups accused the National Parks Service (NPS) of colluding with the committee that organizes the presidential inauguration to thwart rallies in Washington DC.

Protest groups argue that the NPS is denying permits for rallies at national monuments in the period before and after the inauguration in an attempt to silence dissent, and delaying long enough to run out the clock on protesters. The NPS says there is nothing unusual about the timing of its permit approval process this year, and that permits aren’t granted until the Presidential Inauguration Committee finalizes its plans.

The Lincoln Memorial is a traditional site for protests. Typically, groups petition the National Parks Service for access to federal monuments, specifying how many people they expect to attend and the type of event. Public gathering permit requests with the NPS can take weeks to process, depending on the logistics involved, and the inauguration is particularly logistics-heavy.

Twenty petitioning protest groups awaiting permits argue that their requests are being blocked. ”Banning access to public land for protesters days after the inauguration is “extremely unique,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, at a press conference. She described the actions of the NPS as “extraordinary and unconstitutional,” and said that “Trump’s private partisan Inaugural Committee is being allowed to decide where or even if demonstrators will be allowed to protest the Trump agenda on federal land in the nation’s capital.”

The NPS, in response, issued a statement on Dec. 9 saying that certain prime locations like the Lincoln Memorial may not be available to protestors because the Presidential Inauguration Committee (which is made up of Trump appointees) requested permits first, and that plans have not been finalized. “Providing the space required for the Presidential inauguration, while also accommodating the free speech rights of protesters and supporters, is a longstanding responsibility for the National Park Service,” it said. On its inauguration planning website, the NPS says it works closely with the PIC.

The Washington Post reports that the NPS is just granting Trump’s team the same courtesy as any PIC, allowing the team to plan the inauguration before giving any of the 20 petitioning protest groups permits.

For its part, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund says the NPS is acting unconstitutionally, violating free speech rights of “tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands” of Americans planning to protest around the time of the presidential inauguration. Protest groups accuse the NPS of issuing itself “an omnibus permit” on behalf of the PIC to block mass assembly in areas traditionally reserved for protest.

One notable rally planned for the Lincoln Memorial, the Jan. 21 Women’s March on Washington, may have to find a new locale. Over 135,000 women on Facebook had committed to attending the event in 2017, and news that it would be moved has only attracted more attention.