Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Where have all the hippies gone?

If you went to San Francisco with flowers in your hair; if one pill made you smaller and one pill made you tall, and the ones that mother gave you didn't do anything at all; if you tuned in, turned on, and dropped out; then you might have prepared yourself for a life on the rotating protest circuit 40 years later.

One day might find you at the Lake St. bridge in Minneapolis,

Another day might find you protesting the Bush "regime" at the Minnesota State Capitol,

Or you might find yourself at the granddaddy of all Twin Cities protests, the weekly gathering at Alliance Techsystems (ATK, a space and defense systems manufacturer), where you hang out with your fellow hippies, shout a few slogans, try to get arrested, have coffee then go home and try to figure out what to do with the rest of your day,

They've been doing this for years.

ATK (and everyone else) has essentially ignored the weekly gathering. They have been nothing more than a harmless nuisance. Today, the Red Star reports a change in policy , "Edina: Weapons protesters get a break they don't want".

The protesters at Alliant Techsystems say an Edina ordinance stifles their dissent. The city says it's only trying to save money and streamline the courts.
The hippies' goal is to get arrested, but it's been difficult,because it's too much bother. Typically they're just cited and released.

Now the trespassing charges are being lowered to petty misdemeanors.

At first glance, the ordinance might seem favorable to the AlliantAction protesters, who have been showing up regularly for almost a decade.

There's no jury trial. And no jail time, often considered a badge of honor among some protesters. Instead, they face small fines or dismissals.

But from an activist's perspective, the ordinance seems to be an attempt to rob them of a forum -- the opportunity to add to the public record that a jury trial provides -- to protest the weapons made at Alliant Techsystems, known as ATK. Under the new ordinance, protesters, who sometimes act as their own lawyers, don't present their case to jurors, who sometimes have been sympathetic in the past. Instead, they only go before a judge, who is likelier to more strictly interpret the law.
Sorry, no more public legal forum for the protestors. A favorable change in the law has pushed them further into obscurity.

Christopher Renz, Edina's city attorney, said the ordinance is legal, reduces court costs and makes the penalty more fitting to what he said is a "victimless" crime. The ordinance wasn't intended to be secretive or vindictive, he said.

The reaction from protesters surprises him.

"I've never come across a defendant displeased about the lowering of the offense level," Renz said.
Where will all the hippies go?