On August 9, 2010 President Obama came to the University of Texas at Austin to give a talk on the future of higher education. But while he and his adoring public had their little state-worship service in Gregory Gym, protesters outside had quite a time trying to deal with the restrictions put upon their freedom of speech.When I arrived to the scene (coming from the north end of campus), I was dumbfounded that I couldn’t see any demonstrators anywhere. What was going on? As I proceeded south, I finally discovered why: protesters were confined to their special “free speech zone” designated by none other than the Secret Service. Apparently, they get to decide now where people have rights and where they don’t. And since they get to decide, where do you think they would put us? How about as far away as they can? Indeed, the zone was effectively at the end of the entire line, at the fringes.

To get an idea of what this looked like, I created a map to help:

View Antiwar demonstration 08-09-10 in a larger map

Shortly after arriving, I saw a middle-aged woman being taken away in cuffs. I immediately pulled out my FlipCam and started recording. Turns out her name was Stacy Robin Schneider and she was merely collecting signatures for an open letter/petition for TexasEnvironment.org. You may not agree with the group’s position, but for the police to arrest her for this is just stupid.

Just minutes later, I was recording a little video of the line and turned around to find Dan McCarthy interacting with a police officer, trying to move his poster closer to the corner and to the press vans. He was arrested as well, ultimately under the charge of “criminal trespassing” on what I believe was a “public sidewalk.” Here’s the footage, although the sound did not come out well (if somebody wants to caption it, that would be awesome).

This was all KXAN had to say about these arrests:

The media finally paid attention to us, and I was even interviewed at one point (though I cannot find a video online right now). It was quite interesting to see the variety of people present at this demonstration. I met people from the Socialist Worker, from immigration groups, from the Tea Party, and more. And for the most part, we all got along peaceably so that we could protest Obama’s policies, especially the WARS, together.

It was now about 2 p.m. and people were quickly flowing into the building. The back of the line quickly moved past us and thus the free speech zone now held absolutely zero value for the protesters. As the demonstrators began to disperse, I asked them to stick around a little longer while I tried to convince the police officers to allow us to move the “free speech zone” closer to Gregory Gym. So, I found an officer and respectfully made my request. He immediately said no. I asked if there was someone with more authority we could talk to. He called his Sergeant, and the Sergeant said no as well. I asked if I could appeal this even higher. He said there was a Lieutenant on duty, and I asked if I could talk with him. Lieutenant Birdett (I think that was his name) came over and we had another chat, with no positive result. We couldn’t go anywhere else. However, the Lieutenant did reveal something I didn’t know: when the president is around, the Secret service has, quoting the Lieutenant, total control”.

“Really?” I asked him. “Can I get you to say that into the camera?” as I hastily reached into my pocket to pull out the FlipCam again. But no, he wouldn’t give me the satisfaction. Rats!

At this point, I ran into a guy with an insane sign, saying “The Obama Presidency is Christianity in Action!” Read my comments about this guy here.

I left after this because I needed to work more that afternoon, but the action didn’t stop there. Long after the line was gone, more demonstrators were arrested simply for exercising free speech. Antiwar activist Chanda Seymour was arrested for asking “Who designates the free speech zone?” and she wasn’t even asked to leave:

Just minutes later, as I understand, John Bush of Texans for Accountable Government was arrested, even though he even had a press pass (which should have, in theory, afforded him even greater protection). His response to the police’s actions was above reproach and absolutely heroic:

Finally, I recorded a recap video once I got home, so you can see better some of the signs that Dan had brought to the campus and that I made for the demonstration.

Thankfully, all of those arrested were able to go home at midnight on $20 bail.

Dan McCarthy, dragged away in cuffs

Photo credit: KXAN. Many thanks as well to all of those people who recorded the day’s events to put on display to the world.


Dr. Norman Horn

Norman founded LibertarianChristians.com and the Libertarian Christian Institute, and currently serves as its President and Editor-in-Chief. He holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from the Austin Graduate School of Theology. He currently is a Postdoctoral researcher in Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Sean D

    John Bush made a point about how people may see this and things may escalate. I would encourage people to resist the temptation to escalate, and to stick to the same level of reasonable, calm, unthreatening passion, as it makes the arrests look silly (and therefore more serious).

    Eventually people will see the silliness and seriousness of things like this. Before you know it they may actually roll out riot police to march in front of a bunch of old ladies singing God Bless America. Scenes like that, while sad and confusing, will get attention and ultimately play in the favor of the protestors.

  • You make a great point, Sean. The path of non-resistance here seems much more productive.

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  • guest

    Nice work capturing this on video. I applaud Dan as well. “Welcome to the Fascist Police State!” – I think that summed it up pretty well.

  • Jritchiejr

    Being a Freedom/Smokers Rights Advocate several years ago (in the 1980’s and 1990’s), we encountered the exact same circumstances inflicted on members of our group. We were forceably removed from an Astro’s game at Reliant (the say public when convenient, private when not – but is a joint enterprise between city government and elite private investors). One member had his face slammed onto the concrete floor at a mall and was hauled away to spend the night in jail. In both instances but were places open to the public but the threat was criminal trespass. No charges were filled.

  • Chanda SEYMOUR. and the first lady arrested for the water bottles, her name is Robin Schneider. (not Chanda Panda and Stacy)

  • Yeah, I found this out a bit late, and forgot to change it on this blog
    post. Thanks for the heads up!

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  • Winston Smith

    Just a question… Why don’t “We the People” refuse to protest in the “Free Speech” zone?

    Make them work for their money. Make them arrest a few hundred people instead of just a few. Do not comply! The Constitutional clause does not contain exceptions, “Freedom of speech, but only in a “Free Speech” zone… If hundreds or thousands were arrested, they couldn’t hide the fact that “The People” no longer have the right to “Freedom of Speech”…