STATEMENT BY THE TRUST FOR PUBLIC LAND ON PROTESTS IN PUBLIC PARKS

June 2, 2020

The Trust for Public Land today released the following statement:

“Our country's parks and public spaces are sacred places for community expression, and have a long and proud history of being catalysts for progress. I am horrified to see violence being inflicted on people who are peacefully protesting in parks across the country,” said Diane Regas, President and CEO of The Trust for Public Land. “For generations, places like Lafayette Square in the nation’s capital have served as our country's public forums where Americans can peacefully gather, celebrate, protest, and mourn. From the Women’s Suffrage Movement, to the Civil Rights Movement, to the anti-war protests throughout our history, public commons are integral to democracy, and we stand with those who choose to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights. Parks are spaces for everyone – for democracy, for gathering, for enjoyment and expressing ourselves. We call on the Trump Administration, as well as state and local governments and police departments, to uphold these rights and allow those demonstrating peacefully to continue to gather safely in our public spaces.” 

Lafayette Square, other parks in Washington, DC, and other cities:

Lafayette Square, across the street from the White House in Washington, DC, has been used for everything from an encampment for soldiers, the site of duels and the longest running anti-war protest in U. S. history, as well as a slave market and a zoo. But Lafayette Square, like other popular monuments and parks operated by the National Park Service, has always served as a site for public protests and demonstrations, allowing citizens to register their concerns in a very visible way in front of one of the big symbols of national power, the home and office of the President of the United States.

This right, known as the First Amendment, is enshrined in the Bill of Rights which states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Think of the Women's Suffrage movement of 1916-17 using the back drop of the White House to push the campaign to ratify the 19th amendment. Think of the March on Washington, culminating in Martin Luther King’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial or Richard Nixon, President, speaking with protesters in the middle of the night there. Think of rallies against wars or on many Earth Days which used Lafayette Square, the Ellipse, or other parks and monuments or the more recent first Women’s’ March the day after the inauguration in 2017. Other sites that were the focus of protest against laws deemed unfair, from bus stations in southern cities where Freedom Riders were attacked for simply trying to integrate interstate buses to the Stonewall Inn in NYC where the LBGTQ movement came of age are those that have become parks and monuments now under the care of the National Park Service.

Since 1933, the National Park Service has had administrative responsibility for Lafayette Square and adjoining “president’s park” surrounding the White House, this was encoded into legislation dated 9/22/1961, creating an NPS park unit. Included in the permitted uses in numerous reports, including the 2014 study and analysis of the White House and President’s Park is the role of Lafayette Park as open public space for both passive activities as well First Amendment activities.  As noted in the 2014 report, “Special events and First Amendment activities all take on a greater relevancy and sense of excitement in the shadow of the White House.”

As a result, Lafayette Square as well as numerous other National Park Service sites in Washington, DC, as well as other cities have served as places to gather and protest peacefully for hundreds of years.  Lafayette Square has served as the site for the Women’s Suffrage movement (1917), which used the location across from the White House as a very visible and focused effort to draw attention to their campaign, the first to do so.  Following the success of the adoption and ratification of the 19th amendment by a majority of states, numerous anti-war protests (WWI, WW2, Korean, Vietnam, Gulf Wars, Iraq, Afghanistan) Environmental protests (such as Earth Day in 1970 and in subsequent years) and other protests followed to the present day. 

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