Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Dispatch from Times Square: The Free Speech Unit Reminds You that Public Space is for the People: Use it or Use it.

Holly Van Voast -

Times Square and its public spaces are vital to the streets of New York.  They help us define this space  in much the same way  the Prague’s Wenceslas Square, Paris’ Champs Elyssee, Venice’s Piazza San Marco, Barcelona’ Las Ramblas, Miami’s beaches seem to embody these cities.  Indeed, great public spaces help bring people together, acting as incubators for   ideas, community engagement, reforms, revolutions, culture, activism and new ways of looking at social problems.  Times Square has always been a place where people gather, high culture intersects with the low, stories grow, and reform movements take shape.

Yet, in August of this year, Police Chief William declared he hoped to tear up the pedestrian plaza in Times Square.  Even as he’s backed off on the idea, he’s endorsed a new model of policing the area, leaving public space advocates to wonder: is this going to be policed space or public space?  Is this a space for free speech or a speech free zone?

These spaces benefit urban spaces culturally, economically, and socially. 

Yet, today, they are under attack, with the police and the mayor calling for new forms of policing to control the space, to corral off access to the space, and curtail expressive first amendment expression.  

Topless rights:
‘I didn’t expose myself – I exposed everybody else’ explained performance artist Holly Van Voast after successfully litigating against the New York Police Department (NYPD) for arresting her for walking around public spaces of New York topless.1 On one occasion, she was busted for strolling in front of Hooter’s topless, wearing a mustache and a Marilyn Monroe wig during the 20th anniversary of the New York Court of Appeals decision which found women have the same right to stroll topless in public space in New York as men do. ‘After experiencing a number of busts, we are pleased to announce that Holly Van Voast has received compensation’, noted her lawyer. ‘The policy of the NYPD has been changed as a result of Van Voast’s experiences, and now the NYPD has been properly instructed as to the proper handling of bare breasts.’

Yet, today we have to wonder if the NYPD really does know how to handle bare breasts.

After all the courts have spoken.  TOPLESSNESS is LEGAL, and morals have no place there. 

What are we concerned about?
Access to public space.  Even if the mayor is no longer considering doing away with the pedestrian plazas of Times Square, the threat to this space is very real.  Today, the Mayor begins a new round of policing Times Square for "Quality of Life" just as Giuliani once did.  Have Giuliani era crack downs on the first amendment begun anew?

The "Times Square Unit" is modeled on the city's Neighborhood Policing model. Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to hire an additional 1,300 police officers for the community policing effort, beginning in October.  With all the police coming to the space, will there be room to speak, talk, protest, or enjoy first amendment protections? 

The Free Speech Unit reminds you public space is for the people.  Just like no one can be kindov pregnant, we do not kindov have First Amendment Rights. We full have First Amendment Rights. Take advantage of it and remind the world Times Square is a place where stories start.  Be part of one.

We'll be at Times Square on October 1 at 11 AM at TKTS steps at Broadway between 46th and 47th.  Join us!

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