Fight for civil liberties at Baywalk, St. Petersburg
in the lead up to the Iraq war, St. Pete for Peace began protesting on
the public sidewalk in front of the Baywalk shopping mall in downtown
St. Petersburg, FL. Every Saturday night for about three years, a
group of 15 to 200 people peacefully demonstrated, handed out leaflets
and engaged in conversations in an attempt to raise awareness about
U.S. foreign policy. The Uhuru Movement also protested regularly
at Baywalk during this time.
the management of Baywalk attempted to convince city officials that
protesters were creating a safety hazard and the sidewalk should be
privatized, thus preventing demonstrations from occurring. (It
should be noted that Baywalk's owner, Mel Sembler, was a prominent
supporter of George W. Bush and was once a U.S. ambassador to
Italy.) But a wide contingent of groups and individuals fought
back and the bid to stop protests was rebuffed.
Baywalk again tried to stifle 1st Amendment rights and make protesting
in front of their mall illegal. The crackdown intensified as
barricades were erected and a heavy police presence attempted to
intimidate protesters. A woman was arrested for honking her car horn in
support of the protests and another for playing drums. But the
heavy-handed tactics backfired and the protests at Baywalk grew in
numbers and energy. When police arrested six St. Pete for
Peace protesters, including three teenagers, subsequent protests saw
their largest numbers and most intense passion, thus forcing the city and Baywalk to once again withdraw attempts to stop protests.
protests at Baywalk had been reduced to the occasional Saturday evening
due to the fact that Baywalk had begun to struggle and was experiencing
a sharp reduction in the number of shoppers. In fact, Baywalk had a new
owner and shuffled through five property managers in a short period of
time. St. Pete for Peace concluded that its energies would be
better spent in other locations. But the new owners, who were
trying to flip the property, felt it was important to privatize the
sidewalk, so once again, an attempt was made to make protesting
illegal. By this time, so few people protested at Baywalk that it was
clear the real targets of the Baywalk ownership were young people,
particularly black youth, who were being blamed for "loitering" and
scaring people away from Baywalk. (What
was also being conveniently ignored was that the U.S. economy was in
its biggest tailspin since the Depression and more than 400 of the 2,000 largest malls in the U.S. had already closed.)
Desperate city officials, business members and media outlets
(particularly the editorial board of the St. Petersburg Times) launched
a fact-denying propaganda campaign to privatize the sidewalk in front
of Baywalk, but local protest groups countered with a focused,
coordinated counter-campaign and won an against-the-odds vote in city council, thus maintaining the right to demonstrate.
After the winning vote, in a good faith effort, St. Pete for Peace
announced that it would not protest in front of Baywalk for at least 12
months, thus defusing the situation in an attempt to help bring the
city together. But city officials undermined this good faith
effort (and democracy) and decided to re-vote on the issue.
Baywalk's owners at the time, an out-of-state company named CW
Capital, pushed city council members and eventually got to one of them,
Herb Polson (a U.S. veteran who took a vow to the
Constitution), to flip-flop and vote for the privatization of the
sidewalk. In the aftermath of the announcement in the chambers of
City Hall, the brother of Bill Dudley, one of the council members who
voted to stop free speech, attacked a protester by grabbing his neck. But not all protesters are pacifists and this one stood his ground and took the attacker to the ground.
Regardless of the vote, St. Pete for Peace immediately descended upon
Baywalk and protested in front of the shopping mall with
demonstrations, radical cheerleading, flash mobs and more.
Eventually the protests stopped because there were so few people
going to shop at Baywalk it was not an efficient use of time. The
point had been made, and shortly thereafter, Baywalk went into
foreclosure and was put up for sale.
As of 2013,
Baywalk, which has a new owner, is still struggling and not worth
having protests in front of. But to this day, St. Pete for Peace
and others have maintained their right to protest in public space, and
should the time come where it's worthwhile, protests at Baywalk could
begin again. And as promised, all the city council members, city
officials and business community members who hold the Constitution in
contempt will be subjected to protests in front of their houses if
protests in front of Baywalk are not allowed.
Here are some photos, videos and notations from the struggle for free speech at Baywalk
City Official's Racially Charged Remarks About Baywalk-
It has been glaringly apparent from the beginning of the proposal to
privatize the sidewalk in front of Baywalk that the city of St.
Petersburg is targeting people based on their political affiliation and
expression. What has been less obvious, but surely more insidious, is
how race also plays a factor in the situation.
Radical cheerleaders descend upon Baywalk to defend free speech!(watch)
Watch councilmember Jeff Danner dodge the truth.
This encounter took place outside of city council chambers last
Thursday following the Committee of the Whole meeting in which
activists were not allowed to speak. (Read Chris Hrabovsky's article). This video was captured by Leonard Schmiege, Danner's opponent in the upcoming election.
Watch ACLU's Glenn Katon at city council (YouTube)
Article removed from SP Times website: This article
by Cristina Silva exposed the city's fraudulent pledge to talk to
protesters. It appeared in the St. Pete Times printed version on
Oct. 15, the day the city council voted to vacate the sidewalk, but the online version has since been removed.
Sidewalk Liberation Army descended upon Baywalk on Saturday, August
22nd to defend people's rights to freedom of assembly and speech. Watch the YouTube video here
Another Attempt to Stifle Free Speech:
Council chairperson Jeff Danner is requesting city council draft an ordinance regulating the use of bullhorns in public (read).
This contradicts city officials' claims that people's 1st amendment
rights would be upheld if they just went on the south side of 2nd Ave.
Baywalk customer assaults 2 protesters
Read Howard Troxler's "You can buy a hot dog at night in St. Petersburg now, but be careful where you speak your mind".
Listento Mike Malloy's coverage of Baywalk arrests on Air America Radio
What people on the street said about the city's attempt to stop protests at Baywalk (watch)
Previous unsuccessful attempts to stop our protests at Baywalk also occurred in 2004 and 2005
Aug. 6, 2005 - Six protesters arrested at Baywalk
Howard Troxler: Careful with that public sidewalk — you might want it yourself some day (read).
Presentations to the Development Review Commission
Limited free speech is not free speech
Civil rights are not bad for the economy
The $6 million question
Public opinion & Democracy
Protesters are not a security issue
City Attorney tells Commission to disregard 1st Amendment
The city of St.
Petersburg is on a roll! In the same week St. Petersburg was
ranked the 2nd meanest city toward the homeless (read), the city is (once again!) trying to strip the rights of people to demonstrate in front of Baywalk.
"Analysis shows St. Pete taxpayers are BayWalk's biggest investors" (read).
Barricades Down, but Harassment Continues
Uhurus campaign against city's plan to bolster BayWalk, privatize sidewalks.
According to this article
in the St. Pete Times, council member Karl Nurse voted to privatize the
sidewalk as a return favor to Mayor Rick Baker: "For instance, Nurse
got Baker to sign off on a series of energy efficiency projects.... In
return, Nurse supported Baker's plans to privatize the public sidewalk
fronting the BayWalk complex and annex the northern edge of Tierra
Verde, two wildly controversial measures."
St. Petersburg City Attorney John Wolfe says the First Amendment is "irrelevant". We disagree. Wolfe
told a commission that cutting off people’s ability to protest is
“not relevant to your decision”. Mr. Wolfe
essentially told the commission that First Amendment rights were not to
be taken into account when placing their vote on the sidewalk
issue. The public was not allowed to question Mr. Wolfe’s
Council member Jim Kennedy said Mayor Rick Baker or his staff regularly
conduct private meetings with City Council members to discuss upcoming
business items before public meetings. Baker is "smart enough" to
ensure his ideas will likely receive a majority of the City Council's
votes before they come up for vote, Kennedy said. "I don't know
if I really buy the concept that protesters and free speech
demonstrators are responsible for the demise of BayWalk," he said.(More)
Baywalk's owners (CW
Capital) told the city council that if they don't give them the public
sidewalk, CW Capital won't go through with plans to invest up to $6
million dollars into the shopping mall.
One of the reasons being given for privatizing the
sidewalk is that protesters are a public safety hazard. Yet, over
the 6 years we've protested at Baywalk, there has never been a single
incident in which a protester at Baywalk physically harmed
anybody. Conversely, there have been numerous occasions when the
opposite has been the case:
A protester was punched in the face by a drunk Baywalk customer.
A female protester was beat up by a Baywalk patron who didn't like the protester's message.
Drinks have been poured onto protesters from Baywalk's drinking establishments.
A number of protesters have been pelted with ice thrown by Baywalk customers.
A glass was thrown at protesters from someone at a Baywalk bar.
A person leaving Baywalk violently shoved a protester twice.
On multiple occasions, protesters' signs have been destroyed by Baywalk patrons.
We all know that protesters at Baywalk aren't a public
safety hazard. That's just a ruse. At the heart of this is
the notion that young, black people scare white people away from going
to Baywalk. Officials understand they can't say this out loud,
but if the city is going to snub its nose at the Constitution, they
should at least be honest about their reasons why.
Baywalk owner Bill Edwards' company levied an FTC record $7.5 million
fine for 'do not call' violations; Edwards' company accused of trying
to dupe U.S. veterans and active service members into home loans (read).
Former mayor Rick Baker -- who pushed for the public sidewalk in front
of BayWalk to be off limits to protesters, and ordered the slashing of
homeless peoples' tents -- will leave his high paying job at USF to run
Bill Edwards enterprises, including BayWalk (read).
This is good news on two fronts: 1) Taxpayers will no longer be
paying Baker $250,000 a year; and 2) The reinvention of Baywalk is now
more likely to fail with Baker at the helm because he believes young
black people and free speech are bad for business.
Baywalk's new owner takes taxpayer money to fund projects, despite saying otherwise (read).
Baywalk's new owner, Bill Edwards donates $5,000 to St. Petersburg City
Council candidate (and Republican) Bob Kersteen's campaign (read).
(Note: Under campaign contribution rules, any individual or corporation
can give up to $500 to a council candidate per election. Edwards
contributed the money through 10 separate companies.)
ACLU letter to St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster regarding the Baywalk sidewalk (read).
St. Petersburg's BayWalk slapped with code violations (read).
St. Petersburg's BayWalk: the true cost of a ghost town (read).
One year after a controversial vote, BayWalk is more vacant than ever (watch, read).
When asked if there's anything he'd do differently, council member Herb
Polson, who cast the deciding vote last year said, "I would like an
opportunity to do it again."
The BayWalk Gazette, all the news that's fit for satire (read)
Nov. 2009 In addition to passing an ordinance
last month banning protests in front of Baywalk, the city of St.
Pete and Baywalk's management last week announced a plan to
stop protests on the OTHER side of 2nd Ave N as well (read). Even though they are just now saying it aloud, it was part of their plan all along. It's right here
on page 8 of the Baywalk Revitalization Plan, which was made
public in July, and we brought it to their attention during the City
Council meetings. How can council member Karl Nurse now say
"That's news to me," when asked about the new proposal to prevent
protests on another public sidewalk? Nurse, Mayor Baker, council
member Polson and others rationalized their approval of the
sidewalk giveaway by saying protesters rights were maintained because
they could still protest across the street.