Obama PIC removes unemployed speak-out at Freedom Plaza

NPS/Presidential Inaugural Committee revokes ANSWER Coalition permit for unemployed speak-out

At the direction of the Obama Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) the National Park Service has revoked the permit of the ANSWER Coalition to hold a large scale Speak-out of America’s Unemployed for Jobs and Justice in Freedom Plaza during the Inauguration Day events on January 21, 2013.

The historical irony of the decision to evict a rally of the unemployed from Freedom Plaza (named in honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) on January 21(the day honoring Dr. King’s birth) is hard to overstate. Exactly five years to the day (January 21, 2008) then-candidate Barack Obama said in response to a question at a candidate’s debate in South Carolina about whom Martin Luther King, Jr. would have endorsed if he were still alive, “Well, I don't think Dr. King would endorse any of us. I think what he would call upon the American people to do is to hold us accountable, … I believe change does not happen from the top down. It happens from the bottom up. Dr. King understood that … mobilizing, agitating, and ultimately forcing elected officials to be accountable, I think that's the key.”

Freedom Plaza, so named because Dr. Martin Luther Jr. penned his famous 1963, “I Have a Dream” speech in the hotel across the street is uniquely configured to facilitate free speech and expressive activities.

Brian Becker, National Coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition stated today, “we are going forward with the January 21 action at Freedom Plaza that will demand a massive jobs program, a moratorium of home foreclosures and a cancellation of student debt to the banks that caused the economic crisis which plunged millions into poverty.”


The NPS acknowledged the ANSWER Coalition had the first-in-time permit application for Freedom Plaza, a space it shared with the Obama PIC during the 2009 Inauguration. At the 2009 Inauguration the ANSWER Coalition’s bleachers in Freedom Plaza were filled with unemployed people, foreclosed homeowners, students saddled with staggering loan debt and unionists – sectors of society who had taken the brunt of the economic crisis caused by the biggest Wall Street banks who were subsequently bailed out with tax payers money by Congress. They held signs calling on the incoming Administration to provide emergency relief for millions of negatively affected working families.

The Obama PIC waited until December 31, 2012 before informing the ANSWER Coalition that it had decided to use provisions in a new 2010 regulation promulgated by the NPS that gave the PIC the discretion to replace first-in-time permit applicants who had sought to use Freedom Plaza for free speech protected-activity on the Inauguration Day. The 2010 regulations, for the first time in Inaugural history, give priority usage discretion to the incoming PIC for the use of Freedom Plaza. 

The NPS had informed the ANSWER Coalition, both in writing and in meetings at the NPS offices, that ANSWER’s use of Freedom Plaza for the Speak-out of America’s Unemployed could proceed unless the PIC decided to supplant the Speak-out for its own use.

Unlike 2009, the Obama Administration is seeking and accepting large donations from corporations and banks for the 2013 Inaugural events. Corporate and bank financing of the 2012 elections set all-time records.

In a letter to the ANSWER Coalition on December 31, 2012, the Obama PIC’s executive director David Cusack wrote, “PIC intends to use the entire portion of priority space allocated to it in Freedom Plaza.” The letter came eleven days after in-person meeting between the PIC and the ANSWER Coalition in Washington D.C.

Brian Becker, National Coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition, wrote back to the PIC’s Executive Director, calling on President Obama and the PIC to overturn this decision to try to make the organized presence of the unemployed invisible on Inauguration Day while giving priority to the corporations and bankers who made them unemployed.

“They [the unemployed] do not have the $250,000 per person or $1,000,000 per corporation that the Obama PIC is collecting for access to Inaugural activities, including two bleachers seats for the parade. They do not have the millions of dollars that the funders of President Obama’s election campaign bundled. They have been laid off or fired by the corporations from whom you are raising tens of millions of dollars at the Inauguration.” (letter from Brian Becker to David Cusack, Executive Director of the 2013 Inauguration)

The ANSWER Coalition is proceeding with its plans to have a strong, visible demonstration at Freedom Plaza to demand a massive jobs program for the unemployed, a moratorium of home foreclosures and a cancellation of student debt to the banks which is now over $1 trillion.

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