Hot on the heels of my criticism of Fremont Street's gauntlet of runaway street kids, the city has proposed an ordinance aimed at containing this problem and other problems (such as soliciting) under the Fremont Street canopy.
As it currently stands, the proposal calls for the establishment of two "Free Speech Zones", "Free Expression Zones", or "Solicitation Zones" (I don't believe they have an official name yet). Each of these zones will be 12 feet wide by 100 feet long and they will be located along the Third Street Promenade, across from the main Third Street Stage.
If this happens, those who have commercial permits to operate under the Fremont Street Canopy will be allowed to hawk their wares at their assigned spots, while those who don't would be relegated to one of these designated "zones".
As you can imagine, this proposal is extremely divisive, and the ACLU has already vowed to defeat it, should it be passed.
Personally, I support the proposal.
As one of the world's largest advocates of free speech, most people are suprised by the fact that I do not support the rights of panhandlers and porn slappers. They find my position somewhat hypocritical. These people fail, however, to see the difference between what I do, and what panhandlers and solicitors do.
For the most part, I say whatever I want ... but I do so on my own virtual property or the virtual property of my sponsors. I do not cold-call people and ask them to read my blog. I do not go door-to-door and hand out fliers with my URL emblazoned across the front. I do not scream through a bullhorn and solicit passersby to come to my sites. I don't SPAM anyone's email box or cellphone.
Instead, I post my messages in places that are easy to find, and I allow each individual user to decide when or if they wish to read those messages. If they decide to read them, great, if not, great. I honestly don't care. I mean, I'm sure my sponsors care, but it's not something I can allow myself to think about during the actual authoring process. I've always written as if I have an audience of one person, and that one person is my subconscious playing devil's advocate to what I am writing. In my head, while I am writing, my super-ego is my only "reader", and he's pretty harsh.
"Gee Rex, you couldn't go one post without bringing me up could you, you self-indulgent prick? You'd probably suck your own dick if you didn't have such a strong gag reflex."
You know, self, I'm getting kind of sick of your negativity. If you don't like what I write then stop reading it.
In order to read what I write, people have to affirmatively type my URL into their web browser, click a link, or use a bookmark. Some people find my writing offensive or distasteful, but the decision to "hear" my words are entirely within the control of the reader. If they don't want to read my stuff, they can go away, content with the knowledge that I'm not going to harass them into changing their mind.
This, above all else, is the type of free speech that I wholeheartedly support. The "opt-in" type. I support my right to post messages on my property, I support your right to read my messages, and I support your right NOT to read my messages. My messages are posted on private property, and I do not interfere with anyone's life when I post them. In situations where people solicit on public property, I do feel that the right of people to be left alone must also be defended to some reasonable extent.
"But Rex, there are laws protecting free speech. There are no laws protecting your fictitious right to be left alone."
Well, yes and no.
Almost every form of free speech has "time and place" restrictions. This is why it is illegal for telemarkers to call you at midnight. It is the reason that people cannot stand on the public street in front of your house and scream advertisements through a bullhorn into your bedroom window. Such restrictions on their speech are well-established and are quite legal. Also, there absolutely are laws against obstructing pedestrian flow, harassment, and disturbing the peace. In addition, public property is just that. Public.
I don't think public property should be completely open to commercial interests without just compensation to the public at large. Since everyone pays for the land, any profit made on that land should be distributed equally among the owners (everyone).
The porn slappers on Las Vegas Boulevard have illustrated just what can happen when you give people the right to use the public sidewalks as their de-facto storefronts. The concrete becomes an endless shopping mall kiosk, and people who just want to walk from point A to point B do not receive an equal benefit from the publicly-owned space.
This is why the solicitation zones seem somewhat reasonable to me.
If Fremont Street were to set up these zones, then any member of the public who wanted a flyer would be free to walk over to the zone and take one, and anyone who wanted to be converted to Christianity could do the same. If you're not willing to walk an extra block for the Lord, then I really have to question your commitment to the faith.
"But Rex, this is a slippery slope. What if Fremont Street starts moving people who are critical of O'Drama, people who complain about 6:5 Blackjack, or people who are the wrong color."
I understand this argument, and it is why I have difficulty fully endorsing the concept of the Free Expression Zone. I mean, just as easily as they banish panhandlers to the leper colony, they could also ban picture-taking bloggers to the same area. If we support the oppression of those whom we don't like, it is only a matter of time before we become the oppressed.
I get this, I really do, but public spaces must be equally enjoyable by all classes of the public. I do not think it is fair to a family from Minnesota to feel threatened or unnerved by panhandlers while they are on vacation. There simply has to be a grey area where reason and common-sense are used to apply to the realities of the specific situations. Fremont Street cannot continue to be the toilet paper upon which every human spammer in the city decides to wipe their ass. The interests of everyone else should be respected as well.
In any event, the ordinance is scheduled to go before a City Council Committee on August 3rd, at which point the council will decide whether or not it can proceed.
I'm still not sure whether or not I will support it, but I do know one thing:
The status-quo on the Fremont Street Experience is not sustainable.