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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Musikfest Yellow Shirts Crack Down on Obama Registration Efforts

Both The Morning Call and Express Times tell us that Musikfest organizers are upset that Obama campaigners are straying from the ''Freedom of Expression Platz'' that everyone in his right mind tries to avoid. Twice, the Yellow Shirts have had to ask Obamaphiles to stop soliciting support on festival grounds. Some festgoers have apparently complained that all this campaigning interferes with their right to get drunk, pig out and spend money. That right trumps the First Amendment at Musikfest.

According to Bethlehem Attorney Don Miles, Musikfest organizers have actually tried to eject Obama campaign. Here's his report.
Contrary to the statement of Musikfest spokesperson Kim Pyler, Jeff Parks' minions did NOT say that Obama's folks had "every right to be there" at their voter registration table on the sidewalk in front of the Obama for President office on Main St. The Obama voter registration volunteers were several times confronted by yellow-shirted Musikfest staff earlier this week and told to close down their table or they'd call the City to enforce "Musikfest's rights".

I was contacted by Obama volunteer staffers (I'm an Obama volunteer -- although I haven't volunteered at their office -- and they knew I was a lawyer) and asked if I thought they were violating any laws. Having recently researched the issue of whether a tenant of a store fronting on the Main St. sidewalk had a right, despite Musikfest's "renting" of Main St., to conduct sales of its own on the sidewalk in front of its store, I told them the answer:

Musikfest's "Use Permit" with the City of Bethlehem for its use of Main St. states (paragraph 5) that Musikfest will "not restrict" the use of the public sidewalk outside a storefront. Further, my research -- confirmed to me by City officials -- showed that the "right-of-way" that Musikfest "rents" along Main St. consists of the street itself and the five feet of the sidewalk beginning at the curb -- the public right-of-way (and thus Musikfest's domain) does NOT extend to the rest of the Main St. sidewalk beyond five feet from the curb (most of Main St.'s sidewalk is about 15 feet wide).

By the way, interestingly: most of Musikfest's vendor booths along Main St. extend well past the five-feet-from-the-curb right-of-way line -- meaning most of them are in violation of Musikfest's City permit to use Main St. :-)

This means that any Main St. tenant (like Obama for President) or owner can do whatever they want on the sidewalk outside Musikfest's five-foot-wide realm. I told the Obama folks that they had complete freedom to do voter registration or political campaigning on their own portion of the Main St. sidewalk and if Jeff Parks' minions threatened them again to tell them to call city officials, who knew the true legal situation (when during research on this issue I asked one city official, "Are you really going to arrest citizens for conducting voter registraion on Main Street", he said, "Of course not").

I also advised the Obama folks that they would be wise to comply with Musikfest's demand that they not do political activity on the street itself, since the City supported Musikfest's claimed rights in that regard, and the Obama folks said they would. (However, my own legal opinion -- agreed to "off-the-record" by an involved City official -- is that Musikfest actually has no legal right to ban political activity even on Main Street itself: I don't believe a federal judge would find it lawful for the City to take my right to hand out political leaflets on Main St. 51 weeks a year but sell my right to Jeff Parks for one week during Musikfest. But I suggested to Obama's folks that they didn't want the animosity or monetary costs such a federal suit would entail and that it would be more sensible to just confine their voter registration and political activities to their own portion of the sidewalk outside Musikfest's five-feet adjacent to the curb.)

I know Obama's campaign has no wish to create any controversy or animosity with the City or with Musikfest and was merely trying to register voters and promote their candidate peacefully.

When Parks heard about Obama's volunteers' reliance on their legal rights yesterday, he caused the press release to be issue which was quoted in the M. Call and Express-Times today, trying to make it sound as if Musikfest had all along consented to the Obama folks voter registration table set up outside Musikfest's five-feet of sidewalk. In fact, they had done no such thing, until the City confirmed to them that they had no jurisdiction outside the five-foot line.

Musikfest's attempt to confine our First Amendment rights to a ghetto they call "Freedom of Expression Platz" would be laughable if it were not so draconian. The White House frequently sets up "free speech areas" blocks away from wherever Bush or Cheney are going to publicly speak, to insure that no real protesters ever get within eye- or ear-shot of our esteemed leaders -- thereby violating the First Amendment on a regular basis.

Apparently Jeff Parks (a Lehigh U. classmate of mine :-) is under the delusion that he is entitled to exercise Presidential powers along our Main Street here in Bethlehem.


Anonymous said...

This is very reminiscent to what happened at Musicfest in 1996. They were giving Bob Kilbanks a hard time for passing out campaign logo balloons to kids. The campaign consulted a lawyer and continued to hand out the balloons.

I was involved in the College Republicans at the time, and we were were making fun of Paul McHale with a giant Pac-Man costume. Musicfest had us kicked out and threatened to have us arrested if Pac-Man returned. We consulted with an attorney and decided it was time for a publicity stunt. This time, we notified the media, who were on hand to see the spectacle. Unfortunately the Musicfest people backed down, and I did not get to get arrested wearing a giant Pac-Man costume.

Anonymous said...

I also remember the 1996 Pac Man incident. What's significant is that Musikfest did indeed back down. They either didn't learn from their mistake, or they're just trying to see what they can get away with. As far as not wanting people to be pestered on the street, they never mind us being pestered by the time-share hawkers, insurance salesmen and other merchants.

Anonymous said...

I agree that these volunteers have a first amendment right to promote their candidate at Musikfest. It is interesting that the Pew research center poll indicates that 48% of Americans are tired of hearing about Obama, and having to hear about him when all you want to do is have a beer and listen to music might really backfire on these campaigners.....at least I hope so

Anonymous said...

Amen to that!!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Uncle Grinny,

I'm inclined to agree with you. People should have the right. But when they exercise it in settings like that, they often hurt the causes they advocate.

Tom Foolery said...

If 48% of Americans are tired of hearing about Barack Obama, could you imagine how tired they are hearing about McCain who is losing in every poll out there. The Obama people are renting the property and are free to campaign there if they like. If they are registering people that is a good thing. Hopefully they follow up and get them to vote..

Chris Miller said...

I had the pleasure of working on the Kilbanks campaign and not only did we consult a lawyer we invited Mr. Parks, still have no use for him, to a meeting and explained the First Amendment. He was not a happy man. I had the feeling that he wanted to grow a mustache and put on Jackboots. What a bum.
Politicians have been pressing the flesh at the Fest for years. Let Obama and McCain get out there to rally the voters.

Anonymous said...

I'm with grinny. You absolutely have the right to bother me while I'm downing overpriced beer or waiting to recycle at Urine Platz. If you do so, however, you have absolutely lost my vote for disturbing me where I've gone to escape you and have some overpriced fun.

Anonymous said...

I am totally against ANY politician or political organization campaigning at an event such as Musikfest. We go there to escape this aggravating nonsense and enjoy a good time out with our families. Politics is polarizing. It has no place in an event designed to unite the community under our universal love of music!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like another media monopoly Obama is capitalizing on. It seems like the real problem is what we AREN'T hearing. What about the other campaigners following the rules and not getting their message out?


Anonymous said...

I'm from the OTHER campaign and, while I have no problem pushing my first amendment rights, I think that there are times when one just might want to be sensible about what will work. The free speech right also allows one to decide that pushing the envelope will probably do more harm than good. There are any number of creative ways to have your voice heard. Confronting people who have beer in their hand might not be the best policy.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Lady Rep, Well said. We have a constiutional right to be assholes. Obamaphiles are probably hurting their candidate.

Blah Society said...

I remember back in 1999-2000 at Musikfest that many religious folks would hand out flyers and small booklets while literally trying to convert people to their choice of religion.

Is this still a problem, or is that deemed ok because it's religion and not politics? Personally, I'd rather have someone talk to me about their choice of candidate instead of suggesting to me that I'm going to hell if I don't join their cult.

Anonymous said...

The Obamaphiles went well beyond handing out balloons. THey were soliciting voters at many Platzes. The McCain camp had asked about a booth and were told that it was a strictly non politcal event. No Tent, No solicitng. If The McCain people did any soliciting they would be ejected from Musikfest, So they refrained. The Obamphiles were soliciting all over musikfest and there had been many complaints about them harrassing people . It seems that what is fair is fair, and if Musikfest cannot make any rules lest they infringe on people's rights, then we are opening it up to any sort of anarchy people may wish to visit upon Bethlehem

Let's face it the Obamphiles were told Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights to stop circulating in the crowd and to keep it at their office or at freedom of information platz and they did not do that.

THey broke the rules, if the McCain camp had been censured, I am sure the bloggers would be cheering the actions of Musikfest.

PEOPLE COMPLAINED and the rules were broken. You can try to spin it until the words fly off the page. They were wrong!

Bernie O'Hare said...

But AJ, you are going to hell unless you join my cult by Sunday.

Anonymous said...

Is this blog post about Barack "I am more important than America" Hussein Obama?

Blah Society said...

^ Lame! ^

donmiles said...

The Obama folks stopped campaigning in the street when asked by the Yellow Shirts. The Obama campaigners have no interest in annoying the City, Musikfest officials, or the public.

But they have every legal right to do voter registration at the table on the sidewalk in front of their Main St. office, as even Musikfest has now reluctantly acknowledged. Don't you need to register new voters where people congregate ? Are there people against voter registration as they walk down the Main St. sidewalk ? Perhaps they should speak to some North Koreans about it . . .

If the McCain campaign wanted to do voter registration on Main St., perhaps they should have rented one of the available empty offices there, instead of putting their office at low-pedestrian-traffic Westgate Mall ?

Anonymous said...

Re: ^lame^

You've probably read in some history book somewhere about another aspiring leader who introduced a new symbol to identify his campaign. He also kept the national colors. This person also preached change too and was somewhat of a political newcomer who started small and gained a rabid following. I won't say his name because I do not want to use a standard liberal tactic of comparison.

But if you think REPLACING an AMERICAN FLAG with a personal symbol is "lame" and not indicative of the onset of megalomania and a clear belief that "I" come before "We", I can't help you, then. Go ahead, vote for change and see what you get.

Change can be negative too.

Blah Society said...


I think you're lame for going off-topic to attack Barack Obama. This post wasn't really a political issue, it was a legal one. And if you're biggest complaint is choice of logos, you need to begin doing more research. There are more important issues out there.

J. SPIKE ROGAN said...

Its amazing we have two candidates with a rabid folloing for both. Yet, the majority of their supporters basicly are clueless to what they stand for. Other than vote for me I'm not that other dude.

McCain has more flip flops than a party at Margaritaville.

And Obama avoids any details to his agenda like a sex clinic nurse avoiding a std.

All Obama has said is he belives in hope, and the American people. And all McCain says is turn that music down you kids!

I wonder if Toby Keith was playing Music fest would the yellow shirts shut him down for telling his fans "How dare dem liberallls from holly-wood, tell us how to vote. Vote McCain and go war!"

Blah Society said...

Well said, Spike.

Anonymous said...

"All Obama has said is he belives in hope, and the American people. And all McCain says is turn that music down you kids!"

I'm with McCain. Sometimes youu need a grownup or at least someone who has to get up in the morning to go to work to tell the kids to turn down their music.

This is not meant to attack the post I pulled from. Just to state my preference.


Anonymous said...

Can this election be over? They both suck. Bad. McCain will be the end of our nation as a great nation and Obama's a total risk.

Why couldn't the Dems just nominate someone normal and win the election by 5 or 6 like they were supposed to?

And oh yeah, let the kids have their godforsaken table at their office. Yippy!

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry I brought politics into this topic. Silly me, I should have remembered that Obama and politics don't mix.