a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Folk songs OK, but for really free speech you’ll need a permit

Posted by Thomas Nephew on September 21st, 2005

Cindy Sheehan in Union Square. Photo
courtesy of Mike Fleming, via

The New York Times Shadi Rahimi reports (“An Antiwar speech in Union Square Is Stopped by Police Citing Paperwork Rules“):

An antiwar speech by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of an American soldier killed in Iraq, was cut short yesterday after the organizer of the event was arrested and police officers confiscated his audio equipment.

The claps and cheers that had greeted Ms. Sheehan’s arrival at the rally in Union Square quickly turned to furious chants of ‘Let her speak!’ as officers ushered away the organizer, Paul Zulkowitz, who the police said lacked audio permits for the event.

Angry activists followed officers as they led Mr. Zulkowitz away, waving their fists and shouting, “Shame, shame, shame.” Ms. Sheehan, who was visiting New York on the last leg of a bus tour across the country, was nearing the end of her speech when the police officers arrested Mr. Zulkowitz. She was whisked to a car by two supporters just before the police officers seized the microphone. Mr. Zulkowitz was arrested because he did not have a permit, said the commanding officer of the 13th Precinct, Inspector Michael J. McEnroy.

Via Steve Gilliard, who comments “Cindy Sheehan was protected by the Crawford sheriff. She was silenced by the NYPD.” The Village Voice’s Sarah Ferguson points out:

Yet for all their fussing over sound permits, the police evidently weren’t troubled the young folkie who set up his own mic and portable amp shortly after Sheehan and her entourage had left, then launched into a round of Dylanesque protest songs.

Sheehan’s mic wasn’t that much louder, leaving one to wonder whether the cops’ hasty halt to the speakout was perhaps motivated more by the crowd she drew and the radical posturing voiced by some of the speakers leading up to her—including Dustin Langley of the Troops Out Now coalition, who urged the anti-warriors milling in the bright sun to “open a new front of resistance right here. Bring Falluja to New York and shut it down!”

Right, that’s a sound bite that’s really going to work wonders. But it’s speech, it’s political speech, and he’s free to say what he said. More importantly, so is Ms. Sheehan. The authorities seem to have confused their speech — and someday yours and mine — with noise.

UPDATE/EDIT, 9/22: Photo added, courtesy of Mike Fleming. Via Joel Moore — possibly the “young folkie” in the Village Voice story — who comments:

She was saying her last few words of thanks for our support when the police came up from behind and grabbed Zool(Paul Zolkowitz) the event organizer. He was arrested and held for about 8 hours for operating an amplifier without a permit. If the cops would have waited even 2 seconds longer the whole thing could have been avoided.

There’s also some video of the incident at Moore’s web site.

4 Responses to “Folk songs OK, but for really free speech you’ll need a permit”

  1. Kim Arnold Says:

    I saw on your site that you had written about Cindy Sheehan @ Camp Casey NYC and thought that you may be interested in this video footage. I was shooting from down in front. I got the whole thing close up: Cindy’s Speech, zool being grabbed by cops, the crowd screaming shame as the cops take the amp, the guy playing the national anthem on trumpet, the crowd confused and more. It’s all here for redistribution provided you credit the material properly.
    Kim Arnold

  2. Kim Arnold Says:

    The “young folkie” mentioned in the Village Voice is Joel Moore. He was scheduled to perform his song “Eternal War at Your Door” after Cindy finished speaking. The song was written with the Gold Star families in mind, but they did not get to hear it. He did perform later, after the crowd and cops had dispersed. He has performed amplified sets three times at Camp Casey NYC without police interruption.
    Mike Fleming is a Camp Casey NYC veteran who provided the three stills that we posted on
    Kim Arnold

  3. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Thanks for all the information, and please pass along my thanks for the use of the photo.

  4. Torri Stanbrough Says:

    I celebrate the energy you have created with each other – today (and, well, every day!!!) – but, for today, may you celebrate the treasure and connection that connects your luminous Spirits.

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