In this NYT article about the third-anniversary protests against the war in Iraq these lines stood out:
In New York, protesters gathered on three lanes of Broadway south of 42nd Street, after the city denied the organizers permission to set up near an armed services recruitment office. Mounted police patrolled the avenue, while dozens of police officers attempted to keep traffic moving on the street and sidewalk.
The demonstrators, bundled against the cold and confined by police fences to a two-block stretch, came from as close as Chelsea and as far away as South Korea. I know that in the midst of all the civic and geopolitical calamities we face today this can be seen as a quibble. But, along with every other erosion, is there any doubt that any concept of "free assembly" -- not in comparison to other countries over against which we might be MORE free, but in comparison to the historical ideals we all are always trumpeting -- can there be any doubt that the concept of "free assembly," that the possibility of a civic practice, has been utterly subverted by control, regulation, and manufactured spectacle?
Why should a group of people who want to meet in the public street about anything have to be licensed and panopticized by the state?