WHOSE SIDEWALK?

I was rambling down Wilshire Boulevard the other day, wondering if I would ever work in this town again, when I came upon several small plaques, about three inches by seven inches long, made of brass, embedded in the concrete sidewalk. I kept on walking right to the corner to see where they ended. Looking up, I could see where they began was in front of the historic El Rey Theater. I stopped to read the inscription etched on the metal there on the last one. This is what it said: Private Property. Permission to pass over revocable at any time. Whoa! Pretty serious! I looked around cautiously, half-wondering if someone was going to pop out and revoke my permission to pass.

I made it through the area with no incident. Seemed like whoever put them there wanted to make it crystal clear that people better not get to thinking they had some free pass to walk down that sidewalk anytime they wanted.

There were a couple of psudo-business types standing on the corner. I looked at them then back at the plaques. I really wanted them to notice and comment on it. I wanted to know what they thought about it; but, they carried on talking as if the ominous warning stamped onto the sidewalk beneath them did not even exist. I guess they didn’t feel like it applied to them. Maybe never would.

I began to wonder why the owners of the sidewalk would even want to revoke anyone’s passing anyway. If they were drunk and disorderly or insane, surely the owners would just want them to trundle on by. I’m gonna be honest, I pretty much think they are probably put there to try to stop people from forming a picket line or some other kind of protest.

Well, I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve been known to take part in quite a number of just such gatherings – where regular working people are expressing an opinion. It’s true I’ve seen other little signs on the sidewalk that say “Private Property,” but these are really special. They look vintage.

So, I took a little gander at the ole internet wondering if back in the day some historic strike or protest had taken place at the El Rey and the owners had then sent out to the metalsmith to make their best effort to make sure nothing like that ever happened again.

I didn’t find anything like that. I did find one case involving a couple of brothers by the name of Perez-Morciglio who would dress up like Zorro and Darth Vader and perform in front of the Venetian Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas. Just last November, a federal judge in this case ruled that the Venetian lacks the authority to remove the public from the sidewalk.

More recently, the ruling in a case in Wisconsin was, as Jim Gramling of the ACLU put it, “a victory for the most basic form of free speech.” The “Sidewalks and parks are places where people traditionally have exchanged ideas and tried to persuade their neighbors to adopt their views. And unlike other forums for expression, like television or the radio, they can be used without charge, so anyone, rich or poor, can seek an audience there.”

Finally, I discovered a pamphlet put out by the LA Chapter of the National Lawyers’ Guild, on another pretty cool WordPress blog. This piece contains a whole lot of information on the subject.

Based on all this information, along with my own experience, I’d say when you get right down to the brass tacks, those little brass plaques are pretty much filled with a lot of hot air, and they ain’t gonna fly. For the sake of those of us who can’t afford to pay for television ads, let’s make sure we keep it that way.

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