A New National Park Service Proposal Could Restrict Protest in Washington, D.C.

Participants take part in the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C., on March 24th, 2018.

The National Park Service is considering new restrictions on demonstrations in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., including proposals to charge fees and limit spontaneous protest. The NPS argues these changes prioritize a form of protest that “protects and preserves the cultural and historic integrity of these areas,” the Hill reports—but civil rights groups fear otherwise.

Michael Heaney, a political scientist at the University of Michigan and an expert on protest and social movements, says these changes would curtail the symbolic value of D.C.’s parks, where people can go to “speak to the highest levels of government.” The changes could also have a real effect on who can protest and where, possibly even forcing demonstrations out into the streets. “If you put restrictions on [these parks], effectively what you’re doing is pushing people away from peaceful protest and toward a more confrontational form of expression,” Heaney says. “People will still express themselves, it’s just a matter of where.”

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