Free Speech Versus Peace Disturbance: A Conflict of Law by Kirsten Anderberg
Free Speech Versus Peace Disturbance: A Conflict of Law
By Kirsten Anderberg (www.kirstenanderberg.com)
Written in Spring/2006
Most people do not realize there is an area of law called "Conflict of Law." Laws conflict and this is a specialty area in law, which navigates around laws that hit each other head on in conflict. I live in the swirling world of the "Conflict of Law" between Free Speech and Peace Disturbance/Obscenity Laws. I have been arrested, ticketed and/or charged with property rule violations for obscenity and peace disturbance for busking (or street performing) since 1978, and I have also successfully defended myself from all of those cases/charges in courts or at internal agency hearings. I have had my Free Speech rights reiterated, in writing, by judges and city management agencies, time and time again after said conflicts. Yet this fight continues on, almost daily, as I continue to busk well into my 40's. I guess people thought I would either outgrow political activism or busking, but I actually just came to do them better and more often with age instead. Which means they have to get better at finding ways to stop me, as well.
Isn't "Peace Disturbance" the *definition* of "Free Speech?" Otherwise, it would just be called "speech." The reason it is called "Free Speech," is it had peace disturbing qualities that required some kind of special legal protection. The ways people try to define my act, in ways to try to trigger some kind of alarm, or action, is amusing. Right now, for instance, David Dickinson, the Pike Place Market Master, is accusing me of being "scary" and "agitated." I am actually *laughing out loud* as I type this. Yes, David. I perform "agit-prop." It has "agitation" in its title. And guess what? Agit-prop has been a protected form of Free Speech everywhere from Russia to America for centuries. And if agitational political performances scare you, rather than relieve you, well, that is okay. Art is supposed to trigger *emotion*. And if there is one thing we can all agree on, it is that I evoke *emotion*. Whether you love me or hate me, whether we are talking about my busking performances, or my written work, I simply create controversy effortlessly. It would be flattering if the fallout were not so utterly annoying.
In The People of the State of California Versus Kirsten Anderberg, in Santa Cruz, Ca., I was charged with "Peace Disturbance and Obscenity." This whole waste of taxpayer money failed, as usual, to shut me down, but let's look at the court documents from that case in the 1980's. Those court records show a troubled merchant testifying about me: "Kirsten Anderberg sings very explicit songs concerning her feminism and political views...there is one lyric that I, I cracked up. There is one song about how girls don't fart. That's one of the songs." (The song, that controversial feminist song, "Message From the Media," says, "and girls don't fart, they only fluff"). The court records go on to have the merchant testifying: "the problem is that, the volume of her voice." (Right, you can actually HEAR my lyrics, oh, horror!) The other problem is when she is asked to leave, she will not leave." (Yep, my grade school taught me I have a right to be on public streets doing free speech. If I am only allowed to do Free Speech at home alone, it is not very effective or free.)
The ACLU asks this Santa Cruz merchant "Did you ask her to leave that day?" And the merchant replied, "Yes." The ACLU said, "Did you tell her why it was that you were bothered by her singing?" The merchant answered: "I don't remember if I actually said why. I just usually when I walk out and ask her to leave, I say, "You are being disruptive, you are too loud. We cannot conduct our business. Please find another spot to perform." It is interesting that while this merchant is saying I am ruining his business, it is *his own customers* that were not only tipping me, making that a lucrative spot I always returned to, but I could always turn the audience on the street against the cops and others trying to shut me down (I am a performer after all) and that always adds a sort of circus effect to trying to squelch my Free Speech rights that angers merchants and police alike and sets them out for revenge. So this merchant was saying I was ruining his business, yet the court records say I was not running off people, but gathering a crowd. That same merchant testifies: "The officer arrived and asked her to please leave and find another spot. She refused to leave. At this point, she started hollering at pedestrians on the sidewalk, asking them if she was disturbing them. A crowd gathered. The officer was having even more difficulty. It continued. The crowd got bigger, people were hollering out on the street…the content of her songs are very hateful towards men…In fact, I remember an incident now where she offended two of Heinz's patrons who were men sitting there drinking beer." (To be honest, I am PROUD AS CAN BE of this testimony of my behavior that day. No, I am no armchair feminist. I am out there pissing off men drinking their beers at the Biergarten and I am outmaneuvering crowds from police, it is good stuff…stuff you remember, not that Judy Collins crap!)
The Santa Cruz records go on and on about my songs, but it always centers on my political content. That is what is bugging this merchant in all honesty. The merchant testified, "it is a song about girls aren't allowed to do this, girls aren't allowed to do that…but the men are allowed to do this. Why is it men are allowed to do this, women are not? Because we have to fix our hair, put on makeup and be presentable, it was that kind of a song." Okay, I have to laugh. *That* kind of song? What is *that* kind of song? Name one top 40 artist that does *that* kind of song! *That* kind of song is called a political, feminist, original, noncommercial, DIY, Free Speech kind of a song and ain't nothin' to be ashamed in doing *that* kind of song in my book. In fact, I am proud I was singing about makeup and sexist double standards rather than about some guy who left me and now I long for him over the Bonney shores…yet we are talking about me being charged with CRIMES by the STATE for this stuff, and that is where this gets ugly and tiring.
The use of "qualude" was used to try to stop me from performing in 1992 (market1993letter.pdf) at the Pike Place Market. They tried to say "qualude" was "vulgarity" in a parody song I do of Santana's "Black Magic Woman." The song is about this rebel with a Black Magic Marker, and it talks about his parents' horrid life that led him to his rebellion, and one part says, "your mom had to drink 12 cups of coffee just to get up in the morning, she had to eat qualudes to sleep your dad, and he works at the insecticide factory, how else do you expect us to be anything but vicious, juvenile?" It is odd that they tried to use the word qualude alone like that, as vulgarity, as it was obviously the use of the word with other concepts, it was the *image* I was painting, it was the *thought* they objected to, not the words themselves. But it is interesting how often I am made to defend my right to sing *images, thoughts alone* against charges of some kind of illegal "vulgarity" or "obscenity."
The Pike Place Market in 1993 also told me not to sing a song called "Myth in Genesis," about the sexism in Christianity and the bible because "the Market is a family place." The song talks about how male-centered religions have patterns of sexist societies and somehow I am not supposed to sing about this in Seattle's Market why, again?
In this current round of crap I am taking from the Market, they sent me this little quote in a letter dated April 21, 2006, from David Dickinson, to let me know how performers are *supposed* to act at the Market. "Daystall performance spaces are intended "to add to the festive character of the Market," and to provide "areas within the Market where performing artists are encouraged to entertain market shoppers in a fashion consistent with, complimentary to, and as an integral part of the Market Community."" Now, let's juxtapose that with their 1991 apology letter (market1991letter.pdf) for harassing me over Free Speech in the Market. This is from the Market Master in 1991: "I explained to each of (the 3 individuals who complained) that the content of your songs or speeches is not subject to restriction" unless it is profane, etc. That 1991 letter from the Market management also says, "Certainly you are allowed to express your political opinions, either by speech or song, under a performer permit at the Pike Place Market. The PDA cannot prohibit this type of Free Speech in the Market without violating your constitutional rights, nor does the PDA wish to do so." I hope someone other than just me can see the obvious problems herein. So, am I a monkey and the Market tells me when to jump as the organ grinder, or do I have Free Speech rights to do *agitational, confrontational, conflictive, scary, feminist, political, comedy and commentary*? Obviously I am *good* at politics, because when I share what I think in public, all kinds of shit happens. Oh, no, I said shit. Oh well, I am not on the street at the Pike Place Market. Let's go for it. You can go call the FCC and the thought police after reading this if you need to.
This harassment for Free Speech rights over and over and over is getting old. I am sick of it. FREE SPEECH MEANS I CAN SAY ANYTHING THAT DOES NOT BREAK THE DAMNED OBSCENITY STANDARDS AND DAMNED DOES NOT BREAK THOSE STANDARDS SO BACK UP, THOUGHT POLICE! Busking is a Free Speech tradition and no, we are not here as some frilly accessory to the commercial vendors at the Pike Place Market. I do not HAVE to "add to the festive character of the Market" in any way besides agitated confrontational feminist performance, for as the Market has said in its own letters to me, to censor me in any other way would infringe on my constitutional rights, and they do not want to do that. Yet, I am now being brought into a hearing to defend my busker permit, 27 years into this, once again, and now on the charges of being "agitated" and "disruptive" to the Market's commercialism. Again, isn't that what Free Speech is? Disruptive, agitated, noncommercialism? Otherwise, it would just be called Speech. When are people going to finally *get* that Free Speech is inherently controversial speech and it is constitutionally protected, conflict of laws or not! I would even argue the more controversial a political performance is, the more constitutional protection it has, otherwise, what is the point of the "protection" at all?