National Parks and Political Protest

National parks in D.C serve a unique function in our country. Their proximity to important government buildings, such as the White House has made them popular spots for protests. Not only are they geographically favorable, but protesting in these locations offers protesters a special connection to their cause. People feel as though their voice, in the face of a government often feels inaccessible to the public, is being heard.

This August, the National Park Service introduced fourteen proposals that have the potential to not only change the way protests are done, but who attends them. One of the policies is one that would potentially require organizers to pay back the park for “the support and security it provides during large demonstrations,”according to the Washington Post. Another important feature proposes to close 80% of the White House sidewalk. In addition, it places restrictions that will prevent impromptu protests.

The National Park Service was accepting public comments on the policy changes with the hope of creating a dialogue between the National Park Service and the public.  In this respect, they were definitely successful. Over 40,000 people commented on the proposal. The Washington Post reports that there is no certainty as to how many are support or oppose  the policies, but that “thousands of submitted comments contained words like ‘oppose, ’do not support,’ and ‘unconstitutional’.” Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton reportedly told the federal agency “Reject the proposals-or else.” She also states that if they are not rejected, then Congress will work against them.

It comes as no surprise that these policies are met with negative feedback. Protesting has become an outlet for Americans who may feel like current legislation does not reflect their values. Out of the 20% of Americans that protested or have been involved in a rally since the start of 2016, 19% said it was their first time doing so. More people are starting to become involved in protesting,  not because they have been surrounded by it all their lives, but because Americans are making a conscious effort to be more politically vocal.

For these reasons, it is to be expected that anything that hampers the spike of political protests would be met with negative feedback. At a time where political discourse is becoming more and more popular, it is important to analyze how political administrations can help or hinder the efforts of protestors.

The last day to comment on the proposal was October 15th, but it is expected to take months for a report on the public’s feedback.