Last week I meet with a couple of lawyers from Munger, Tolles & Olson on an island just on the other side of the 110 freeway in downtown. Zac, one of the lawyers, and I have been working together for several months. We were joined by Derek, a bankruptcy lawyer in his firm. Derek and I have talked previously about the financial crisis.
We discussed issues of free association (the right to assemble or gather in public) related to traffic islands. In particular, we talked about the uses of public spaces at night. Traffic islands and other interstitial or in-between spaces exists throughout the city. These are unique spaces where free association appears to be protected under the first amendment as long as you can access them legally (i.e. with a crosswalk) and you don’t interfere with any substantial government interest like traffic safety.
What would happen if the issue of evening usage of public space for gathering was brought before the court? It is unclear but Zac suggested that the city would raise the issue of public safety (i.e. potential crime) that could come with the use of these spaces. Safety is important but how much of our rights should we compromise? Do we live in a place where the only gathering that we can tolerate at night, that we can believe is safe, is on private property or for special events? What does this say, not only about our ability to exercise our rights in pursuit of life, liberty and happines…but what does it say about our city that we don’t believe we can be trusted to gather safely at night? Are we that dangerous? If so, why? Could creative and provocative activities at night, in public, reduce this problem rather than exacerbate or merely reveal it?
Are we sure there is even this problem? At the moment, it is probably legal. Islands of LA is not trying to challenge the city or the court. Instead, the intention is to safely utilize these spaces and, in doing so, reveal that these unique spaces and places can be utilized to foster discussion and creative engagements.
We also had a confab about the financial crisis. What does it mean that we allow some private enterprises to get so big that we cannot let them fail? If a group of private investors had to create a bail-out package for the banks, would they have gotten better terms (we believe so)? Why is there such a lack of oversight about so much money? Will this eventually subside to the point where it is repeated? Given the situation, can we do something about it?
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