Letter writer said first amendment rights violated

To the Editor:

For the past 12 years, I have been actively petitioning in every election cycle in my hometown, Mound, to allow third party candidates of my choice to participate in our democracy. This year, I am working toward collecting the 2,000 signatures required to put Presidential Candidate Rocky Anderson on our state’s November ballot. I am well aware of my First Amendment rights to free speech, peaceably assemble and petition citizens of the United States.

I was quite stunned recently at the Spirit of the Lakes Festival in Surfside Park when a festival volunteer began berating me for gathering signatures. I had often collected signatures in this park and had even campaigned there as a candidate twice. Instead of listening to my reasoning, she quickly called a nearby police officer to have me kicked out of the park. I tried to explain to the officer that this was a violation of my legal rights. He then started screaming at me and attempted to grab my arm. I inquired as to what city ordinance I was violating but he had no explanation.

Upon leaving the park, I went to speak with Kandis M. Hanson, the Mound City Manager. She told me there was nothing illegal about what I was doing but she was uncomfortable with my actions and did not want "that type of politicking" in the park. I found her position to be unconvincing given the great number of candidates who came to the park after the parade.

I later spoke with John Beise, former Mound City Council Member, and current member of the Spirit of the Lakes Festival Board of Directors. He could not offer any written guidelines referring to their new verbal rule disallowing petitioning. I asked if this new rule superseded my U.S. Constitutional rights of free speech, peaceably assembling, and practicing democracy by petitioning per the Minnesota state statutes. He said it probably did not, however the festival board would still stand firm backing their new rule.

I am befuddled and perplexed by the way I was treated in my own hometown. I did not break any laws and was merely practicing democracy on public property. Also, none of the people in the park, including those who signed my petition, gave any indication that my actions led to their discomfort.

Citizens of Mound, I implore you to protect your rights or they may be taken away. Restrictive ballot access rules can have a huge impact on the civil rights of candidates, volunteers, and voters. Voters must be allowed to sign petitions, putting multiple candidates on the ballot in order to broaden the debate and dialogue. I hope the Mound police, city staff and elected officials, and the Spirit of the Lakes Festival Board of Directors will realize that their decision-making has been misguided and stop harassing signature gatherers.

Officers of the law and festival organizers please study your laws and be able to discuss them coherently with citizens, because it is shameful and anti-democratic for you to be enforcing bogus rules that negate the civil rights of citizens.

Danene Provencher

Longtime resident of Mound and Volunteer petitioner for the Rocky Anderson for President (Justice Party) campaign