Thomas Jefferson famously said, "Dancing is a healthy and elegant exercise."
Thus it seemed appropriate that a small group of young libertarians decided to celebrate Jefferson's April 13 birthday with a ten-minute "silent dance" at the outdoor Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC.
The Jefferson Memorial is a large open-air monument, open to the public 24 hours a day.
The twenty or so libertarians met at the Memorial near midnight, a time chosen so as not to interfere with the constant flow of visitors during daytime hours. Also in order not to disturb any visitors, no audible music was played; instead, they used iPods and headphones.
This was in no way a demonstration or any attempt to provoke a confrontation, according to organizers. It was just light-hearted, spontaneous, kind of geeky fun. A videotape confirms the group was silent and non-disruptive, dancing gently; indeed, the busloads of school kids who daily visit the monument are far louder and more disruptive. There were only a few other people at the monument besides the small group of libertarians, and none were disturbed. The group broke no laws.
Still, after just a few minutes, the National Park Police ordered the dancers to leave, using abusive and threatening language. Brooke Oberwetter, a woman in her mid-twenties, was handcuffed and arrested when she simply asked why they were being expelled. The police refused to answer her question. She was later charged with "interfering with an agency function" and released after five hours. She now faces a federal trial.
The arrest has drawn international attention. Writing in TheAtlantic.com, Megan McArdle notes: "As a resident of DC, I'm certainly overjoyed to hear that violent crime has fallen to a level where we can spare valuable police resources to fight the silent scourge of ... dancing. Now that we have no more murders or muggings, it seems to me that we should also be looking at newsboys who smoke, women who attend the theater, and of course, the iniquitous habit of playing cards on the Sabbath."
In a time of war and severe attacks on fundamental civil liberties, this may seem a trivial matter. But all across America, one hears more and more stories about heavy-handed arbitrary government law enforcement tactics, in schools, workplaces, and public places. Many fear America is rapidly becoming a very different place than "the land of the free." That Americans are being conditioned to blindly obey state authority without question.
We have a pretty good idea what Jefferson would have thought about this affair. After all, he said: "[R]ightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law,' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual."
(Sources: The Agitator blog:
Free The Jefferson1:
Thanks also to Liberator Online readers Robert Lewis and Sarin Penn who
suggested the story.)