28 July 2001

from Mary Beth Sullivan

It's no surprise that Bruce Gagnon likes to demonstrate.  To celebrate his birthday, he invited friends to join him at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on July 28 to hold some banners at this most popular tourist facility.

Some background is necessary.  Last month, eight of us did the same thing. We stood in an area close to the booth where people pay their entrance fee. We weren't there five minutes when NASA security police were all over us, insisting we stand at the "designated protest area."  The spot turned out to be a decent one, a grassy walkway with trees that hundreds of tourists passed on their way to and from the ticket entrance.

Although uninvited, NASA security read Bruce's e-mail birthday invitation. They were prepared for us.  In the morning, they switched the parking lots so that the areas around the "designated protest area" were full by the time we got there.  The "main entrance" for entering tourists was now way out of sight of the "protest area."  So we went to the "new" active entrance.  We were a dozen people.  All but one of us stood with our banners in full view of tourists, without blocking access.  There was a steady flow of people. Wil Van Natta (West Palm Beach)  stood in the midst of the flow of people, greeting those who passed by showing them an enlargement of the Space Command's "Vision for 2020."

We had just unfurled our banners when NASA security police arrived to tell us we needed to move to the designated area, or we would be arrested for trespassing.  They called for the Brevard County Police.  We stayed put, holding banners that said "Keep Space for Peace,"  "No Weapons in Space," and "No Nuclear Power in Space."

A few people stopped to listen to what Wil had to say about the Space Command and its plans to dominate space.  One of the security officers approached, told him he was under arrest, and handcuffed him.  Wil remained calm and respectful; others of us questioned the appropriateness of this arrest in every way we could.

Soon thereafter, most of us went over to the "designated protest area."  We were shocked to see that they had constructed a "corral" for us - a small metal cage you would expect to see fencing in cows or pigs.  We refused to enter.  Security police maintained a steady presence near us for two hours videotaping, taking pictures, talking into their radios.  Some even hovered around our cars in the parking lot.

Meanwhile, our friend Beth Ehrlich (Daytona Beach) stayed behind with some others to observe what would happen with Wil. She engaged in conversation with a woman tourist who was waiting for friends.  When asked by this woman for some written information, Beth handed her a newsletter.  Immediately a security officer appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and grabbed the newsletter.  All three of them tugged on the paper for a moment before the tourist finally insisted this newsletter belonged to her.  He let go of the paper and left.

There's the image, friends:  NASA "security", defining their jobs as securing the area from any ideas or written materials they don't approve of. A tourist having to "fight" for the opportunity to read a newsletter. Restricted access to any ideas not bought and paid for by NASA and the aerospace corporations.  An expression of their deep fear that a simple slogan on a banner might encourage tourists to open their minds and think before they enter the front door.  Their "security," paid for by taxpayers' dollars, is about keeping freedom of expression corralled, marginalized, ridiculed, punished.

Wil was taken to the county jail and booked for trespassing.  They eventually waived bond and he was released eight hours later.  He has a court appearance scheduled in three weeks.

We will return to KSC on October 13, in greater number.  We will not be silenced.

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