Perriello protests: Police warn of arrests for trespassing
Congressman Tom Perriello faces a heated run for re-election in November for his votes on health care reform and the economic stimulus package. Locally, he faces another controversy from those who contend his Charlottesville office doesn't adequately allow constituents to assemble to petition their government.
The Jefferson Area Tea Party scratched a June 14 "Right to Redress Rally" after the group received a letter from Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo warning that protesters in the privately owned parking lot outside Perriello's office could be arrested for trespassing.
"I thought it would be irresponsible to show up [Monday] and not think that through," says Carole Thorpe, Jefferson Area Tea Party chair, who rescheduled the rally for June 21 and has appealed to the civil liberties group, the Rutherford Institute.
"We're not contesting that it's Ms. [Lisa] Murphy's property," says Thorpe. "I believe every group should have equal access. What we've seen is unequal access."
Thorpe refers to a May 19 demonstration and street theater in the parking lot of the so-called Glass Building by members of the left-leaning Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice in which no police showed up to tell them to leave the lot and which was filmed by Keith Drake with Albemarle Truth in Taxation Alliance.
"For two-and-a-half minutes a bunch of liberal protesters performed a skit," says Lloyd Snook, Murphy's lawyer. "Nobody complained. Lisa Murphy was not aware of it. No one seemed aware of it except Keith Drake."
Adds Snook, "It seemed like an ineffectual place to have a protest."
Snook himself attended a counter-protest in the parking lot on November 10, when a national group called Americans for Prosperity pulled a bus into the lot, which was filled with health care reform protesters–- and supporters, much to the consternation of business owners in the Glass Building.
After several large rallies in November, Murphy called the police, who warned the groups to stay on the public sidewalk approximately 180 feet from Perriello's office, or to assemble in the Congressman's office.
"Why is it when the conservative groups are there, the police are called," wonders Thorpe.
The same Longo letter went to the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice, which has planned a June 16 protest of House legislation to fund an additional $33 billion for the war in Afghanistan.
"We don't plan to use the parking lot," says the Center's David Swanson. "We plan to go inside." However, he says he supports the Jefferson Area Tea Party's right to assemble, and calls the location of Perriello's office "unfortunate." (And he invites the Tea Party to join the CCPC in protesting government spending on the war.)
The Tea Party and the Rutherford Institute have called on Perriello to move the office from the back of the Glass Building on Garrett Street to a location where citizens can more easily petition their government without having to go on private property.
"It happens across the country that Representatives shield themselves by putting their offices on private property," says Thorpe. "It inserts a third party when it should be between the Congressman and us."
Perriello has no immediate plans to move, according to his press secretary, Jessica Barba, who notes the space is leased until January 2011.
"It's 90 degrees outside," she says. "I don't know why they'd want to stand outside when they're welcome to come inside and directly petition their Congressman."
Not the same, counters Thorpe. "I think being outside the Congressman's door is a unique platform," she says. "If we take it inside, it's beyond the media's attention." And protesting on the street doesn't carry the same weight because it's farther away from his office, she maintains.
"Something about that doorstep–- there's no confusion about why we're there," says Thorpe. "His name is over the door. That office represents him."
Perriello won't be in Charlottesville when the two protests are scheduled. "I'm confused," says Barba, "and not sure what their goal is. We've given them every opportunity to petition their Congressman."
She points out that Perriello has had more town hall meetings than anyone else in Congress. "If people feel 100 hours of town hall meetings are not enough," she says, "I'm not sure I can say anything to convince them."