Wednesday, July 30, 2014
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UPDATE: Chalk up arrest to Harrisburg's cruel indifference

Police arrest a man for writing "a derogatory remark" about Gov. Corbett on the sidewalk in front of his Harrisburg residence.

UPDATE: Chalk up arrest to Harrisburg's cruel indifference

Not all states are created equal.

Texas had state Sen. Wendy Davis, her pink sneakers -- and an amazing (albeit perhaps temporary) victory.

Pennsylvania has a dude writing in chalk on the sidewalk in front of Gov. Corbett's mansion -- and he promptly got arrested.

A.J. Marin is one of a number of intrepid activists who've taken to Harrisburg this week -- budget week, the one week out of 52 when stuff actually gets done -- to plead with lawmakers to fund an expansion of Medicaid under the "Obamacare" health reforms that start kicking in this fall.

Gov. Corbett has already announced , for now, that Pennsylvania won't take part in the Medicaid program. -- even though it would provide health coverage for an estimated 700,000 Pennsylvanians who are now uninsured and the feds would pay the entire bill for three years, and almost all of the tab in future years. That places Corbett to the right of many other Republican governors, even Arizona's Jan Brewer (although, ironically, on the same brainwave as Rick Perry of Texas) in turning down a deal that even pols who bitterly opposed Obamacare now see as a no-brainer for their citizenry. Proponents say the increased use of government-funded  health care would also create 35,000 jobs here, a boost that the minimal-job-creating Corbett could sorely use.

Some of Pennsylvania's uninsured aren't taking this sitting down, protesting this week in Harrisburg and outside Corbett's office here in Philadelphia. Their hope is that lawmakers will go ahead and fund the Medicaid expansion, tipping the governor's hand. But when it comes to protesting, you'd be shocked to learn that the state with some of the worst campaign finance and government transparency laws also isn't particularly friendly to protests. Last night, eight activists who planned to sleep in the Capitol until Medicaid expansion is funded were escorted out by police (they're back today).

Meanwhile, yesterday some activists also staged a boisterous rally outside the governor's mansion. That's where Marin wrote in chalk (pictured above), "“Governor Corbett has health care, we should too.” It was just moments later that Marin was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. According to the citation: "The above did engage in an act that served no legitimate purpose in that he did write derogatory remark about the governor on the sidewalk."

I find this deeply troubling for several reasons. It's true that in the past that the courts have offered conflicting opinions of whether chalk messages are protected free speech or vandalism; a federal appeals court did rule that a chalk ban at the White House can be enforced as long as it's "content neutral" -- i.e., not related to any political message. In this case, however, Marin was written up because it was "a derogatory remark" (actually it was factual, not derogatory..) and that it served "no legitimate purpose." That's disturbing, and arguably a severe, unwarranted violation of a protester's First Amendment rights.

This is all the same theme we've been hitting again and again and again here in 2013 -- that people are straining to be heard, that governments, including democratic ones, have grown so beholden to the the 1 Percent and so unresponsive to ordinary citizens that folks are trying to make their point in any way possible, in street protests and pink tennis shoes, in hunger strikes and in chalk. That can erase Marin's chalk, but tomorrow 1,000 flowers of outage will bloom somewhere else.

And here's the thing to remember: Arresting a guy from writing in chalk outside the governor's mansion is small and vindictive -- but it's nowhere as cruel as what people are protesting this week. If Corbett and the legislature cannot be swayed on expanding health care, some of our uninsured neighbors here in Pennsylvania will get sick unnecessarily -- some of them will even die. All so Gov. Corbett can prove his Tea Party bona fides to an narrow sliver of the talk-radio dial. That is unconscionable, but it will not last. And this time, the writing won't be on the sidewalk. It's already on the wall.

UPDATE: Common sense prevails as citation is withdrawn.

About this blog
Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, blogs about his obsessions, including national and local politics and world affairs, the media, pop music, the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer and other sports, not necessarily in that order.

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