Activist and one-time congressional candidate Adam Kokesh led about 40 people in a dance at the Jefferson Memorial Saturday, protesting a recent court ruling that prohibits dancing at the site.
“I’ve been told Thomas Jefferson liked dancing and music, and would get people to spontaneously break out into dance,” Kokesh said at outside the Jefferson Memorial Saturday. “And if this isn’t an appropriate way to honor Thomas Jefferson, then I don’t know what is.”
After a 2008 arrest of a woman dancing at the Jefferson Memorial, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates ruled last year that dancing is prohibited in the interior of the memorial.
“The purpose of the memorial is to publicize Thomas Jefferson’s legacy, so that critics and supporters alike may contemplate his place in history,” Bates wrote in his ruling opinion. “The Park Service prohibits all demonstrations in the interior of the memorial, in order to maintain an atmosphere of calm, tranquility and reverence.”
Kokesh last danced at the site on Memorial Day weekend. That's when he and four others were arrested in a violent fashion that was caught in video. The video racked up over 800,000 views on YouTube. Park Police is investigating whether officers used excessive force.
“I got a call from a friend telling me about (the ruling),” said Jared Denman, who was arrested that weekend. “I didn’t think it was actually going to happen – but it did. We were arrested – well, they called it ‘detained’ – for dancing in a restricted area.”
The official Web site for the event says the ruling and the arrests are “an infringement on our right to express ourselves under the First Amendment.”
“We’re seeing our First Amendment rights being whittled away,” said Denman. “We have to ask ourselves: Where’s the line?”
At noon, about 40 people entered the Jefferson Memorial and began dancing in a ring around the statue as hundreds of bemused tourists, photographers and reporters looked on.
“If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right,” Kokesh announced before the dancing started. “So let’s dance!”
For 15 minutes, they danced in peace. Some chanted, “This is what democracy looks like!” Some tried to get tourists to join in. One dancer carried a copy of the U.S. Constitution, saying, “Freedom of expression – right here in the Constitution!”
By 12:15 p.m., Park Police, who had been standing at the sides of the memorial, began to clear the area, asking all visitors to leave. Though some dancers, including Kokesh, initially remained, even they walked out when a police dog was introduced. No arrests were made.
Some asked why Kokesh didn’t resist as he had last time.
“We already won, we danced and got away with it,” Kokesh told reporters. “We ruled the government’s ruling irrelevant.”
U.S. Park Police closed the memorial after the dancers left, without saying when it would re-open.
The dancers and others remained on the steps of the memorial, singing and dancing to a modified version of “The Safety Dance.”
Though Kokesh and others say their efforts are to protect freedom of expression, some say they would like something more.
“I originally objected to what was going on here, because I didn’t know what the message was,” said George Ripley, who carried a signs for the dancers. “I still don’t. I think Adam is just picking a fight with 'the man,' but it’s important that he does. Adam could really be a voice for this generation – he’s passionate and he’s on a global stage.”
“As long as they’re not a nuisance, I think they should be allowed to dance where they want,” said John Ringer, who said he wasn’t there to participate in the protest. “If they’re asked to leave for being obnoxious, they should leave.”
Visitors to Kokesh’s Web site have asked why he doesn’t claim his right to dance through legal means. Denman rejects that as a valid solution.
“Those people who believe that we can change things through the courts are suffering from naïveté, Denman said. “Who has that much money to fight the courts?”
Many of the dancers said it was more important to prove their rights.
“It’s about how we should have the right,” one dancer said. “It’s actually a simple thing – people are coming together from the left and the right to celebrate freedom of movement.”
“This is a dangerous precedent being set,” Denman said. “Thomas Jefferson, as far as I know, would agree with what we’re doing here today. Freedom is something to be celebrated. I hope this starts a discussion that’s long overdue.”
Some asked Kokesh if he’ll be dancing next weekend.
“Not next week,” Kokesh said. “Bigger and better things from now on.”