Permitting protest: Parsing the fine geography of dissent in America

Mitchell, D., & Staeheli, L. A.

Go to article

Mitchell, D., & Staeheli, L. A. (2005). Permitting protest: Parsing the fine geography of dissent in America. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 29(4), 796–813.


Main finding
The authors support the position that, contrary to media opinion, the repression of demonstrators, protesting the United States’ plans to go to war with Iraq in in 2003, is the norm for authoritative control. Tactics limiting the rights to assembly, for dissenters, have become standard in recent history forming a precedent seeking to regulate dissenters, not merely silence them. The policing of protest has become normalized partly because protesting has become normalized through negotiation, management, a system of permitting which violates notions of prior restraint, and use of the public forum doctrine. The authors argue that geography (ie. jurisdictions, regulations, the relative location of certain types of events) is regulating and policing dissent through complex bureaucratic and regulatory mechanisms; however, many activists seek to challenge or ignore the permits system in more adversarial ways. In the end, evidence suggests that the practicing of prior restraint through the permit system has led to insufficient maintenance of public order and repressive (not managerial) policing tactics that reproduce infringements on the use of public space for democracy.

Description of method used in the article
The authors do not explicitly state a set methodology; however, the article mentions research regarding permit issuance and the policing of protestors in New York City and Washington D.C., critical reviews of news reports mainly from the New York Times and Washington Post, and reference to pertinent case law. Washington, D.C. was chosen as the case study site since it is the ‘protest capital’ of the Unites States and its policing tactics during protests influence trends in other cities. Additionally, interviews were held with: city and National Park police representatives, civil liberties attorneys, event planners, and area residents and activists. These interviews took place in May 2001 amidst several large demonstrations against actions of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and inauguration of President George W. Bush.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Archival / Historical Interviews
Physical types
Geographic locations