Standing in front of the steps at the south end of Union Square, Geoffrey Blank helped launch an experiment in free speech in May 2003. Equipped with several large, hand-painted banners and a handheld, 10-watt battery-powered megaphone, Blank and a handful of other members of the No Police State Coalition would launch into passionate monologues on the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, “9-11 Truth” and much, much more. It was unfettered free speech, warts and all, unflinchingly delivered in three-hour blocks, three times a week. “We not only wanted to educate the public,” Blank said, “we wanted to engage them to get up and speak and debate. … It wasn’t like blogging in your living room.”
The speak-outs drew hundreds at their peak in the summer of 2004 but were disbanded by September 2005 as Blank and his cohorts endured numerous arrests and confiscations of their bullhorns for violating a sound permit ordinance that dates back to the 1930s. Now, Blank faces more than two years in jail following his conviction last fall on two counts of resisting arrest and one count of using a bullhorn without a permit, all of which stem from his activism at Union Square. His sentencing is scheduled for April 30 and a rally on his behalf featuring civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart will be held April 13 at Judson Memorial Church. Despite the possibility of landing in jail, Blank is hopeful that the courts will overturn the city’s sound permit ordinance. “It’s been a pain in the ass, but we needed to go through this to make the case,” Blank said.
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