In Chicago, the Party for Socialism and Liberation is waging a legal struggle to defend the right for progressives to distribute political literature. The branch in Chicago is fighting an unconstitutional ordinance that the city has used for decades to prohibit and fine political speech.
In April, the city of Chicago fined the PSL for printing and distributing leaflets and flyers that promoted a successful socialism conference. The literature depicted the image of Che Guevara. Its main demand was: “Capitalism Must Go!”
The city used a municipal ordinance that penalizes the distribution and posting of commercial advertising material. The ordinance creates a strict liability scheme that punishes a “person, business, or entity” whose goods or services are promoted in “unlawfully” posted commercial advertising material.
Most often applied to political speech, the ordinance is essentially used to punish political groups for hosting political events. The application of the law to political speech is deliberately underhanded and unconstitutional to the core.
The city had entered a default judgment against the PSL and imposed hefty fines. The PSL received notice of the posting ticket only after the initial hearing on the matter.
At a hearing on the charges in July, an administrative law judge found the PSL guilty of unlawfully posting flyers. The PSL was not allowed to cross-examine city officials or to review the evidence before the hearing.
The judge based his decision solely on the fact that the PSL held the socialism conference depicted in the flyers. In other words, the judge found that it is basically illegal to print and distribute materials for a political event. The decision and many others like it is an outright attack on the right to organize political events and distribute political literature.
In August, the PSL filed a lawsuit appealing the fines. The legal struggle will continue.
The struggle to defend and promote the growth of political street organizing continues across the United States. In San Francisco, when the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), an anti-war organization, fought against a similar postering ordinance, that city was forced to reverse the fines.
Capitalist-backed politicians and organizations use large financial contributions to broadcast political campaigns all over the street, television, radio and Internet with complete impunity. Yet when grassroots progressives and revolutionaries mobilize against the crimes of capitalism, such as war, racism, poverty and unemployment, they are restricted, penalized and attacked.
Street mobilizations, organizing and the distribution of leaflets and flyers are the right of every worker. The streets and sidewalks are public space, and they should not be controlled by the politicians of the wealthy solely for their political campaigns.
The distribution of leaflets, posters and flyers continues to be a highly effective organizing tool. Without such political materials, activists and organizers would not be able to mount political campaigns, street rallies or large demonstrations to fight for justice.