A rally is underway tonight, only briefly interrupted by light showers; Historic City News reporters, television and newspaper media have responded to the front plaza of the City Hall – Lightner Museum of Hobbies.
Terry Herbert, one of organizers of this “Take Back our Old Town” rally, says today’s second rally was called “to inform the City Commission of St. Augustine that the community is tired of their massive encroachments upon the rights of citizens in the past two years”.
Although Herbert told Historic City News that businesses and citizens are upset that the tourism industry is being damaged by the commission’s recent ordinances, tonight’s rally was only attended by thirty or forty participants.
Downtown merchant Aimee Wiles says, “There is a movement starting to take back old St. Augustine from City Commissioners and the Mayor who do everything they can to kill our only source of revenue – tourism.”
St. Augustine defense attorney Tom Cushman attended the rally tonight and was one of the speakers. Cushman has been in court over 100 times defending artists’ and musicians’ rights.
Wiles said, “Artists have been removed from the Plaza against their Federal rights. It has become unacceptable”. Attorney Cushman was influential in overturning 5 ordinances banning arts and music.
Artists Elena Hecht and Kate Merrick sued the city in 2009 for infringing on their First Amendment rights of expression — they won an injunction. Greg Travous, who leads a group of plaza artists who have challenged the City and publishes a blog titled “Art in the Market”, has since been arrested four times.
Doug Courtney, Janine Newfield, Marianne Lerbs, Roger Jolley, Ralph Hayes, CB Hinson, Lee Malis and Bill DeLoach also spoke in support of the rally.
Wiles complained, “They tripled the parking rates and recently made merchants take down their Visa/MasterCard signs.” Wiles could not understand the commission’s motivation. “They are trying at every turn to fine us and kill business downtown.”
Wiles said that she’s not sure what will happen or be accomplished this evening. “But, it’s a start at standing up for what makes St. Augustine appealing to tourists – which is the ambiance of artists, boutiques and quaint carriages.”