Wednesday, August 27, 2008

STOP GOVERNMENT SPYING

Maureen Warfield and Ben masel

I spotted the sign while I was riding the free 16th Street Mall bus Tuesday morning. A big sign with a simple message: “Stop Government Spying” held by a smiling man with bushy gray sideburns in a “I (heart) Big Brother” T-shirt.

About 11 hours later, while walking down 16th, I spotted the same guy holding the same sign, this time assisted by a younger woman. He had a friendly smile and didn’t look like the kind to yell in my face with a megaphone. So I decided to find out why he was doing this for hours on end on the streets of Denver.

His name is Ben Masel, and he comes from Madison Wisc. He’s a long-time activist and veteran of many protests and various causes. When I told him I was from The New Mexican, he said he was at a drug reform conference in 2001 that then Gov. Gary Johnson attended. I’d covered that same conference.

I later learned that he’s announced his candidacy for the 2012 U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin on a pro drug-legalization, pro-civil liberties platform.

“I’m doing this partly in the hopes of influencing President Obama,” he said, “But especially to try to influence members of Congress passing through with the sense that we need some legislative fixes for the massive erosions of our privacy. My own representative, Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) stopped and posed with us an hour ago.” Masel said Baldwin will sponsor a bill to create “an affirmative privacy right in cell phone location data, which apparently belong to the phone companies to deal with however they like.”

Masel said he’s faced no harassment from police or passersby in Denver. But he’s forced some “free speech issues” with business owners who have tried to remove him from sidewalks. "I've backed each of them down,” he said.

When some security guards tried to have him removed from in front of a downtown hotel, Masel said, the manager came out to discuss the problem and eventually the manager agreed with Masel’s right to protest on a public sidewalk.

Masel also was protesting a party Sunday at the Mile High Station thrown by AT&T for the conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats. Some left-wing blogs have criticized the party noting that most the Blue Dogs voted to immunize telecommunication companies for their participation in the Bush administration's warrantees spying program.

The cops tried to remove him, but Masel said a Denver police lieutenant was “smart enough” to know he had a right to protest on a public sidewalk. Masel said he agreed to stay in one spot and not block passerbys.

Maureen Warfield, who was helping Masel hold the sign said she’d just been there for a short time. “I was just walking up and down and I saw this awesome sign,” she said.

Warfield is from Castlerock, Colo., who said she’s been downtown every day during the convention, sometimes with her children. On Monday, she said, she was in front of a MTV Rock the Vote performance with a sign that said "Screw Iraq, Fight for freedom in America."

“I’ve got four kids, I’m a stay-at-home-mom and I’m sickened by what’s happening today,” she said.

Masel said he’s planning on protesting the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn. next week.

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