Some Local Color About Protesting in Cleveland’s Public Square

I recently did a post analyzing the oral argument in the case of City of Cleveland v. Erin McCardle and Leatrice Tolls, 13-0096, in which two Occupy protestors are challenging the constitutionality of a Cleveland Ordinance which establishes a 10:00 p.m. curfew in the Public Square.

Not being from Cleveland, after hearing the lawyer for the Protestors talk about the Tom Johnson Quadrant, I did a little research to learn that Johnson was the 35th Mayor of Cleveland (1901-1909). In a related federal case involving the Occupy protests, U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster took judicial notice of the fact that the park was dedicated to Johnson, and that “his statue is erected there as a testament to free speech.”

First, my thanks to Chuck Crow of the Cleveland Plain Dealer for his permission to use this photo, which is of one of the Occupy Protestors (not the ones involved in this case) on the Tom Johnson Quadrant of the Public Square.

To provide some “color commentary” for this post, with his permission, I’m quoting an excerpt from the Protestors’ brief filed in this case by Attorney  J. Michael Murray, of the firm of  Berkman, Gordon, Murray, & DeVan, to give some historical context about protesting in the Square. I noticed that Murray’s office is on the Public Square.

From the Brief:

“The northwest quadrant of Public Square, nearest Old Stone Church, is also known as the Tom Johnson quadrant, for the statue of the former mayor that sits at its northern edge. The inscription behind the statue reads as follows:

“‘Erected by popular subscription in memory of the man who gave his fortune and his life to make Cleveland, as he often expressed it, a happier place to live in, a better place to die in, and located on the spot he dedicated to the freedom of speech. (Emphasis added).’”

“The quadrant consists of four brick sidewalks along its inner perimeter, which are tied to the surrounding sidewalks along Ontario Street, Rockwell Avenue, Superior Avenue and the West Roadway by broad low stairs at the four corners of the quadrant, and that surround a small lawn.

“Though each quadrant of Public Square is open, with benches or bleachers on which people may sit, it is not a recreation area. Rather, it is the crossroad of downtown Cleveland and its central hub of free expression. For more than a century, Public Square has been the site of political rallies, protests and vigils where citizens have met, gathered and collectively rallied on the important topics of the day.

“Indeed, Public Square’s history as a forum for political expression was documented more than a hundred years ago. In 19 10, Samuel Peter Orth described Public Square in his History of Cleveland:

“‘The speaking pavilion erected on the northwest section became a popular `place      of assembly.’ . . . The Square has been the forum of our partisanship and political conviction, where the fervid eloquence of statesmen and political leaders thrilled vast throngs of eager citizens, gathered in the great open air meetings that were popular fifty years ago… Today, the din of the metropolis makes out-of-door meetings in the Square impossible. But in the northwest corner is even now heard the strident voice of agitator, revolutionist, visionary and exhorter, uttering their puny protests against things as they are, their wails and threats lost in the roar of actual life that swirls through the busy Square’”[i]

 “Two years before Orth wrote those words, Mayor Tom Johnson had allowed Emma Goldman, the radical anarchist, to speak there in 1908, where she addressed a crowd of some 3,000 people.[ii]

“Orth’s description of Public Square is equally apt today. In the century that has passed since he authored those words, Public Square has served as the rallying site for thousands of citizens to speak and gather about the pressing issues of the day. It was the place where those who sympathized with Sacco and Vanzetti gathered in 1927,[iii] where 3,000 Communists rallied against President Hoover in 1930 for his failure to aid the unemployed,[iv] and where CIO members gathered in support of striking Republic Steel workers, in 1937.[v]

“Public Square was the site where, in 1946, the American Youth for Democracy rallied to protest Sen. Robert Taft’s attempt to amend the act authorizing the Office of Price Administration, a core New Deal agency, and hung him there in effigy.[vi]

“The roiling and turbulence of the 1960’s and 1970’s drew political dialogue and action to Public Square. The University Circle Teach-in Committee held a midnight vigil rally on Public Square in the fall of 1965 to protest the war in Vietnam, which drew jeering counter-protesters.[vii] African-Americans rallied on Public Square that same year to protest against discrimination against them in the building trade unions when a new federal building was being constructed. [viii] Hundreds gathered at Public Square on May 5, 1971, to commemorate one year anniversary of the day that Kent State students were shot by members of the Ohio National Guard.[ix]

“Anti-draft protesters gathered on the Tom Johnson quadrant of Public Square in 1980 to rally against the revival of draft registration in 1980.[x] Nearly 1,000 citizens rallied at Public Square in 1981 against proposed budget cuts proposed by the Reagan administration. [xi]And in 1987, Public Square was the site of a candlelight vigil against the testing of nuclear weapons.[xii]

“The historic tradition continues to this day. In the last several years, Public Square has been the rallying site for citizens to gather to support military troops serving overseas[xiii], to encourage the adoption of medical marijuana law in Ohio[xiv], and in the past several months, a gathering place to protest against the shooting of a dog and for stricter animal cruelty laws. [xv]

This provides some context for the Occupy Protests, although I doubt it will affect the outcome of the case.



[i] Orth, A History of Cleveland, Ohio (Vol. 1), S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., Chicago-Cleveland (1910), at 760, 762-763.)

[ii] Mattson, Kevin, Creating a Democratic Public: The Struggle for Urban Democracy During the Progressive Era, Penn. State Univ. Press University Park: (1998) at 38-39; The Public, Vol. Xi, No. 53, 11/6/1908 at 753.

[iii] Youngstown Vindicator, 8/10/27 at 23.

[iv] New York Times, 4/15/30.

[v] Meriden Daily Journal, 10/3/30 at 6.(Professor’s note—this citation must be incorrect, as strike was in 1937)

[vi] Youngstown Vindicator, 7/4/46 at 1.

[vii] Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, Vietnam War, ech.case.edu/cgi/article.pl?id=VW (last accessed 7/08/2013)

[viii] New York Tines, 3/25/65 at 28.

[ix] Portsmouth Times, 5/6/71 at 26.

[x] Plain Dealer, 7/22/80 at 1.

[xi] Bryan Times, 5/11/81 at 3.

[xii] Observer Reporter, 11/2/87 at A-4.

[xiii] Plain Dealer, 5/1/2011.

[xiv] http://tinyurl.corn/inuphk95 (Last accessed 6/28,12013).

[xv] http://tinyurl.com/n2ka6le (Last accessed 6/28/2013).

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One Response to Some Local Color About Protesting in Cleveland’s Public Square

  1. Excellent commentary. Well researched and it will be a very interesting case going (as we agree this GOP OHSC won’t rule against the City of Cleveland’s interests despite the Appellate Court’s opinion) forward to the US Supreme Court. Authoritarianism Rules in Ohio. Despite our US and State Constitution.

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