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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Right to peaceably assemble doesn’t guarantee clear message

OLYMPIA – Because this is the seat of state government, it is also a magnet for people eager to exercise their right to peaceably assemble to petition for redress of grievances, even in the summer when lawmakers are nowhere to be found and the bureaucracy is less populated than normal.

It’s their right, as the Bill of Rights spells out. But the First Amendment says nothing about such assemblages beyond peaceable, and in the slack time between legislative sessions one can never predict what one will find at a rally. Or who. 

My favorite demonstration disconnect was probably the guy who brought the broadsword to a gun rights rally in December 2014, which had an interesting “Braveheart” meets “Rambo” vibe but clearly violated the ironclad rule Sean Connery laid down in “The Untouchables” about bringing a knife to a gunfight.

The state employees’ rally on Wednesday for a labor contract improvements in the Capitol Rotunda was odd in a couple of respects. Gov. Jay Inslee’s name was invoked loudly enough to be heard in his office nearby, but Inslee wasn’t in Olympia that day. One might’ve thought the organizing state employees could have checked with another state employee, the governor’s scheduler, for a more advantageous day.

Inslee’s opponent Bill Bryant was there, trolling for votes with a letter to state employees seeking their support to elect him and modernize government. Not a bad pitch, but Bryant stood out a bit as a guy in button down shirt and khakis amidst a crowd mostly in slogan-filled T-shirts and jeans.

On Thursday, supporters of wolves demonstrated in front of the Department of Fish and Wildlife offices, seeking an end to the state’s efforts to wipe out a wolf pack in Ferry County that has been eating cattle. While most of the slogans like “Wolf Lives Matter” and “Stop the Slaughter” could be expected, protesters did cause a couple of reporter colleagues to scratch their heads with chants of “Stop Eating Meat.”

OK, there could be some logic, however strained, to that. If fewer people ate meat the ranchers might raise fewer cattle so they wouldn’t need to lease state grazing land where the wolves are more likely to chow down on cows and calves. 

Or maybe they’ve hit on the real solution to the conflict: If wolves became vegetarians, they wouldn’t eat livestock and all critters could coexist peacefully on the rangeland. Unless of course the wolves started eating the same vegetation on the hillsides as the cattle, and then we’d have a new fight on our hands. 

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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