Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 16, 2007; Page B01
An anti-war coalition yesterday defied the D.C. government and the National Park Service by refusing to take down dozens of signs advertising an upcoming march.
The D.C. Department of Public Works accused the ANSWER Coalition of breaking city rules by putting signs on utility boxes and using a glue that the agency said will make the posters difficult to remove. The Park Service said the signs are defacing federal property.
Coalition members said the adhesive won't create problems and accused the government of a "politically motivated" bid to silence their efforts against the war in Iraq.
The city and Park Service notified the coalition on Monday that it must remove the signs. The city gave ANSWER a 72-hour deadline and warned the group that it faces nearly $10,000 in fines -- $150 for each of the 65 posters. The Park Service set no deadline but told the group that it would have to pay for the cleanup if it did not comply.
ANSWER, which has sponsored numerous protests in Washington, kept the signs in place on utility boxes, lampposts and other objects across the city, including along the Mall and near the White House.
The signs promote an anti-war march set for Sept. 15, the date that Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is to provide a much-anticipated progress report to President Bush and Congress. Organizers are hoping that tens of thousands of people join the march, which is scheduled to begin at the White House and end at the Capitol.
D.C. officials said they identified other problems with the posters, such as more than three signs put up on one side of a single block, signs that did not state the date they were posted, and signs stuck on utility boxes. In addition, D.C. officials said, no one filed copies of the posters with the mayor's office as required, along with the name, address and phone number of the creator of the signs.
ANSWER organizers said they use legal, water-soluble paste to hang the signs and provide all sign-hangers with a copy of D.C. regulations. They argue that no one should have to notify the government of his or her political opinions.
"We don't consider these fines to have any legal basis," said Sarah Sloan, ANSWER's national staff coordinator. "So there is no need to remove the signs or pay the fines."
The group plans to appeal if fines are imposed and is considering legal action against the city, Sloan said.
The Department of Public Works decided to crack down two weeks ago when employees reported seeing large signs glued in improper places that would take 20 to 30 minutes each to remove, said spokeswoman Vera Jackson. The department often fines individuals or organizations that violate city regulations, she said, adding that this was aimed at keeping the city clean and had nothing to do with politics.
"The District hosts marches and protests all the time," Jackson said. "And the DPW never weighs in on the issues."
ANSWER'S attorney, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice, said such a government crackdown on political posters was unprecedented. If officials truly wanted to make the city clean, she said, they would fine politicians.
"During election season, there are thousands and thousands of posters hanging off every single inch of the city," she said.