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Giant Rats in the Street – thank IBEW 269

ratResponding to daily revelations of corruption and scandal with the AIG bailout, an estimated 10,000 Americans are hitting the streets on March 19, in more than 100 public demonstrations across the country. These public displays of mass outrage will surely force accountability and oversight that decades of litigation and arbitration could never produce.

A common fixture at labor protests, including AFM Local 802 (God bless ‘em!) is a giant inflatable rat. These rodents (Rattus norvegicus gigantus) have become a symbol of corporate greed and are feared by even the most powerful executives, which explains why they’re facing extermination.

In 2005, a Lawrence Township N.J. ordinance was applied to prohibit Electrical Workers’ Local 269 from displaying a 10-foot tall rat balloon as part of their labor protest on a public sidewalk. Wayne DeAngelo, business manager for Local 269 was convicted of violating the ordinance. Mr. DeAngelo appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court (State v. DeAngelo, N.J., No. A-73-07, 2/5/09)

Last month the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Lawrence Township ordinance “does not fairly advance any compelling governmental interests” and is not “narrowly tailored” to target the source of harm it seeks to prevent.”

Samuel Gompers on Compulsory ArbitrationEmphasizing constitutional protections of free speech, the New Jersey Supreme Court rejected the City’s claim that the purpose of the ordinance is to maintain an aesthetic environment, to improve vehicular safety and to minimize adverse effects of signs on property. Justice Wallace offered that “There is no evidence to suggest that a rat balloon is significantly more harmful to aesthetics or safety than a similar item being displayed as an advertisement or commercial logo used in a seven-day grand opening promotion.”

Lord knows, musicians have done their share to further the intersts of healthy public protest. But on this day we recognize brother Wayne DeAngelo for winning one for all of us, while standing up against some detestable creatures.

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