Protest Predicament

Can the downtown farmers' market survive a one-man anti-immigrant crusade?

To Alan Ward, the downtown farmers' market is a bucolic oasis for the business suits to enjoy the city away from their surrounding offices.

The market, held on Wednesdays at Jácome Plaza in front of the Joel D. Valdez Main Library, and Fridays at El Presidio, has been under Ward's care for the last eight years.

Since the beginning of the year, however, the image of the Wednesday market that Ward holds dear has been shaken by the work of a well-known anti-immigration provocateur known for burning Mexican flags and threatening to shoot anyone who touches him.

When it first started, Ward says, he hoped Roy Warden's appearance was just a one-time event. However, the appearance has now evolved into a weekly headache, every Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m.--which happens to be the market's busiest time.

Free speech has been near the center of the debate since the Mexican flag burner arrived on the scene. Ward says that to him, what he experiences once a week is not about free speech, but the survival of the small businesses his market helps cultivate.

"He comes in and puts down a Mexican flag right in the market area. He stands there walking on the flag and ... I know this is about freedom of speech, but I think in the end, it gives Tucson a black eye to allow it right here at the farmers' market," Ward says.

Ward says the protest occurs as many children are walking into the library with parents or school groups: "He happens to use a lot of vulgarities, and the kids are right there."

Ward talked to the police, who often show up during the one-hour protests, but was told there is nothing they can do to prevent someone from exercising their right to free speech. Ward also went to the city--since the market is permitted through the Parks and Recreation Department--but those officials also told Ward there was nothing they could do.

Last week, Ward says, he'd finally had enough. That's when he learned Tommy DiMaggio had decided it wasn't worth bringing his lunch truck to the market. DiMaggio's business, Tommy DiMaggio's On the Road Café, left the market because of the anti-immigration performance.

DiMaggio says the activity was taking place right near his truck, keeping away customers who have gotten to know him since September.

"I'm trying to sell lunch. I'm breaking my ass trying to make a living, and he's there standing on a Mexican flag. ... I want to come back, but I'm not making any money," DiMaggio says.

The only crowds that the protests attract are a small group of high school students and a large group of police, DiMaggio says.

"He's on a bullhorn calling people 'cunt' and 'bitch,' and the cops are all around him. He's obviously got an ax to grind. He really wants a confrontation. He wants the cops there," DiMaggio says. "This one girl kind of touched him, and he yelled to the police to arrest her, and that's when he started calling her a cunt and a bitch, then he tried to antagonize the cops, because they let her get away. He wants someone to punch him. If this was Jersey, he'd get beat up."

DiMaggio says he wonders why it's considered free speech to insult people and shout vulgar language through a bullhorn.

"I told the cops, 'That's not free speech,'" DiMaggio says.

Sgt. Fabian Pacheco, of the Tucson Police Department, says the police aren't arriving in response to the anti-immigration protests, but in response to calls from concerned citizens. He says the police are not there as a security contingent.

"We have a downtown division, and we deploy in areas when we receive calls for service," Pacheco says. "That's how we deploy or use our resources."

When asked about businesses losing money and the foul language, Tucson's most infamous protester--who has both sued and been cited by the city--says he's sorry, but that he's only human. He says the protests are about America, not making a living.

"When we've gathered, we've seen people eating sandwiches, and (they) see us there as more of an attraction rather than a repellant," Warden says. "We're not there to cause a loss of business, but on the other hand, we who have fought for the right of free speech have suffered tremendous economic losses."

Last year's protests were held on Mondays, but they were changed to Wednesdays so he could issue invites to the Tucson City Council and the Pima County Board of Supervisors at their Tuesday meetings. The area off Stone Avenue at the Plaza--while alongside the farmers' market--also happens to be a good location to direct the bullhorn toward the office of Pima County Legal Defenders attorney and immigration activist Isabel Garcia, he says.

"The lunch hour for our meeting is a quintessential public forum. ... We have found that to be a strategic location, simply because it is a public piece of property, a sidewalk, a park and a library complex, but also (within) earshot of a superior court building ... and the Pima County Legal Defenders and (Pima County Attorney) Barbara LaWall," he says.

While Warden apologizes for disrupting business--and even says he's sorry for yelling those not-so-nice words over the bullhorn--he wants to remind those who don't agree with him that they are welcome to take up a bullhorn and offer their own opinions.

Meanwhile, Ward, of the farmers' markets, cringes at the thought of the protests continuing. He says he doesn't want the divisive activity near the market, but fears he may have to live with it.

According to Parks and Recreation administrator Peg Weber, Ward and his vendors may indeed have to learn to live with the one-hour protest.

If someone wants to use Jácome Plaza or El Presidio to protest or discuss politics, they are within their rights to do so and do not need a permit, Weber says.

The market does not have exclusive use of the parks. Weber says organizations are rarely given exclusivity. The only time an organization or individual would be asked to leave would be if their actions are interrupting library business or traffic.

"If I was told that was happening, then we'd have to have our attorneys look into it," Weber says, adding that the Parks and Recreation Department would then be in the uncomfortable position of ruling on freedom of speech.

"I'm not comfortable with that," Weber says.

While the Mexican-flag-burning and stomping protester doesn't need a permit, Weber says it isn't unusual for political groups to call before hand to get approval from the city to use the space. Recently, she approved an anti-war group using chalk to draw out bodies as part of a protest, since the chalk isn't permanent and won't damage the brick pavers.

Weber, however, does recall one approval she gave two years, when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals asked if they could use the park.

"Of course, I didn't know they were going to be nude," Weber says.

Meanwhile, Ward says he and the kettle-corn vendor have thought of surrounding the protest area in popcorn and allowing the aggressive downtown pigeons to take care of the problem.

"They are fearless," Ward says.