Busking World in Turmoil after Travel Ban
Street Performers across the US are in uproar, posting angry photos to twitter with the hashtag #buskingisnotacrime, after President Trump signed Executive Order 13784, a travel ban on “troubadours, minstrels, street performers, jongleurs or associated traveling tradesmen and panhandlers” from entering US borders.
In a press conference after the signing ceremony, President Trump called the travel ban “an unprecedented move to protect American artists”. Asked whether he was trying to appease performers who will be out of work when the NEA is defunded, Trump replied, “Now they can get jobs. Good jobs. I go down the street in New York, and you wouldn’t believe it, but I go down the street and it’s full, and I mean full, of these guys jumping around, and who knows where they’re from? I used to jump around myself when I was a kid, so I understand them, I was a good jumper let me tell you, my uncle was a great musician and juggler, good genes, very good genes, and these guys are making all kinds of noise. The subway too. I’m telling you, our inner cities are complete crime zones; these guys don’t even have permits.”
House Freedom Caucus Chairman, Mark Meadows, was quick to point out in defence of the travel ban that it also set up Las Vegas-inspired “free expression zones” throughout the country, where “all types of performance are encouraged for natural born Americans”.
However, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren made a statement saying “Donald can call them free expression zones, but it’s just an Orwellian attempt to hide that this order actually bans freedom of expression everywhere else. It’s totally unconstitutional.”
Is the travel ban constitutional?
The president’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, was asked by a PBS reporter to clarify whether banning “any kind of theatre, show or entertainment from occurring in places of cultural interest” was too vague, and in fact ban busking entirely from city centres. Spicer denied that life would be any different “for American-born performers who adhere to common sense laws”.
“This isn’t too broad,” Spicer continued, “this is very specific about where acts of public tomfoolery can take place. We’re only banning performing within a hundred feet of a church, law firm, hospital, morgue, public park, national monument or scenic area. Street performers will still be allowed to perform outside inner city public schools, who,” he joked, “might need a distraction from all the shooting.”
A Diverse Response
It isn’t clear how lawmakers across the country will enforce the travel ban or performance restrictions, but it is already having an effect. Stacks of unicycles have appeared outside Canadian and Australian consulates, as performers prepare for an uncertain future. A subreddit support group for buskers has been flooded with requests for advice on exactly how to add the executive order to their hat lines, and the hashtag #buskingisnotacrime is currently trending on Twitter.
The Trump administration refused to give us an interview, but a spokesperson for Vice President Mike Pence was quick to defend the new restrictions over street performing, saying, “Pence gave his life to Jesus Christ at a Christian music festival in Asbury, Kentucky, in the spring of 1978. He truly believes that music is an extension of the soul, and therefore that the sanctity of human life extends to music. And I think we’ve all had enough of hearing Hallelujah being murdered over and over again on our way to work.”
“What’s surprising,” Elizabeth Warren wrote in a widely-shared Facebook post, “is that the Republican party is supposed to be anti-big government. Yet here we are, watching them roll out a restriction on First Amendment rights on a scale we’ve never seen in America before. What’s next, a complete ban on public political satire?”
Not all entertainment is covered by the order, which excepted hula hooping, burlesque dancing, belly dancing, female contortionists and female singers “who are at least an 8 or above”. Women’s rights organisations shared their concerns across social media, as the order also decriminalised “the groping or grabbing of female human statues”.
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