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flash mob

Paying It Forward to an Aspiring Flash Mob Organizer

This past Friday night, I was sitting at home watching a movie when my phone chimed with a new email. It was from a fifteen year-old girl in Ohio. She wanted to do a flash mob in response to violence in her community. She’d never done anything like this before and she wanted some help.

I was quite impressed by her email. It was so sweet that she was trying hard to be respectful. You could tell she put some time and effort into writing this. She started it with “Dear Ms. Ruth Carter…” and closed with “Sincerely” and her full name. She was upfront about her age and that she couldn’t afford to hire me. She said that she and her friends wanted to do a flash mob to “get the young adults in my city to do something fun and to stop the violence” but they didn’t want to cause any trouble because “the city legal justice system has enough to deal with.” And she thanked me for my time even if I couldn’t help.

Listen by Johan Larsson from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Listen by Johan Larsson from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Her message came in around 8pm my time, so that means it was 11pm her time. What 15 year-old sends thoughtful emails to a lawyer late on a Friday night? I was inspired to help her. I scooped up my phone and responded with, “Give me a call. Right now. I’ll give you some tips,” and I included my personal cell phone number.

I’m sure she didn’t expect that.

I’ve had a few moments in my life where I’ve sent an email and received the “Give me a call right now” response. And those messages usually get my heart racing because there’s no time to prepare for the conversation.

About ten minutes later, my phone rang. I walked around the house for about twenty minutes, sharing stories from my flash mob experiences and how I approach planning events with this young lady. (I tend to pace when I’m excited or nervous. It helps get my creative juices flowing too.) I suggested that her group look at their ideas from an outsider’s perspective and think about what they might be doing wrong and what they might be accused of doing wrong. We talked about deciding when to ask for permission vs when to ask for forgiveness. I shared with her my experiences with getting in trouble with mall cops and why malls are generally a bad location for flash mobs. We also talked about who she could partner with and I was pleased to hear that she has contacts in her police department who can advise her.

At one point in the conversation, she called me “ma’am.” I was amused that she was being so respectful. I bet it is intimidating to be fifteen and talking with a lawyer who is almost twenty years her senior. I totally get it even though I thought it was funny. When I was fifteen, every adult except my gymnastics coaches were “Mr.” or “Mrs.” plus their last name. To this day, there are some adults who I still address as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” I giggled and told her to call me “Ruth.”

It felt really good to pay it forward to this young lady. So many people have been exceptionally generous with their time and knowledge when I was young and it’s nice to be able to do the same for someone else. I told her to keep me in the loop and to let me know how her flash mob goes. It sounds like her heart is in the right place so I hope she can pull it off.

Reconciling my Personal & Professional Lives – or Not

A friend recently suggested I write a blog post about how I reconcile my professional life with the fact that I do flash mobs and wear pasties. My initial thought in response to that was “I don’t.”

Ignite Phoenix After Hours #3 - photo by Devon Christopher Adams

Ignite Phoenix After Hours #3 – photo by Devon Christopher Adams

For anyone who doesn’t know, I’m a lawyer by trade, I do flash mobs with Improv AZ for fun, and yes, there are times when I appear in public wearing pasties instead of a shirt. I’m also a runner, a basset hound owner, a Star Trek geek, and a singer. My standard “uniform” is jeans and a t-shirt but my closet has everything from business suits to miniskirts and tank tops to ball gowns.

When I say that I don’t reconcile my professional and personal lives I mean that I’m not a different person in personal and professional settings. Wherever I go, I’m always me. There may be topics I don’t bring up in certain settings, but if they come up, I’m fine with it. There’s nothing I do in public that I wouldn’t own in any situation.

When I was first getting involved in social media professionally, I asked if I should have separate Twitter accounts for my personal and professional lives. The audience responded with an astounding “NO!” They said that people want to know the whole person so there’s no reason to separate the personal from the professional sides of my personality. They said that some people will seek me out because I’m different than others in my field – and that has totally been true! I had one person schedule a consultation with me after his daughter saw me at one of my speaking engagements. She told her dad that he’d like me because I swear.

Have there been repercussions? I wouldn’t call them repercussions as much as natural consequences. There are people who are turned off from me because I’m bold and don’t conform to the traditional lawyer stereotype. And that’s ok. On the flip side there are people who like that I’m different and that my personal and professional lives are integrated. It’s so much easier to be one person instead of trying to maintain separate professional and personal lives.

The only thing I do keep separate is my Facebook page. If you’re not my friend in real life, you don’t get to be my friend on my personal Facebook page. My Facebook page is where I put things that only my friends find interesting, but I’ll still own everything I post if anyone asks. If you’re not my friend in real life, you’re better off liking the law firm’s Facebook page and following me on Twitter.

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I Met Charlie Todd!

I’ve known about Charlie Todd and Improv Everywhere since he uploaded Frozen Grand Central to YouTube in 2008. I was fascinated by their creativity and boldness from the start. I went back and watched all their videos and read all the blogs from their missions – it was captivating. I subscribed to their YouTube channel and I joined the now-disbanded “Urban Prankster Network” online.

Charlie Todd and Me

Charlie Todd and Me

Charlie and I have exchanged emails and messages over the years after I helped co-found Improv AZ and I started digging into the legal issues surrounding flash mobs and pranks. He was always friendly and helpful, but since we lived on opposite sides of the country, we never met in person.

A few weeks ago, I got a note from Charlie saying that he was debuting his film “We Cause Scenes” at SXSW. The film follows the story of Improv Everywhere from the beginning to where it is now. I love this story because Charlie didn’t start out trying to create this group. He was just a guy who was having fun with his friends and he embraced the opportunities that allowed it to grow into his career. I was so excited. I immediately put his film at the top of my SXSW to-do list.

I met Charlie about an hour before the film in the convention center. When I saw his familiar face, threw up my arms, and screeched, “Charlie Todd!” I gave him a big hug and chatted for a few minutes before claiming my spot in line. It was so great to meet him in person but because we’ve been conversing for years, it was like seeing an old friend.

The movie was fantastic. If it comes to your city, go see it. It’s a great story.

During the Q&A after the movie, Charlie announced that Improv Everywhere was doing an MP3 Experiment in Austin. I of course rearranged my schedule so I could go. We were given a place, a time, an MP3 to download, and we were told to wear a certain color shirt and bring an uninflated balloon. You’ll have to wait to see the video to see what we did, but we had a blast. It was so great to do a mission with my prankster brothers and sisters.

I give my friend Jeff Moriarty a lot of credit for helping me become the person I am today. If he hadn’t organized the first No Pants Ride in Phoenix, there never would have been an Improv AZ and I wouldn’t be a flash mob attorney and blogger. Watching Charlie’s movie reminded me that I have to give him a lot of credit too. He was the one who came up with the idea for the original No Pants Subway Ride and he was the one who decided to invite the world to participate in 2009. If he hadn’t done that, he wouldn’t have given Jeff his launch into the official prank/flash mob world.

So thank you Charlie. Without you, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

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No Pants Light Rail Ride 2013 – Me & My Shadow

My law school alma mater holds an annual networking auction to raise money for its pro bono activities. Local lawyers and ASU law school professors offer opportunities to network – usually lunches and letting students tag along to hearings and depositions. Since I can’t be normal, I auctioned off the opportunity for a law student to shadow me at the 5th annual No Pants Light Rail Ride – participation mandatory.

I was tickled when 1L Michael Ortiz, someone who has never participated in a flash mob before, purchased the item and came along for this year’s ride. He agreed to be interviewed and share his thoughts about the experience.

Mike & Me on the light rail platform, Photo by patrickem from Flickr

Mike & Me on the light rail platform, Photo by patrickem from Flickr

Why did you bid on this item?
I was interested in meeting you and getting a better understanding of what an intellectual property attorney does. When I saw that the No Pants Ride was mandatory I interpreted it as a challenge and experience which would take me out of my comfort zone.

How did you feel before the ride?
When I woke up the morning of the ride, I was already nervous. As I drove to the meet-up point I started to feel a bit anxious, but as soon as I saw some pantsless people already assembled at the light rail stop, my anxiety and nervousness disappeared.

What was your initial reaction/thoughts/feelings about being pantsless in public?
I think knowing that others would be pantsless as well made me more excited to take my pants off. I wasn’t nervous at all and I thought it would be more fun than anything. The sight of numerous pantless people is something else, and the feeling of camaraderie among us pantless folk made the entire experience even better. In all honesty I felt pretty comfortable in my underwear; it wasn’t nearly as awkward as I had thought.

What were some of the highlights from the ride for you?
I think the best moments were witnessing the reactions of people getting on the light rail filled with people wearing no pants. Some of the best reactions were people trying to NOT act surprised. Drinking beers with fellow No Pants Riders was also a highlight for me. It was one of the best experiences I have ever had.

Would you do a flash mob again?
Definitely!

What’s your advice for anyone considering participating in a flash mob?
I would say that there is no other experience like it; you meet awesome and fun people, make memories that are unforgettable, and you get a rush that lasts long after the flash mob has ended.

I had a blast hanging out with Mike at the No Pants Light Rail Ride. I’m glad he enjoyed the experience and that he got to see what it’s like to be an organizer of the event. I was pleased to see that the next batch of law students has some open-minded people in it who want to challenge themselves outside the academic arena.

You can check out more pictures from the 2013 No Pants Light Rail Ride on Flickr and via College Times, Phoenix New Times, and AZ Central. The video from the ride is expected to be released soon on Improv AZ’s YouTube channel. If you live in the Phoenix area and want to participate in a flash mob or prank with Improv AZ, please add yourself to our email list and you’ll be kept in the loop on our upcoming shenanigans.

Is That Legal – Apple Store Flash Mob

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney. In accordance with ABA policy, this blog should not be viewed as legal advice. It is simply my experiences, opinions, and stuff I looked up on the internet.

(cc) Devon Christopher Adams

This past weekend, Improv AZ organized a flash mob that invaded the Apple Store in Scottsdale. Our friends at Brand X Custom T-Shirts made ours shirts that resembled the Apple Store employees’. Each participant wore a royal blue shirt with a heart on it that had a leaf coming out of the top and a bite taken out of the side. Our group of about 30 participants walked into the store in small groups and proceeded to browse around for about 30 minutes, looking at and buying merchandise. We never represented ourselves as Apple employees, but if someone mistook us for an employee, we answered their question if we could or directed them to an Apple employee. If anyone asked us what we doing, we denied any implications that were acting in conjunction with each other. At the end of our invasion, we walked out calmly, took some pictures in front of the store, and left.

Did We Trespass?
No. The Apple Store is open to do business with the public. In legal terms, we were invitees. If we were asked to leave and we refused, then we would have been trespassing.

But You Weren’t There To Shop . . .
And how many times have you gone into a store just to look around with no intention of buying anything? At least one person in our group purchased something and several others looked at products that they were possibly interested in buying in the future. Additionally, we did not do anything that interfered with other shoppers’ ability to shop or employees’ ability to work.

Did We Commit Disorderly Conduct? Unlawful Assembly?
No. You have to behave pretty badly for those charges to stick. Peacefully walking through a business that is open to the public in matching shirts is not illegal. We weren’t rioting, fighting, disrupting business, making unreasonable noise, or refusing a lawful order to disperse.

Our Shirt vs. Their Shirt (cc) Devon Christopher Adams

Did We Commit Trademark Infringement?
Apple uses the apple with the bite out of it as a symbol of the source of its goods. Our apple-heart was not indicative of the source of any goods or services. There’s no trademark infringement because we weren’t claiming anything as a trademark.

Did We Commit Copyright Infringement?
I wouldn’t be surprised if Improv AZ and/or Brand X get cease and desist letters based on copyright infringement because our design was inspired by Apple’s logo. However, I’d argue that we created a parody that is protected under the fair use doctrine. A parody needs to resemble the original in order for people to get it; thus our shirts had to resemble the Apple shirts to be funny. Improv AZ did not make any money of these shirts, and Brand X probably isn’t turning a big profit either. Additionally, Apple doesn’t sell its shirt to the general public, and there’s no way someone who wants an Apple shirt would buy ours thinking it was close enough to what they wanted.

Thank you to everyone who came out to make this event a success and to Devon Christopher Adams and Sheila Dee for shooting such wonderful pictures of the event! If you want your own apple-heart shirt, they are available at Brand X Custom T-shirts.

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Is That Legal – Public Dancing

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.  In accordance with ABA policy, this blog should not be viewed as legal advice.  It is simply my experiences, opinions, and information I looked up on the internet.

At 11:45pm on April 12, 2008, Mary Oberwetter and 17 friends engaged in silent dancing inside the Jefferson Memorial while listening to music on their headphones to celebrate Thomas Jefferson’s birthday.  The Park Police arrested her when she refused their order to stop.  Oberwetter was charged with interfering with an agency function and demonstrating without a permit, which violates the National Park Service Regulations.  She responded by filing a lawsuit claiming that the police violated her First and Fourth Amendment rights.  On May 17, 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed the judgement that she was lawfully arrested and upheld the dismissal of her claims.

After the ruling came down, five more protesters were arrested for dancing in the Jefferson Memorial over Memorial Day weekend.  The group, led by Adam Kokesh and Edward Dickey, referred to their behavior as civil danceobedience.

Many people, including Elie Mystal from Above the Law, found the ban on dancing in memorials disgusting.  In response to the court ruling and the subsequent arrests, groups all over the world staged dancing events at memorials.  It was reported that as many as 38 countries participated in the event, including demonstrations at the Jefferson Memorial and in Phoenix, Arizona.  I could not find any reports of any arrests at any of the events.

Photo by Adam Nollmeyer

Unfortunately the problem here is the law is clear that any demonstration at a memorial won’t be tolerated.  It’s sad, but that’s what it is.  This event made me wonder, on what grounds might someone be arrested for dancing in public and what can people to prevent it?

Assault:  Assault requires intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing any physical injury to another person or placing them in reasonable apprehension of imminent physical injury.  So as long as you keep your body at a sufficient distance from other people, I don’t think dancing constitutes assault.

Trespass: Trespass requires knowingly entering or remaining unlawfully on any real property after a reasonable request to leave by the owner or any other person having lawful control over such property, or reasonable notice prohibiting entry.  Public property, like parks containing memorials, are open to everyone so as long as no person with proper authority, dance on!

Unlawful Assembly or Riot:  These crimes require two or more people acting together with force or violence or threats of force that disturb the public peace.  As long as you and your friends can dance without threatening anyone, then it’s ok.

Disorderly Conduct:  This is a catch-all crime for general bad behavior; however, the law requires the intent to disturb the peace with unreasonable noise or violent or seriously disruptive behavior.  I’m guessing you have to be a really bad dancer to rise to the level of seriously disruptive behavior.

Obstructing a Thoroughfare: To obstruct a thoroughfare, you have to recklessly interfere with the passage of a thoroughfare by creating an unreasonable inconvenience or hazard without a legal privilege to do so.  Thus, dancing on the grass, away from the sidewalk or otherwise not interfering with other people’s ability to use the sidewalk because of your dancing appears to be permissible.

Bolin Park Rules by Ruth Carter

It’s important to note when you’re dancing at a memorial to look for any signage that indicated whether you are permitted to be on the memorial itself.  In Bolin Park in Phoenix, there are over a dozen memorials and statutes.  I was surprised that each one did not have a “Do Not Climb” plaque until someone pointed out that this notice was on the posted signs with all the rules regarding permitted behaviors in the park.

We had a great time at the dance event in Phoenix.  There was another rally going on and there was lots of police and security present.  At one point we went over to their area and started dancing on the lawn when they started to play music.  The police looked at us strangely and smiled.

Thank you to Phoenix commercial photographer Adam Nollmeyer for shooting such awesome footage at the Phoenix Dance for Liberty Flash Mob.

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