WASHINGTON — Fans of pop superstar Britney Spears gathered in Washington, DC, Wednesday to show their support for the singer's ongoing battle against her conservatorship, a legal arrangement that has granted her father and a team of lawyers control over her life for the past 13 years.
Approximately 50 people gathered by the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for the #FreeBritney rally. The event was organized by Free Britney America, a newly founded DC-based group that aims "to organize congressional and senatorial legislators for a hearing to better evaluate and make changes to the issues surrounding conservatorship law," according to its mission statement.
Free Britney America's four founders told BuzzFeed News that they connected for the first time over social media last week, and, with help from the organizers of the longtime Spears advocacy group #FreeBritneyLA, were able to plan the rally in less than six days.
"I am so thrilled by the turnout today, it was beyond our wildest dreams," cofounder Cassandra Dumas said. Another cofounder, Dylan Spence, added that #FreeBritneyLA told them not to expect more than 5 to 10 people for their first event.
Spears fans were joined at the rally by advocates against guardianship and probate abuse who shared stories about how they and their families have been harmed by court-mandated arrangements similar to the ones preventing the singer from resuming control over her life.
Rick and Terri Black, founders of the nonprofit Center for Estate Administration Reform, drove to DC from North Carolina for the event. During the rally, the couple described their battle to remove Terri's older father from the power of a guardian who, they say, neglected his health and went on to face criminal charges after his death for misuse of the estate's funds.
"Britney puts a voice and a face on this scourge," Rick said. "We know that with Britney's voice that change is starting to occur. Look at the crowd that's out here today. We couldn't — by ourselves, a group of 60-year-olds and 70-year-olds talking about this issue. Nobody was listening."
The rally took place hours before the latest hearing in Spears' case, where the singer won the right to personally choose a lawyer to represent her interests in her conservatorship. In a virtual hearing on June 23, Spears delivered a blistering statement about her life under the court-mandated legal arrangement that has been in place since 2008, claiming, among other things, that she had been forced to perform against her will for years and that she's not been allowed to remove her IUD in order to have more children with her longtime boyfriend (whom she is also not allowed to marry, under the terms of her conservatorship).
"I truly believe this conservatorship is abusive,” she told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny last month. "My dad and anyone involved in this conservatorship... they should be in jail."
Following Spears' testimony, the wealth management firm that was appointed to oversee the pop star's finances resigned as co-conservator of her estate, saying that they had been unaware she objected to the legal arrangement. Days later, her court-appointed lawyer since the conservatorship began requested that he also be allowed to step down as her counsel.
At Wednesday's rally, a number of Spears fans cited the singer's testimony as the galvanizing force that brought them out to protest in the humid mid-90-degree DC weather.
"We all thought this was going on, but to hear her actually say it, out loud, in her own words, it was just heartbreaking," said Melissa Bader, a #FreeBritney advocate of more than a year who used a vacation day to travel from Delaware for the rally.
"As a fan, my heart got really heavy," agreed Alex Lohhoh, who carried a sign that featured an image of himself and Spears at a backstage meet-and-greet event during her Las Vegas residency. "I got very sad, and honestly, I cried for a couple of days."
"It was kind of a validation that what we've been fighting for was, like, for real, and we just need to keep fighting until we can get her free and also, like, end conservatorship abuse in general," Bader said.
In the weeks since the June 23 hearing, there has been a wave of high-profile bipartisan support for the singer on Capitol Hill, with politicians such as Sens. Ted Cruz and Elizabeth Warren weighing in and expressing the need for federal investigation and oversight into guardianships and conservatorships.
Warren, along with Sen. Bob Casey, on July 1 sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice, requesting data on guardianships in the country and how government agencies protect those under court-mandated supervision. "Ms. Spears’ case has shined a light on longstanding concerns from advocates who have underscored the potential for financial and civil rights abuses of individuals placed under guardianship or conservatorship," the senators said in the joint letter.
Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a diehard Donald Trump supporter, even made a surprise appearance at a #FreeBritney rally outside the courthouse in Los Angeles where Wednesday's hearing took place, reportedly telling the crowd that it would be "a black eye for the American justice system" if the legal dispute didn't end in the pop star's emancipation.
The cofounders of Free Britney America said that they plan at minimum to rally on every Spears conservatorship court date, and they may gather more frequently than that. Florida Rep. Charlie Crist's legislative director was present at the rally and, in a conversation heard by BuzzFeed News, said he plans to introduce legislation to protect those in court-mandated conservatorships and guardianships sometime next week. Crist's office did not immediately respond to questions about the plans.