Source: Liberty Blitzkrieg blog, by Mike Krieger
The historical space available for Americans to engage in public protest has been declining for many years, and is a topic I covered on several occasions during the Obama administration. For instance in the post, The War on Free Speech – U.S. Department of Justice Subpoenas Reason.com Over Comment Section, I noted:
Readers of Liberty Blitzkrieg will be well aware of the gradual erosion by the state of the civil liberties of the American public. Such attacks are typically sufficiently under the radar, so that the average citizen has no idea what is happening until it’s too late. I have written about such calculated assaults on many occasions, but the holy grail target of the status quo is the First Amendment of the Constitution, which enshrines a right to the freedom of religion, speech, the press, and the right to peaceably assemble and petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Many aspects of the First Amendment have been neutered in practice. For example, the right to assemble peacefully and effectively is often prevented in practice by the need to secure permits and other hindrances (see “free speech cages” and “protest zones”) . Meanwhile, on college campuses, where activism is historically most vibrant, many schools have embraced the Orwellian concept of “free speech zones” in order to prevent free speech.
Unfortunately, it appears this trend is about to get a lot worse following the DAPL protests and increased activism we’ve seen since Trump’s election. As The Hill reports:
Republican state legislators across the country are advancing bills that would criminalize or penalize some public protests just a month after millions of Americans took to the streets in opposition to President Trump.
In North Dakota, where protesters occupied land around an unfinished section of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, Gov. Doug Burgum (R) on Thursday signed four laws that would stiffen penalties against protests. The measures increase sanctions for offenses related to riots and broaden the definition of trespassing, allowing law enforcement officers to issue citations and fines.
The new laws, passed under emergency provisions that allow them to take effect immediately, came just hours after a protest camp near the pipeline was evacuated.
Senators in neighboring South Dakota on Thursday passed a bill that would allow the governor to create a “safety zone” in emergency situations. Anyone who entered the zone would be fined.
Legislators who backed the measure specifically cited the Dakota Access project and possible protests against the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which will run through South Dakota. Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R), who sponsored the legislation, said it was needed to deter “professional agitators.”
The Minnesota legislation follows protests against the shooting deaths of several black men by police. Those protests blocked roads leading to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. Legislators in Indiana and Iowa have also considered bills to criminalize blocking streets during protests.
Arizona Republicans have introduced a measure to expand racketeering laws, which target organized crime groups, to include rioting. The bill would allow police officers to arrest and the seize the assets of those who organize protest events.
Civil libertarians say the measures are unconstitutional overreactions to a historic era of protests.
One measure in Tennessee goes so far as to give civil immunity to a driver who hits a protester blocking traffic.
The legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Matthew Hill (R), comes after a car hit volunteers helping protesters cross a street in Nashville as they demonstrated against the Trump administration’s orders blocking immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Hill’s measure passed its first test in a state Senate committee earlier his month. Hill did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
A similar bill failed in the North Dakota legislature earlier this month.
Republican-led legislatures in Michigan and Virginia have already rejected their own measures increasing penalties on protests.
While disturbing, the above presents opportunities as well as challenges. For example, despite several very interesting protest movements since the financial crisis, none have been really effective in changing anything in a material way. We need to ask why that’s the case, and it seems to me that a change in tactic when it comes to much needed non-violent, protest and civil disobedience is in order. As I noted in the post, Why Increased Consciousness is the Only Path Forward: