People on the Internet were all riled up over the weekend by news President Barack Obama had signed something into law called H.R. 347 — known to many as the Trespass Bill — which potentially makes peaceable protest anywhere in the U.S. a federal felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
That analysis of the bill I just stated actually depends on who you listen to.
Some say its just another tool to crack down on potential terrorism. Others say it is simply regulates protest on what are considered “restricted buildings and grounds" to include any place where Secret Service personnel are stationed. And there are still those who say it may just say it is restricted to places where Secret Service agents are protecting VIPs, but that it could be broadened to include all forms of peaceful protest.
I’ve read it myself — admittedly, without a law degree — and can’t see much to it.
I’ve read commentary from all sides and simply come away from it able to see the gist of every argument for and against the bill.
So I’m going to come at it from this standpoint — I think it, like any bill which broadens the government’s powers, has the potential for abuse. It also raises some questions for me about why we need a law like this and other recent bills passed in Washington D.C. which grant more power to officials and the military.
Yes, we need to protect ourselves from future terrorist attacks. The 9/11 attacks were almost 11 years ago and no one wants to see a repeat of that happen. I’m not going to begin to suggest we should lower our guard now, even though there hasn’t been a successful attack since.
However, do we need laws that allow the military to operate on U.S. soil? Do we need laws giving the government the power to hold “enemy combatants” — even those who are American citizens — indefinitely and to conduct secret trials by military courts? Or, now, a law that gives the government the right to arrest and detain people for peaceful protest? Is this because of the Occupy
Movement? Is it because none of the politicians — Democrats and Republicans — want their nominating conventions occupied by malcontents this summer?
This country was built on the right to protest. A group of “malcontents” in Boston fed up with
British taxation got together in 1773 and dumped a shipment of tea from three vessels into Boston Harbor. It was an iconic moment in American history and was an early point of contention in the American Revolution. It was also a form of protest.
The Sitdown Strikes in Flint back in 1936-37 were also a key moment in the American labor movement. These men were were targeted by police and strike-breakers a the time and were ultimately protected by the Michigan National Guard from further violence.
Government should protect our right to peaceful protest, not create laws to further limit or restrict it. If people trespass during protest, then there are laws already which allow for their arrest. But creating tougher laws only gives the government more power to tread on our rights. It also gives people a reason to call it a conspiracy — whether it is or isn’t.