A new Senate Bill in Georgia is leading the charge in punishing peaceful protest. Senate Bill 469 amends laws relating to labor organizations and relations to “provide that certain provisions prohibiting mass picketing shall apply to certain private residences…provide for an action to enjoin unlawful mass picketing…and provide for both criminal trespass and criminal conspiracy” with punishment and fines (h/t Sarah Jaffe at Alternet).
The bill makes it unlawful for persons to engage in picketing where “a labor dispute exists” in numbers that would block any kind of transportation or entrances to buildings or interrupt “quiet enjoyment.” In addition, planning such a direct action or protest would also become a crime – “conspiracy to commit criminal trespass.” In other words, a protest action such as a march or occupation of a building or protest around a private residence will be an arrestable offense, as well as planning such an action. The possible punishment includes a fine of up to $10,000 and a year in jail.
Eric Robertson, Political Director for Georgia Teamsters Local 728 told Alternet “This bill is obviously an attack on working people and anyone who believes in organizing for justice. It undermines civil liberties, and clearly is designed to cripple working peoples’ ability to organize and build organizations to improve their working conditions.”
Considering the already violent and harsh treatment Occupy demonstrators have received by law enforcement across the country, particularly in Oakland, Los Angeles, and New York City, this is a sad but not surprising attempt by legislators to further legalize state repression and fight dissent. As Jaffe points out, the language in the bill is very nebulous:
“’Constitute a threat to obstruct or interfere with’ could be interpreted pretty broadly, and leaves a lot of discretion up to police on the scene – or to business owners, who could have picketers removed by claiming they presented a ‘threat.’”
Such language mirrors the words contained in the National Defense Authorization Act, passed at the beginning of the year, which essentially, codifies the Federal government’s ability to indefinitely detain citizens. The Georgia Senate Bill reflects a much larger threat to democracy, slowly creeping its way across America in the wake of Occupy protests, but one that has existed always to people who wish to express dissent against war, corrupt politicians, and other misdeeds by their government: When people feel empowered to make bigger changes and work towards them, those sitting in the seats of authority will do everything to repress that sense to keep their place.