“In the wake of the mass protests for racial justice sparked by the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, a flood of legislation has been introduced in statehouses across the United States that would restrict protest rights. From June 1, 2020, through March 15, 2021, state policymakers have introduced at least 100 proposals in 33 states. Anti-protest bills were being introduced at an alarming rate even prior to last year’s protests, but as a point of comparison, from January to May of 2020, PEN America identified only 15 such proposals. The rate at which such legislation is being introduced has significantly increased since the protests sparked by Floyd’s murder began. The 100 proposals introduced since June 2020 primarily take aim at protest-related activity—that is, activities that arise naturally from participating in a protest or are likely to occur as a foreseeable part of protests—seeking to create new penalties or expand existing penalties for such activity. A smaller number of proposals incentivize greater police presence during protests. Only six of the 100 proposals have a Democrat as a primary sponsor.” – PEN America report “Closing Ranks: State Legislators Deepen Assaults on the Right to Protest”

“Amendment I – Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

As Americans sit around espousing their love of the freedoms they have, these rights are slowly being eroded as a response to the largest movement for racial justice in generations. I’ve previously written about the new laws spreading across the country that are eroding voting rights. Now comes news that a parallel erosion of the right to express ourselves freely, by protesting, is taking place as well. It is clear that almost all of this is coming from members of the GOP.

For those who somehow think they won’t be impacted because they are not people of color protesting for racial justice, you better wake up. These new restrictions will apply to everyone. Once you cross that threshold which takes rights away, turning back is a very difficult challenge.

I often hear about the need to vote but never hear about the need to pay attention to what those elected actually do. Just voting is not enough. If you don’t look at what these lawmakers do once they are in office, they have carte blanche to do whatever they choose. Writing bad laws is easy compared to replacing bad laws.

These restrictions being written across the nation are unjust laws.

“One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Washington Post reports, “Many of the bills targeting protest, for example, both increase penalties for rioting and adjust the threshold for declaring a riot downward, as is the case with legislation signed into law in Florida. Many increase penalties for acts of vandalism or for obstructing traffic. Others introduce new trespassing rules, including, as a bill proposed in South Carolina would do, making it a felony to camp on state property without authorization. Another common component of these bills reduces penalties for drivers who strike protesters if the driver feels as though his or her life is at risk.”

These measure are intended to push back against the type of collaborative protests such as we’ve seen in the Blacks Lives Matter campaigns and the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. The intent of these bills is to stifle voices of dissent. Stand up for your rights or they will be taken.

“We seem not to worry about protesting when white people show up with AR-15s, but when Black people show up with signs we try to pass legislation… maybe that’s why they’re out there in the first place.” – Jason Hodges, Tennessee State Representative

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Lee Matz