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Right to protest attacked by Congress, President

By staff |
March 15, 2012
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Minneapolis, MN - On March 8, President Obama signed the Federal Restricted Building and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011. This bill has been called the “anti-Occupy bill” and it specifically targets protests at national security events where the Secret Service is in charge.

This law makes trespassing, actions in or near restricted areas that would “disrupt the orderly conduct of Government” and blocking entrances to the restricted areas federal crimes. The restricted areas include locations under Secret Service protection including “(1) the White House or its grounds of the Vice President’s official residence or its grounds, (2) a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting, or (3) a building or grounds so restricted due to a special event of national significance.”

Under the anti-Occupy bill one must act “knowingly,” not “willfully and knowingly” which was the previous language. This new wording means one would need to know that they were entering a restricted area but not necessarily know their actions would constitute a crime.

The American Civil Liberties Union explained the potential impact of this new law, “H.R. 347 did make one noteworthy change, which may make it easier for the Secret Service to overuse or misuse the statute to arrest lawful protesters.”

Meredith Aby, an activist with the Minnesota Anti-War Committee and who helped organize the 2008 March on the RNC, responded to the passage of the law. “The classification of National Special Security Events and the criminalization of protests at these events is unfortunately nothing new. The federal government has used this designation since the Clinton administration as a way to make national political conventions, like the DNC and the RNC, and events like the G-8 and WTO insulated from justified public protest and outrage.”

Aby continued, “Regardless of how the federal government uses their rule book to favor the 1%, people in this country are fed up and want real change. Tens of thousands of people came out to say no to the war on Iraq in Saint Paul in 2008, despite the multitude of barriers to protest that the federal, state and local governments put up. Similarly tens of thousands will come out this May to protest the NATO summit in Chicago despite this law and Mayor Emmanuel’s attempts to criminalize protests. The 99% want money for human needs not war and will take to the streets in Chicago to have their voices heard.”

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