Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Anti-Union, Anti-Protest Bill Would Have Made Dr. King Into a Felon

In a state which lays credible claim to being the cradle of the Civil Rights movement, State Senators Don Balfour, Ross Tolleson, Bill Hamrick, and Bill Cowsert have just demonstrated palpable disrespect for Georgia’s rich history of protest and activism. They are the sponsors of Senate Bill 469 which, had it been law in 1960, would have made Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, John Lewis, Joe Beasley, Minnie Ruffin, and many other luminaries of the Civil Rights movement into felons.

Along with provisions intended to stealthily de-fund and weaken unions, the law as proposed would make picketing illegal “at or near any place where a labor dispute exists in such number or manner as to obstruct or interfere with or constitute a threat to obstruct or interfere with the entrance to or egress from any place of employment or the free and uninterrupted use of public roads, streets, highways, railroads, airports, or other ways of travel, transportation, or conveyance.” That is, you don’t have to actually block the entrances or sidewalks; you merely have to seem like you might. The “offense” of picketing…protected under the First Amendment and enshrined in our history as far back as the public outcry against the Tea Act which led to the Boston Tea Party protest and the American Revolution…would be punished by a $1000 fine per day per person, and a $10,000 fine per day for any organization participating.

Even more egregiously, SB 469 would make “conspiracy to commit criminal trespass” into a felony. Criminal trespass is a misdemeanor; it is also the crime with which sit-down protesters at a place of business are typically charged. In other words, SB 469 seeks to turn peaceful demonstrations into felonies.

If that law had been on the books during the Civil Rights era, then the people who organized and participated this sit-down protest of the downtown Atlanta McCrory’s and F.W. Woolworth in November 1960, this protest of Leb’s Restaurant and S&W Cafeteria in May 1963, this protest of Toddle House Restaurant in December 1963 at which John Lewis was arrested, would all have been in danger of being charged with felonies merely for organizing a peaceful protest. At the beginning of an interview from October 1960, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks of the usefulness of sit-down protests in bringing about the end of segregation. (All clips from the Civil Rights Digital Library, University of Georgia).

The time-honored approach of peaceful sit-down protest has been used by Occupy Atlanta during the raid on our park encampment in October, at Chase Bank on February 10, and most recently at AT$T on February 13 along with members of Georgia Communication Workers of America and Jobs With Justice. A week and a half after the AT$T action, SB 469 was introduced by four corporate lap-dogs in the state legislature. This is blatantly targeted legislation, in violation of all of our traditions of democracy, free speech, equality before the law, organized labor, and individual rights. SB 469 is corporate rule and political corruption in action.

Join us on Wednesday, February 29 at the Georgia State Capitol Building at 9:30 am to let your voice be heard. If you can’t afford your own state senator like AT$T, bring a sign.