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.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
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 $10,000 fine per day
for any organization participating.
Even more egregiously, SB 469
would make “conspiracy to commit criminal trespass” into a felony.
Criminal trespass is a misdemeanor; it is also the crime with which
sit-down protesters at a place of business are typically charged. In
other words, SB 469 seeks to turn peaceful demonstrations into felonies.
If that law had been on the books during the Civil Rights era, then the people who organized and participated this sit-down protest of the downtown Atlanta McCrory’s and F.W. Woolworth in November 1960, this protest of Leb’s Restaurant and S&W Cafeteria in May 1963, this protest of Toddle House Restaurant in December 1963
at which John Lewis was arrested, would all have been in danger of
being charged with felonies merely for organizing a peaceful protest.
At the beginning of an interview from October 1960,
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks of the usefulness of sit-down
protests in bringing about the end of segregation. (All clips from the
Civil Rights Digital Library, University of Georgia).
time-honored approach of peaceful sit-down protest has been used by
Occupy Atlanta during the raid on our park encampment in October, at
Chase Bank on February 10, and most recently at AT$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$T action, SB 469 was
introduced by four corporate lap-dogs in the state legislature. This is
blatantly targeted legislation, in violation of all of our traditions
of democracy, free speech, equality before the law, organized labor, and
individual rights. SB 469 is corporate rule and political corruption
Join us on Wednesday, February 29 at the Georgia State
Capitol Building at 9:30 am to let your voice be heard. If you can’t
afford your own state senator like AT$T, bring a sign.