Silencing protest is crucial for establishing an authoritarian regime, as the current Republican party and administration are doing. As is suppressing media coverage of protests, or delegitimizing what reporting is done as “fake” news.
I remember how shocked I was to see military equipment and police dressed as soldiers on the streets of Ferguson when protests erupted over the killing of Michael Brown in 2014. And to learn of the Federal program to supply domestic police departments with military equipment.
2013 saw the building of a national network of activists to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline. Thousands of people across the country were trained to organize and participate in nonviolent direct actions. The four of us who were trained as Action Leads in Indianapolis planned a direct action, blocking the doors of the Federal Building, if President Obama approved the permit for the Keystone pipeline (which he did not do). We held six local training sessions where around 60 people were taught how to participate in direct action. Nationally around 400 people were trained as Actions Leads, who in turn trained nearly 4,000 people in their local communities.
Beginning in 2016 we witnessed the repugnant spectacle of the militarized response to Native men, women, and children praying and peacefully protecting water from the Dakota Access Pipeline. Police shooting projectiles at water protectors, spraying them with water in freezing conditions, and arresting peaceful water protectors with felony charges.
Following are several stories about criminalizing protest.
Nearly three years after two women began allegedly plotting to disrupt the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is charging them with several federal crimes that could land them behind bars for 110 years.
The two women were part of the 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline protests, and are the latest targets in a national effort to punish more environmental activists—especially indigenous peoples—for protesting and taking direct action against fossil fuel projects that they believe sacrifice the future of their water, lands, and planet.
Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya weren’t arrested then, however. They stood in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which was spearheading the resistance, by damaging the crude oil pipeline along its Iowa route. The DOJ announced their charges—which include conspiracy to damage an energy facility, use of fire in the commission of a felony, and malicious use of fire—Wednesday. The women claimed these crimes years ago, though, so it’s unclear why the DOJ is charging them now.Dakota Access Protestors Could Get 110 Years in Prison by Yessenia Funes, GIZMODO, October 4, 2019
Two Iowa activists with a history of arrests for political dissent are claiming responsibility for repeatedly damaging the Dakota Access Pipeline while the four-state, $3.8 billion project was under construction in Iowa.
Jessica Reznicek, 35, and Ruby Montoya, 27, both of Des Moines, held a news conference Monday outside the Iowa Utilities Board’s offices where they provided a detailed description of their deliberate efforts to stop the pipeline’s completion. They were taken into custody by state troopers immediately afterward when they abruptly began using a crowbar and a hammer to damage a sign on state property.Dakota Access protesters claim responsibility for pipeline sabotage by William Petroski, Des Moines Register, July 24, 2017
They’re also demanding that our legal system recognize who is and isn’t culpable. In more than 20 court cases since 2008, climate protesters have defended themselves against charges of trespass and related offenses by arguing that their civil disobedience is legally and morally justified. Drawing on science and history to make their case — as well as an argument used by protesters since the 1970s called the necessity defense–they’re asserting that climate change has spiraled so out of control, and the political process has become so unresponsive to ordinary Americans, that direct action–say, lying in pipeline trenches to block construction — is not a crime but is necessary to protect people and communities. From the Delta 5 to the Valve Turners, fossil fuel resisters are flipping the script.How Climate Protesters Are Defending Their Civil Disobedience–and Winning in Court; As more protesters use direct action–like blocking pipeline construction with their bodies–they’re winning more court cases by saying the dire nature of climate change justifies their actions, Fast Company, Nov 11, 2018
Courts in most of these cases have tossed out protest defendants’ evidence before it could be presented to juries. Those decisions have often violated defendants’ legal rights, denied juries their function as fact-finders and voices of the community, and kept expert testimony on climate science, public health, and other subjects out of courtrooms.
But, in an unexpected development, prosecutors in several recent cases have reduced charges to lesser offenses or dropped them entirely. These cases include the 2017 federal prosecution of lawyer and Indigenous activist Chase Iron Eyes for his role in the Standing Rock protests in North Dakota; the 2018 case against the “Montrose Nine” pipeline protesters in New York; and the 2014 prosecution of the “Lobster Boat” protesters in Massachusetts, where the district attorney cited the dangers of climate change in dropping the case.
More than 50 state bills that would criminalize protest, deter political participation, and curtail freedom of association have been introduced across the country in the past two years. These bills are a direct reaction from politicians and corporations to the tactics of some of the most effective protesters in recent history, including Black Lives Matter and the water protectors challenging construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock.The assault on environmental protest by Maggie Ellinger-Locke and Vera Eidelman, The Hill, 3/2/2018
If they succeed, these legislative moves will suppress dissent and undercut marginalized groups voicing concerns that disrupt current power dynamics.
Efforts vary from state to state, but they have one thing in common: they would punish public participation and mischaracterize advocacy protected by the First Amendment.
For example, bills introduced in Washington and North Carolina would have defined peaceful demonstrations as “economic terrorism.” In Iowa, legislators are currently considering bills that would create the crime of “critical infrastructure sabotage.” Labels like “terrorists” and “saboteurs” have long been misused to sideline already oppressed groups and to vilify their attempts to speak out.
Corporations are already abusing existing laws to silence dissent and shut the public out of decision-making. Now, lawmakers are trying to give corporate interests even more tools to punish people for speaking up for their families and communities. That is an attack on democracy — one our organizations will continue to resist.
Another way to protest, turning off valves on the Keystone pipeline, is described below. Michael and I exchanged letters while he was imprisoned. I believe he has been released.
Constructive action is the antidote, and I took some. A year ago, I and a handful of likeminded colleagues acted simultaneously in four states to shut off the flow of carbon-intensive tar sands from Canada into the US.Why I Turned Off the Keystone Pipeline and Face 22 years in Jail by Michael Foster, Newsweek, 10/3/17
We entered fenced-off areas and closed the emergency valves. I shut off the valve on TransCanada’s Keystone 1 pipeline in North Dakota. We called the pipeline companies in advance to notify them, livestreamed our action to prove it wasn’t a hoax, then peacefully waited for arrest.
Our action was effective. We temporarily halted the flow of all tar sands bitumen in U.S. pipelines, equal to 15 percent of daily US oil consumption. But the pipeline companies and law enforcement didn’t agree that it was constructive. We were charged with felonies carrying many years of jail time.
It has been fascinating to see the acts of civil disobedience by the youth of the Sunrise Movement. Those actions last November finally broke the silence about climate change in the US Congress. Likewise it has been inspiring to see the massive global protest of young people participating in climate strikes. I am not aware of arrests related to those demonstrations. And the publicity is very favorable. Young people do have an authentic voice regarding the environment they were born into and the environmental chaos that will significantly affect their lives.
There is very alarming news of preemptive arrests of members of the Extinction Rebellion in London over the weekend.
Activists said they were concerned at the police decision to act pre-emptively against them.
Richard Ecclestone, a former police officer who has joined the group, said: “These tactics are very questionable and are arguably infringing on our rights to peaceful protest, and indeed our efforts to preserve people’s right to life that is currently being jeopardised by the government failing to act on the climate and ecological emergency that they know exists.”
XR said confiscated equipment included portable toilets, kitchen equipment, gazebos and big tents, cooking urns and big thermos flasks, 250-watt solar panels and 12v car batteries, food, waterproofs, umbrellas and hot water bottles.
The group said in a statement: “This escalation of pre-emptive tactics by the government and police is a sign that we are being heard and acknowledged as a significant movement. We ask that the government focus their attention and resources on responding to the climate and ecological emergency which threatens us all.”London police arrest Extinction Rebellion activists before protest
Officers raid building used by climate activists to store items for Westminster rally by Damien Gayle, The Guardian, Oct 5, 2019
Locally my friends from Bold Iowa will be going to trial this Thursday. Your support by attending the trial and/or contributing toward costs would be appreciated. http://boldiowa.com/risking-arrest-for-our-future/
Earlier this summer, President Trump visited West Des Moines for a GOP fundraiser. Bold Iowa was there to expose the president’s climate denial to the donors who came to support him. Five of us — Todd Steichen, Kathy Byrnes, Miriam Kashia, Martin Monroe, and I — blocked an entrance to the facility’s parking lot. We then carried our banner toward the building and were arrested by West Des Moines police. We were charged with simple misdemeanor trespass.Risking arrest for our future by Ed Fallon, Bold Iowa, August 29, 2019
We risked arrest because it’s important to capture the attention of politicians, the press, and the public. Our message is that climate change threatens our very survival, and a president who denies the problem — whose policies in fact greatly exacerbate the threat — must be called out and challenged.
We knew we had to do something creative. So we settled on holding a sign reading “Climate denier in the White House scare the S#*T outta you? IT DOES US!” To further bring home the urgency, we dressed in black and wore adult diapers.
Bold Iowa, Climate Justification Trial, Thursday at 1:30 PM – 4:30 PM, Polk County Justice Center, 222 5th Ave, Des Moines, Iowa 50309