Advocacy groups vow to ‘Protect the Protest’ as government and corporations challenge First Amendment rights

With wealthy corporations, state legislatures, and the federal government finding new ways to challenge Americans’ right to protest, several nonprofit groups have banded together to fight back on behalf of those facing legal jeopardy for peacefully blocking pipelines or using civil disobedience to resist other fossil projects and destructive policies.

The “Protect the Protest” initiative was established this month by 20 non-profit groups—including the ACLU, the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR), and Amnesty International—in response to lawsuits commonly filed by large companies against protesters with the goal of taking advantage of the power imbalance and exhausting activists’ resources, forcing them to end their actions against the corporations.

In addition to the broader goal of “defending dissent,” the coalition will put a focus on advising demonstrators and groups on how to avoid and handle that legal tactic known as a “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” or SLAPP.

“One of the biggest and most important components of this is our tagline, which is: ‘An attack on one is an attack on all.’ So if you go after one of us, you’re going to hear from all of us,” Jana Morgan, director of advocacy and campaigns for ICAR, told Fast Company.

The group will also campaign in support of protest groups when they face a SLAPP lawsuit, in which companies seek large sums from groups with far fewer resources.

The initiative was begun about a month after a judge partially dismissed a lawsuit filed by Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), against several climate action groups who had urged banks not to finance the project. During the months-long protests, the government as well as private security firms hired by ETP surveilled demonstrators, blocked journalists from covering them, and used water cannons and tear gas to break up the protests.

The new initiative also comes together as opponents of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana face felony charges for attempting to block that project.

The initiative was announced as protesters against the final portion of DAPL, the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana, face charges for demonstrating against the project.

Following the passage of a new state law, trespassing at a pipeline construction site has been deemed a felony in Louisiana rather than a misdemeanor. Similar laws have been passed or proposed in at least 20 other states, including Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, since Trump was elected. Since the Louisiana measure went into effect in early August, 10 people have been arrested, organizers say.

“It’s a ridiculous over-criminalization of people who protest,” Bill Quigley, a law professor who represents protesters, told NPR this week.

The ACLU and its Montana chapter also recently uncovered proposals by state and federal law enforcement officials to employ counter-terrorism measures ahead of planned protests against the Keystone XL Pipeline, stoking fears that demonstrators will encounter aggressive use of force by police as many did at Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota, during the DAPL protests. Documents obtained by the ACLU show plans to train police in “riot-control formations” and “mass-arrest procedures.”

“We’re at a critical inflection point for our country,” Morgan told Fast Company. “And I think everyone should really be engaged and really be aware that [people are] coming after our First Amendment rights and we need to be prepared to stand up and say no.”

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Julia Conley is a Common Dreams staff writer.

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One Response to Advocacy groups vow to ‘Protect the Protest’ as government and corporations challenge First Amendment rights

  1. Today’s state legislatures’ bills proposing criminalizing protests are actually bills that propose criminalizing the Constitution. The First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law … 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.” In crafting the Constitution, Thomas Jefferson said in a letter to James Madison, Dec. 20, 1787, “A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, & what no just government should refuse.” In his letter to Alexander Donald, February 7, 1788, Jefferson again expressed his desire for a Bill of Rights, saying. “These [rights] are fetters against doing evil, which no honest government should decline.”

    James Madison originally objected to adding a Bill of Rights. Later, in his Speech to Congress proposing Constitutional Amendments, Madison argued in its favor saying, “The people shall not be restrained from peaceably assembling and consulting for their common good; nor from applying to the legislature by petitions, or remonstrances for redress of their grievances.”

    A March 16, 2018 ACLU article, “The Assault on Environmental Protests,” said that there were more than 50 state bills aimed at criminalizing protest. The article says some bills are “written so broadly that they could impose criminal penalties and devastating fines simply for offering food or housing to protesters.” This is the condition of the current U.S. government. Lawless corporations pressure U.S. lawmakers to tear down the foundation of our legitimate government (the Constitution) and destroy the public’s constitutional protections. This is happening out in the open, and there seem to be few politicians or other public figures in positions of power who have the integrity to stand up and oppose it.

    Thank you for Intrepid Report, and thanks to all alternative media who expose this and keep the public informed.