Congress Infringing on First Amendment Rights with HR347?

Well, this is alarming. This bill just passed unanimously in the Senate, and nearly so in the House:

This Act may be cited as the ‘‘Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011’’.

RESTRICTED BUILDING OR GROUNDS.
Section 1752 of title 18, United States Code, is amended to read as follows:
§ 1752. Restricted building or grounds (a) Whoever—
(1) knowingly enters or remains in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so; (2) knowingly, and with intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, engages in disorderly or disruptive conduct in, or within such proximity to, any restricted building or grounds when, or so that, such conduct, in fact, impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions; ‘‘(3) knowingly, and with the intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, obstructs or impedes ingress or egress to or from any restricted building or grounds; or ‘‘(4) knowingly engages in any act of physical violence against any person or property in any restricted building or grounds;
or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b).
‘‘(b) The punishment for a violation of subsection (a)
is—‘‘(1) a fine under this title or imprisonment for
not more than 10 years, or both, if—
‘‘(A) the person, during and in relation to the offense, uses or carries a deadly or dangerous weapon or firearm; or ‘‘(B) the offense results in significant bodily injury as defined by section 2118(e)(3); and‘‘(2) a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both, in any other case.

‘‘(c) In this section—‘‘(1) the term ‘restricted buildings or grounds’ means any posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area— ‘‘(A) of the White House or its grounds, or the Vice President’s official residence or its grounds; ‘‘(B) of a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting; or ‘‘(C) of a building or grounds so restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance; and ‘‘(2) the term ‘other person protected by the Secret Service’ means any person whom the United States Secret Service is authorized to protect under section 3056 of this title or by Presidential memorandum, when such person has not declined such protection.’’.

At first glance, this seems like a fairly innocuous bill. However, the sections in bold are what concern me. Though suspiciously vague, it seems as though this is another bill written in response to very specific events, without any consideration for the broader implications. Though this time, the legislation passed, with overwhelming support and with little media attention.

Those who have taken note of the bill, are speculating that this could make protesting illegal, especially at events like Party Conventions and UN summits. I’m inclined to agree, given the sections that I’ve highlighted in bold.

Tea Partiers and Occupiers Come Together For Beer Summit

I just found this video, and I had to share. It’s so unbelievably cool.

Quick background: Occupy showed up at CPAC to protest. Some conference attendees went out to confront the Occupiers. Arguments ensued. Then:

AWESOME. It’s worth all fifteen minutes. If you’re short on time, the condensed version is here.

Stop for a minute. Just imagine what could happen if the Tea Party and Occupy actually “came together” and fought together on the issues that they agree on.

Imagine.

Another Lesson Learned From Occupy

Though this legislation died in committee, it highlights just how important it is to pay attention when state legislatures and Congress react to very specific events like Occupy Wall Street:

via Mother Jones:

“The bill, SB 1534, would make it a felony to use “electronic communication to solicit two or more persons to commit [a] specific crime at [a] specific time and location.” The punishment could include up to 5 years in prison and a $125,000 fine.”

Commenter John Ford summarizes, so aptly, just why this legislation is A Bad Idea:

“But committing a crime isn’t necessarily a felony. Setting aside that it is ill-advised AT ALL, but making it felony to conspire to commit what might only be a misdemeanor is just….stupid. And dangerous. But mostly stupid. “

Many times, what happens when legislatures legislate in response to very specific events is they fail to consider the broader applications of the law they are considering. This will happen especially when they have very negative feelings toward whatever it is they are reacting to legislatively–namely here, the Occupy movement. The reaction may well be extreme, as it is here, making this action a felony.

Whatever one’s feelings on Occupy, or whatever event that will inspire legislation next week, month, or year, legislation like this will affect everyone. In this case, Oregon would have felt the immediate impact–but state legislatures play copycat like nobody’s business. This legislation would certainly, had it made it to the floor, been duplicated in other states. It’s vital that everyone pay attention. Also vital, is that state legislatures know that we are paying attention.

Rally at Occupy Louisville

A sign posted at the edge of camp.

On Thursday, I went down to Occupy Louisville for the solidarity rally. The rally was across the street from City Hall, at 6th and Jefferson.

The people gathered were buzzing about the attacks on protesters in other cities–yet here in Louisville, the police were absent. Occupy Louisville and LMPD have not had any issues. In fact, the only officers we saw were overseeing traffic redirection for the decoration of the city for the holidays!

This video was actually shot the second time we sang, since so many more people arrived.

We started off by singing happy birthday for the Occupy Movement–now two months old. Next, Keith R. gave us a quick overview of what the movement is about, and what events sparked its beginning.

Next–people stepped forward to tell their stories. Heartbreaking stories of job loss, predatory banking practices leading to people having to fight for their homes–all manner of struggle and loss.

The woman in this story preferred to stay anonymous, but wanted to share her story, so Keith told it for her. 

I stepped forward, and told my story. Here iswhat I said:

When the economy collapsed, I was a student at Western Kentucky University. I watched as millions of homes were foreclosed on, and millions lost their jobs. Despite all of that, I thought I was safe. I was doing what everyone told me to do in order to succeed–I was getting a college degree. I was involved in more extracurriculars than you can believe. I never thought that I’d have trouble finding a job. However, graduation came and went, and I couldn’t find a job. Three months passed, and I was getting desperate–I had bills to pay!

Finally, I found a job–it was entry-level. Nowhere near what a college graduate might expect. It was a job I could have gotten had I dropped out of high school–50% of college graduates do not find jobs in their field–fifty percent!

But that’s not all of my story. I never thought that I might not find a job in my field after graduation—but I never dreamed that six months from the day that I received my diploma, I would be homeless.

I woke up one morning to find the eviction notice on my door. I cannot describe to you the fear and panic I felt. I rushed around, packing essentials for my family and I: clothing, toiletries, valuables, expecting every moment to hear a knock on the door. My family and I worked for the next twenty-four hours. Have you ever packed up an entire house in one day? We were lucky. We had access to a trailer, and managed to get a storage unit. We packed with very little sense of organization of caution–we worked every minute knowing the next minute might bring a sheriff to our door to toss us out.

For a month my family was split apart. I slept on a couch at a relative’s home, with no privacy, and few belongings. A month before my family found a house for rent.

There are many different ways to be homeless. Certainly, you would never look at a young college graduate and believe her homeless–but with the plague destroying the land of opportunity, anything is possible. As long as greed creeps in the American Dream–poverty and homelessness are closer than any one of us would like to think.

I came to the rally knowing I was going to speak. I’d spent some time the night before thinking about what I wanted to say. I was prepared. But as I spoke, my voice started to waver, and my hands shook. The people were silent. When I finished, they cheered. When I passed the megaphone back to Keith, and took my spot back in the crowd, a man nearby gave me my coffee–he took it from the table so it wouldn’t spill. (It was quite windy.) As he passed me my coffee, he patted my arm and thanked me for sharing my story, and offered words of encouragement and support.

That interaction repeated itself throughout the afternoon. People came up to me, offering me hugs and support, and thanking me for sharing my story. For making it real to them.

Then, surprise! A reporter from a local news station, WHAS approached me. He heard my story, and wanted to interview me.

Whoa!

Definitely not something I expected.

After all, I only wanted to come down to participate, and record as much of it as possible to share online. Now I’m being made the representative? I did it–but it didn’t feel right. Thursday was the first time I’ve been down at Occupy Louisville, after all.

No moral panic, ya'll. Everybody stayed on the sidewalk.

After that–the rally concluded, and we marched to the Occupy Louisville camp. Everyone milled about a bit, and I got to chat with some of the other people there. Soon, it was announced that a discussion circle was about to begin, so I joined the group heading over.

My first view of Occupy Louisville: clean, beautiful, and strong.

So many passionate people!

So many different walks of life represented!

I had the pleasure to meet Linda, an elderly woman with a myriad of health issues–I won’t list them here, to respect her privacy, but wow. She believed so much in getting involved that she made her way downtown on such a chilly, windy day. I walked with her back to her car; we stopped several times so she could rest. She told me she’d be back. I can’t help but to admire her strength.

There was only one hitch: as we arrived at the camp, we received word that the fire marshal demanded the straw spread over a few areas had to be removed, or the camp would be evicted. The straw was spread on the ground to absorb moisture, to prevent the ground from being muddy. The straw? Wet. Not a fire hazard. Regardless, I joined a few others to rake and scrape the straw off the ground and into a garbage bag. (Yep, only so much as to fill one garbage bag.) We had only one rake, so mostly we picked the straw up with bare hands.

No leader needed when there are people willing to cooperatively work together to solve problems.

If you’re interested in seeing more video of the rally, see here. This was crossposted at The Pulse of the City.

One Thing I’ve Noticed

The Occupy protesters have been corralled, beaten, maced, and arrested in huge numbers.

They are unarmed.

The Tea Party protesters were not.

They carried Rugers on their hips and slung AKs over their backs.

Hmm.