Sometimes the state seems downright eager to make true every horrible thing people say about it.
In Australia’s latest effort to lurch its way downward into a true Orwellian dystopia, the legislature in New South Wales has advanced legislation that would tar even peaceful protesters with the label “eco-terrorists” and hand police sweeping new powers.
The move was widely derided as an anti-democratic, authoritarian attack. According to a statement by activist and author Aidan Ricketts, the legislation is part of “…a concerted attempt by conservative states to outlaw protest; giving business the right to continue unhindered by the democratic process.”
And while the bill hasn’t been finalized yet, according to Ricketts, “…it looks like they might give themselves the power to seize anything that might be used for lock-ons, such as bike locks, chains and even farming equipment. They’re talking about what looks like giving police the power to arbitrarily move on protests on public or private land.”
And it’s telling that the new anti-protest legislation was being discussed just as the government issued a menu of smaller penalties for mining company violations. Whereas before mining without authority would garner a $1.1 million fine, the new regulations would change that to a $5,000 slap on the wrist, especially for a multi-billion dollar mining conglomerate. At the same time, the government has proposed increasing the fines for trespassing on mining or oil extraction land ten-fold.
Coupled with the anti-protest legislation and its hard not to notice that government forces seem to be tilting the playing field heavily in favor of business and authority.
And Australia isn’t alone in persecuting lawful protest that it deems troublesome or embarrassing. In 2012 President Obama signed into law legislation that makes it Federal crime to cause a disturbance at certain political events.
The U.S. law, which hands police and the feds yet another tool to persecute and prosecute legal protest should they choose to, the bill has largely been forgotten down the memory hole. But it is an important change in the way the authorities are legally allowed to regulate protest.
The law no longer recognizes the difference between people who knowingly and willingly enter into an area under Secret Service control in order to “engage in disorderly conduct” and those who don’t know the area is under Secret Service control.
This seemingly innocuous line signifies much about what is wrong with the current relationship between the government and We The People. Because a strict reading of this passage means that any protest, any sign waving, any cat-calling or other voicing of disagreement at any event at which the Secret Service has set up shop because someone under their protection is in attendance–even if you don’t know this to be the case–and you could end up in federal court.
And the Secret Service protects not just current and former American presidents. They also monitor “special events of national significance,” a broad category to say the least. This has included sporting events, state funerals, inaugural addresses and NATO and G-8 Summits as designated by the US Department of Homeland Security.
Suffice to say these laws in Australia and the U.S. aren’t the first nor will they be the last attempts to muzzle those who raise their voices in legitimate protest. That doesn’t mean we will stop fighting, though.
When the powerful are afraid to hear what the people have to say, maybe it’s time to replace the powerful.