A funny thing happened on the way to figuring how to get President Obama not to sign HR 347. Yesterday late afternoon, I was on an urgent national conference call to discuss how to stop the bill. HR 347 is a bill that was passed with lightening speed with almost no opposition just recently by the Senate and House.
During the call, we were told that the bill is on President Obama’s desk and that he had until March 12th to sign it or veto it. This national phone connect was a “call to action” against the bill.
The bill has been nicknamed the “anti-Occupy Wall Street” bill, the “No Trespass” bill, the “end of dissent” law, and various other terms to describe its potential draconian effects on protest and dissent in America. It authorizes restricted zones where all protest is banned in and around government buildings and facilities, and bans protest around those receiving Secret Service protection. It does more and I’ve included its text – scroll down. “It kills protest around these people,” a moderator flatly stated at the beginning of the call.
So, a funny thing happened while on this conference call to urgently figure out what we could to prevent Obama from signing it. After all, he was a constitutional law professor before he became a politician.
During the conference call, a woman broke in, and said: “I have some very bad news. Obama signed this bill – HR 347 – today. He signed it today.” Today – March 8th – International Women’s Day. The bill was law.
This depressing news set us all back and changed the tenor and attitudes expressed over this national network of activists.
On the phone we had folks from Georgia, Connecticut, New York, DC, Salem Oregon, southern Massachusetts, Minnesota, Detroit, Dallas, Oakland, Indiana … and San Diego, of course. Most of those hooked up to this line were or are involved with the Occupy movement, and in fact, the call had been set up by Occupy activists in Washington, DC – (including San Diego’s own Michael B. – whose voice I recognized 3,000 miles away).
The earlier urgency we had all expressed evaporated. In its place was exasperation and despair. But for many on the phone call, their determination remained. So, it wasn’t really a “funny thing” that had happened – no, more like a devastating thing had happened – but it sure was ironic.
These points about HR 347 and its Senate companion SB were made. It severly curtails protests, and keeps us from protesting the very people who are responsible for putting the country where it’s at today. It’s restrictions apply to some government functions. It criminalizes protest around federal buildings and agencies – even those in a labor strike could be subject to criminal charges.
We were not certain when the bill actually goes into effect, but we believed that unless there was language in the bill itself about that – there isn’t any, the bill – now law – would go into effect on January 1, 2013. So, we had some time, someone noted, to think about what to do, to make plans – we had ten months to galvanize a reaction to it that would repeal it.
Because the Senate passed it with unanimous consent and there were only 3 “nay” votes in the House, there’s a challenging road ahead for those who wish to repeal it.
Still, troubling aspects of the new law are certainly disquieting. The signified “special events of national significance” could be the political party conventions coming up, or the Super Bowl. People could be banned from protesting any government or quasi-government function that the Department of Homeland Security decides upon.
Plus, protesters could be arrested in these restricted zones even if they didn’t know it was a crime to be there. If convicted of being in a restricted zone, you’d get a misdemeanor – but it would be a felony if there was some kind of weapon – would a Swiss Army knife do the trick? – or if there were injuries … The felony conviction calls for up to 10 years of imprisonment – certainly a chill on dissent.
One person on the conference call emphasized how local county and city governments could even have their government buildings and agencies declared “restricted”. Local police departments could determine local events would be safe from protests.
That same guy – an older man who sounded a lot like Dan Rather – stated that the near-unanimous consent and speed with which this bill was passed by Congress and now signed into law shows the degree to which the President and the governing elite believe the American people are tired of the Occupy Movement. The new law bans protests that the movement has targeted over the last 6 months.
Halfway through its second hour, the conference call seemed to be winding down. Most wanted to think about the law and what to do, now that the urgency had vanished. Form a group, create a website, hold a debate on what we need to do. These were on our future agenda. We are to spend the week thinking about this, and are to come back with proposals.
What would you propose?
Here’s the text of the bill that actually was passed by both houses:
H.R.347 — Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011 (Enrolled Bill [Final as Passed Both House and Senate] – ENR)
One Hundred Twelfth Congress of the United States of America
AT THE SECOND SESSION
Begun and held at the City of Washington on Tuesday, the third day of January, two thousand and twelve
To correct and simplify the drafting of section 1752 (relating to restricted buildings or grounds) of title 18, United States Code.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the `Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011′.
SEC. 2. RESTRICTED BUILDING OR GROUNDS.
Section 1752 of title 18, United States Code, is amended to read as follows:
-`Sec. 1752. Restricted building or grounds
`(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.’.
Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Vice President of the United States and
President of the Senate.