It’s been almost 18 months since the highly criticized HR 347 (also known officially as the “Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011” was signed into law. What this bill did, was essentially criminalize protesting the president. Infamously in certain circles, the bill was one of the only things Congress could bring itself to agree on last year, passing overwhelmingly 399-3, with 30 votes abstaining. Only Paul Broun (R, Georgia), Justin Amash (R, Michigan), and Ron Paul voted against the bill in Congress.
The general purpose of the law is to create what amounts to a mobile federal protection zone around anyone under Secret Service protection (most notably the President himself). This puts people under federal jurisdiction and leaves them open to federal prosecution should the “enter or remain” in such a restricted area. This also applies to anyone within that zone who takes part in “disorderly or disruptive conduct” with the intent and effect of impeding or disrupting government business or official functions, or blocking entrance to or exit from a restricted area.
What many people don’t understand about this “new” law, is that it’s not actually new. Most of it has been in place since a massive overhaul of the bill in 2006. Prior to that some form of this bill has existed since the early 70’s. The difference in THIS “improvement” of the bill, is that a person no longer has to be in this area knowingly. Prior to this “improvement” persons would have to carry out these acts both “willfully” and “knowingly”. Following this “improvement” a person only has to be knowingly in the zone, they do not have to be “willful” which legally means that they knew their behavior was illegal. In short, this lowers the bar federal prosecutors have to clear to prosecute protesters of events such as G-20 summits, or the RNC or DNC.
In the wake of the signing of the bill, there was a good deal of public outcry that the bill was an assault on free speech and liberty overall. This was for two reasons:
1) That’s a popular refrain these days. And with good reason, since the signing of the Patriot Act, there has been a steady assault on liberty and freedom from DC. In recent days you’ve heard about the NSA, but before that we had CISPA and before that NSL’s. The NSA spying is hardly either the worst OR first of it. For at least the past four years, the government has been issuing demands to companies like Google for information using “NSLs” (or “National Security Letters”) hand in hand with gag orders so you don’t even know if your information has been subpoenaed. Just a few months ago, Google issued a report pictured below which attempted to quantify how many of these NSLs it had received over that time period. Like I said. This is not a new thing.
2) It is.
With that said, it’s always been an assault on those things, this just gave it wheels and a lower bar of standards for the prosecutors. In other words it did what every “improvement” of a bill has always done: expanded the powers of that bill.
(This assault on our rights has encouraged many to write on the subject. One of the most complete, well written, and helpful guides I have ever personally read can be found here.)
The public reacted as the American public has always reacted when told not to do something: they tested it. And not just a few nobodies either. A presidential candidate was arrested-but not charged. She was the Green Party candidate Jill Stein, but a candidate nonetheless, who was detained for protesting the debates for not being more inclusive. Actor Georce Clooney was also arrested protesting outside an embassy shortly after the law was signed.
In the end, the government did what it always does in these situations. It let the ACLU have their say, let the public outcry in the form of blogs and protests, and eventually everyone moved on. They moved on to the next issue, or baseball season, or graduate school, or whatever, but they forgot what outraged them so. Eventually whatever it is that was being protested, just becomes part of “the way things are” and by and large the people accept it, dissenters become outcasts and are ridiculed as extremists.
This is why I write this today; almost 18 months after this bill passed. 16 months after Clooney’s arrest, and probably at least a year after any major news network even mentioned HR 347. Because I think that it’s important that we do not forget. That we don’t allow ourselves to become distracted by created and preceived battles between Democrats and Republicans, between red and blue, between black and white. It’s times like this when the country has become more divided than I’ve seen it since the OJ trial at least that we need to remember that a year ago, this bill passed 399-3. Because at the end of the day, it’s not about R or D in DC either. It’s about them and us. Almost 18 months ago 399 representatives stood against us. Most of them have done it countless times before and since.
We cannot let their actions fade away and be forgotten, we need to constantly remind ourselves who we’re really fighting for: the American people. Red or blue, black or white, we’re ALL Americans, and there are some issues on which we ALL need to stand together: just as “our” legislators stood against us last February, and have done so many other times as well.