Look away! Nothing to see here!
At least there won’t be from this point forward…
House Resolution 347, the “Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011,” has a boring, benign title – as insidious legislation typically does. What sounds like a plan for White House shrubbery actually signals the death march of the First Amendment.
The National Defense Authorization Act handled the dismantling of the First Amendment; HR 347 picks up the pieces and buries them out back where they can’t irritate elected officials and appointed security personnel.
Leaving out the “whoever’s” and “knowingly’s” of the language, the two-page document essentially makes being present – and therefore inconvenient – in the vicinity of government business a one-year prison sentence. You would not need to be in violation of local trespassing laws. You would not need to be menacing or threatening. You need only “impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions.”
What constitutes an “official function?” How diligent of you to ask. The bill goes on to state that these new restricted areas include: the White House or its grounds, the building or grounds where any person with Secret Service Protection is or will be visiting, and grounds “restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance.”
In other words, wherever the President decides and for whomever the President decides. The executive branch already had the power to designate Secret Service protection for people. Its occupant can now also do so for buildings and public spaces. So much for “the right of the people peaceable to assemble.”
Congress has granted the President this power on shockingly bipartisan lines. HR 347 passed 399-3 (with 30 not casting votes) in the House and by voice vote in the Senate. That’s right; the habitually dysfunctional and disagreeable Senate didn’t even need to chat about it.
They’ve nearly unanimously bestowed this new authority upon the President because they have a vision problem. Over the past year – fueled by recalls in Wisconsin, direct attacks on women in the states and occupiers occupying everywhere – our country’s citizens are waking up and wandering into the streets to express their displeasure. Suddenly, we’re in the faces of our elected officials.
Legislators cannot clear their consciences, so they’re clearing the grounds. Any physical reminder that they were elected to represent actual human beings will no longer be tolerated within eyesight or earshot. Not looking at the faces of the disenfranchised does make oppression significantly more palatable for the oppressors.
Technically, they haven’t silenced us. We’re still allowed to express opinions, carry signs etc…as long as we do it far, far away from them. They’ll claim technical adherence to the First Amendment’s free speech clause while simultaneously side-lining us out of having any actual effect on public opinion or policy.
Well, that’s their intent.
I don’t see this new law, the NDAA, the local protesting restrictions in cities around the nation (looking directly at you, Chicago) having the desired effect of stifling the rampant frustration felt by millions of Americans. Congress and the President were clearly not paying attention during the evictions of Occupy Wall Street or the shuttering of the Wisconsin state capitol.
When you attempt to shut up the people, they tend to stand up instead. And with many of us standing already, our President better be prepared to wield this new power broadly. I portend that the stroke of his pen on HR 347 was, in reality, the striking of a match.
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Categories: Finding My Voice