Georgia's war on protest
ATLANTA--The Georgia state legislature is considering several terrible bills in a flurry of activity before the end of the legislative session, prompting opponents to rally in defense of their rights.
As the Republicans play out a carnival of bigotry on the national stage, their counterparts in the Georgia legislature have put forward a wretched collection of racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-union legislation in the last couple weeks before the end of the session.
The new national trend of drug-testing recipients of government aid has arrived in the state, alongside a drastic cut to unemployment benefits, limiting people to 12 weeks of unemployment.
The war on women is advancing with a proposed "fetal pain" bill that would tighten medical exemptions for abortion and reduce the period in which an abortion can be performed to 20 weeks.
The legislature has also passed SB 458, which would ban undocumented students from all 35 schools in the University System of Georgia.
Simultaneous with this assault on all sections of the working class is the proposal of SB 469, a bill that would make a felony out of planning civil disobedience and picketing. The bill was drafted by the notorious American Legislative Exchange Council--a group that critics call essentially a scheme for corporations to "legally" buy legislation by drafting model bills that are given corporate approval before making their way to legislatures across the country.
SB 469 would levy fines of $1,000-a-day on individuals and $10,000-a-day on organizations accused of illegal picketing, while simultaneously making it more difficult for unions to collect dues.
Although the bill differs in its target from a law that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushed through to attack the right to protest, it is very much in the same vein, resulting from an Occupy AT&T campaign by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) over the termination of over 740 employees.
The war on protest is not limited to the local level. President Barack Obama recently signed HR 347, written in response to mic-checking by Occupy activists of several high-profile politicians, which makes it easier to prosecute individuals for entering areas under Secret Service jurisdiction.
This attack on the ability to effectively protest the government, corporations or politicians is a concerted effort to silence dissent and reinforce the state's defense and support of the 1 percent. Just as we've seen the growth of the war on women and immigrants over the past several years, the reaction to these attacks has led to a new front---a war on the right protest itself.
In response to this attack, Georgia unions and progressive organizations decided to defend their right to protest--by protesting. A mass rally on March 17 at the state Capitol drew 2,000 unionists and community members, who picketed the Capitol building, completely surrounding it, for over an hour. The group came back together afterwards to hear speeches from union members, undocumented students and families facing foreclosure.
Organizations represented included the Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers, UNITE HERE, 9 to 5 Working Women, the Georgia Latino Association for Human Rights, and the National Action Network.
For many protesters, the atmosphere evoked the possibility of a "Wisconsin moment" in Georgia and the confidence to build for it. This response by the labor movement is a huge step for activism in Georgia. As a "right-to-work" state with an anemic labor movement, a protest that can draw thousands of union members is a sign of the growing militancy of labor in the face of a national campaign to take the U.S. back to the Gilded Age, socially and economically.