A controversial bill has passed the Insurance and Labor Committee and is now headed to the state Senate floor. The bill was written to make some forms of protest into felonies. While the committed amended it to make them misdemeanors of a high and aggravated nature, the bill is still very unpopular in many circles.
According to Atlanta Progressive News, SB 469 criminalizes acts that have paved the way to significant change in Georgia’s and the nation’s history. Leaders of the Occupy Atlanta movement are being particularly vocal about their opposition, and understandably so.
Blogger Sara Amis of Occupy Atlanta wrote had the law been instated in the 1960s, it “would have made Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr…. and many other luminaries of the Civil Rights Movement into felons.”
The legislation is no doubt spurred on by many lawmakers disdain with the Occupy movement and those protestors involved. Some believe it’s a direct response to the sit-in that was held at AT&T’s midtown headquarters on February 13. All 12 people arrested at that time have been charged with misdemeanor trespassing. Following the arrests, however, the Occupy Atlanta movement has maintained tents and continued picketing outside of the midtown building.
According to CBS Atlanta, the bill will criminalize picketing outside of a business where a court has ruled sit-ins to stop. So, because the court has ruled you cannot hold a sit-in inside of the building, this means—according to SB 469—that you must stop picketing outside as well.
The initial outrage against this bill was not only because it would criminalize such civil disobedience, but because it would make such behavior a felony, the most serious crime classification available. At committee, however, the word felony was stricken and replaced with misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature.
The bill passed despite protests both outside and within the room. During voting, the attendees were said to chant “Kill the bill!”
It seems from reporting as if the bill will classify the offense as “conspiracy to commit trespassing,” but Debbie Seagraves of the ACLU of Georgia points out, “Conspiracy to commit a crime cannot be charged at a higher rate than the actual commission of a crime.” Trespassing is a misdemeanor under Georgia law. “The bill creates a conflict in Georgia criminal code.”
Civil disobedience in the form of disorderly conduct has long been a way for regular citizens to impact change on the government and even corporations. The Occupy movement, whether you agree with their causes or not, has breathed some new life into protesting and picketing. Though their methods and motivations may not be shared by all, to transform citizen action into criminal activity would be a huge blow to freedom and people powered movements.