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Editorial: Dissent Under Siege
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Your Right to Protest Under Siege
Your right to protest is under attack as Greenpeace faces federal charges.
It's no shock that the Bush administration would like to silence Greenpeace, but it's the administration's tactics that are a bit outlandish.
The law was created in 1872 and was enacted to stop pimps from climbing aboard ships entering port. Why, you ask? Because back in the late 19th century, there was a problem with brothel operators persuading sailors to "jump ship" and the brothels would then wine and dine the sailors and, in the process, take their money.
The law hasn't been used since the 1800s, and only twice has the law been used to actually get a conviction. But the Bush administration doesn't care about outdated laws, as long as it will help them suppress the actions of brave activists.
In this case, according to an Associated Press article, "[On April 12, 2002], two Greenpeace protesters jumped aboard the ship more than three miles from shore, wearing shirts emblazoned 'Greenpeace illegal forest crime unit' and carrying a banner reading 'President Bush, Stop Illegal Logging.' The ship's crew kept them from unfurling the banner." ("Government dusts off 1800s law in targeting environmental group Greenpeace," Associated Press, January 21, 2004)
Six activists were then charged with misdemeanors. The federal charges related to that 1872 law didn't come until 15 months later.
Greenpeace says that what they did doesn't fit that law, which references ships "about to" dock, and that a ship going 10mph that is three miles out to sea is not "about to" dock. But federal prosecutors have found precedent. One of the two convictions using that ancient law involved a ship 50 miles away from docking.
Looks like there might be trouble for Greenpeace if our legal system doesn't wake up. Not only is the law outdated and vague, it's also questionable if Greenpeace should even be charged under it. According to the aforementioned article, "a New York judge who examined the law the year it was enacted called its language 'inartistic and obscure.'"
So, what's at stake? Besides more activist silencing at the hands of the Bush Administration, Greenpeace faces some serious penalties.
Those penalties include a $20,000 fine and five years probation and, in turn, could hurt the organization's ability to protest using civil disobedience and may open their data (finances, membership, etc.) to government review.
Even worse, Greenpeace fears that, if convicted, their tax-exempt status could be revoked.
"Greenpeace is an advocacy group. It is important that they be as free as possible to engage in their advocacy," First Amendment expert Floyd Abrams told the Associated Press. "The decision to indict Greenpeace seems to me to be constitutionally insensitive."
Insensitive, indeed, and transparent. It's obvious that the Bush administration is once again flexing their muscles against opposition to what they see as being "right." It started with the Patriot Act, then Patriot Act II, then Bush's "Healthy Forest" initiative. And I don't expect their assault to stop any time soon.
Beware of your freedoms being taken away. Protest is an American tradition and, no matter how fascist our current administration may be, we, as citizens, must speak out to protect it.
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