As British playwright and political rabble-rouser George Bernard Shaw noted, "You don't learn to hold your own in the world by standing on guard, but by attacking, and getting well hammered yourself."
That certainly has been true of progressives in our country. We've never been able to advance our people's little-D democratic goals by idly hoping the established powers will do it for us; they're the ones doing it to us, imposing plutocratic rule to increase their fortunes at our expense. Rather, it has been audacious American rebels who've incrementally advanced our democratic possibilities by defying the repressive laws of the authoritarian order. That's what the revolutionaries of 1776 did, and so have subsequent generations of abolitionists, suffragists, unionists, populists, feminists, integrationists, anti-corporatists and other grassroots activists.
Now add to them a team of bold environmental advocates who, on Sept. 12, literally put their lives on the line to confront the looming global crisis of industrially induced climate change. Eleven members of Greenpeace were suspended on static lines a couple of hundred feet above the water from a huge bridge that spans the Houston Ship Channel, temporarily shutting down Big Oil's largest U.S. outlet for climate-destroying petrochemicals.
Unfortunately, these intrepid climate defenders quickly found themselves suspended even more precariously. They had their fundamental First Amendment freedoms of speech and assembly suspended by a new, little-known law passed at the behest of the very same corporate powers they had dared to protest. Unbeknownst to the general public, oil giants and other multinational corporations have been quietly colluding with legislators and governors that they've purchased to ram through a series of autocratic state laws criminalizing our right to protest at the sites of what they have imperiously designated to be "critical infrastructure." Encompassed in their sweeping lockdown are public demonstrations that they deem interrupting or interfering with their hallowed pursuit of profits.
Each of the 11 Greenpeace activists involved in the ship channel protest, along with the 20 others who were also arrested, now face years in prison and a permanent criminal record for "interrupting" Big Oil's operations for 18 hours. So rather than protecting our fragile environment and constitutional rights, America's power elites are defending corporate profits — from us!
When did We the People vote to outlaw peaceful public protest against corporate excesses? When did we demand that lawmakers in Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas make it a felony for us to assemble and speak out at corporate sites to protest profiteers who're running roughshod over our values, livelihoods, environment and ... well, our lives?
Answer: Never. Yet, behind our backs, for-sale lawmakers in those states and many others are taking big bucks from oil giants, utilities, industrial ag outfits and other for-profit entities to pass corporate-written laws that criminalize protest actions against their greed. The laws assess inordinate jail time and exorbitant fines for the vague offense of "interrupting" or "interfering with" the operations and infrastructure of corporations that despoil, contaminate, violate and otherwise abuse us, the planet and everything else that gets in the way of another dime in profit.
Where did these anti-democratic, corporate-coddling laws come from? ALEC, the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council, which convenes closed-door tete-a-tete sessions to link its corporate members with a nationwide network of whorish state lawmakers willing to do tricks for them. In January 2018, ALEC produced a model bill called the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, which would effectively sledgehammer peaceful protestors of corporate wrongdoing as though the demonstrators were terrorists. Suddenly, virtually identical versions of ALEC's plutocratic/autocratic bill were introduced in 22 state legislatures. Nine have already been enacted, usually with little public notice or participation.
The Texas version, which took effect Sept. 1, was used just 11 days later to slap harsh felony charges on the Greenpeace protestors and the 20 others who were also arrested during the nonviolent symbolic shutdown of the Houston Ship Channel.
The two primary sponsors of the Texas anti-democracy legislation are ALEC adherents. The corporate powers that formally lobbied it through the legislature included Chevron, Dow, Exxon, Koch Industries, Shell and various industry consortiums, ranging from pipeline builders to poultry factories. And the legislation was forcefully backed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, whose top industrial donor group is — surprise! — oil and gas, which pumped more than $10 million into his 2018 election campaign.
Of course, the autocrats say their crackdown is necessary to stop violence and vandalism at corporate facilities, but such destructive acts are already against the law. And, besides, the Greenpeace activists did neither. The real reason that corporations are getting their political hirelings to apply such egregious punishment is to penalize legitimate protest, hoping to scare the American people out of even trying to exercise our basic democratic rights.
To help fight this blatant suppression, go to PolluterWatch at PolluterWatch.org.
Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes "The Hightower Lowdown," a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America's ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.
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