CIVICUS

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United States of America

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Last updated on 31.01.2019 at 16:25

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Government shutdown drives workers to protest Washington's inaction

Government shutdown drives workers to protest Washington's inaction

On 3rd December 2018, hundreds of people protested at the Wisconsin state Capital building to voice opposition to legislation that would diminish the powers of the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general.

Peaceful Assembly

Challenging government policies 

On 3rd December 2018, hundreds of people protested at the Wisconsin state Capital building to voice opposition to legislation that would diminish the powers of the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general. Throughout the building, people were heard chanting, "Respect our votes" and "Let us in” as Republican lawmakers met in closed hearing rooms to discuss controversial bills that would restrict the new administration’s powers. On the same day, protesters staged a "Respect My Vote" event outside of the Capitol that featured Secretary of State Doug La Follette, who criticised the Assembly for going against the will of the voters.

On 7th January 2019, hundreds of gun rights activists, some carrying firearms and “Don’t Tread On Me” signs, demonstrated outside of Pittsburgh’s City-County building for a pro-gun rights rally. Organised in response to the Pittsburgh City Council’s proposal for gun control legislation after the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue that left 11 dead, the activists heard speeches and called for defeating the measure. “I feel anger and threatened” by the city’s proposed law, said one attendee. “It’s in our Constitution.” The city’s proposed bill would bar certain kinds of ammunition, firearms and accessories, while also establishing a process for barring someone from having guns if family members or law enforcement deems them a risk.

Environmental-related protests

On 10th December 2018, hundreds of people staged protests in the Washington, DC offices of House Democratic leaders to call for a congressional plan on climate change. Organised by the Sunrise Movement, the protesters called on Reps. Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and Jim McGovern, to create a special committee dedicated to climate change initiatives. "What's your plan?" read signs held by the protesters. About 140 people were arrested, according to Capitol police, for blocking hallways in the Congressional office buildings.

Immigration-related protests

On 10th December 2018, around 400 people staged a demonstration at the Border Field State Park in San Diego to demand that the government stop detaining and deporting migrants traveling to escape poverty and violence. Organised by American Friends Service Committee, the event was part of “Love Knows No Borders”, a week-long series of rallies and action in support of migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. At least 32 people were arrested, including several religious leaders, for trespassing. 

Labour rights-related protests

A week-long strike by teachers in Los Angeles ended after the teachers’ union and the school district came to an agreement on 22nd January 2019. More than 30,000 public school teachers had been on strike to demand better pay, smaller class sizes, and more nurses and other classroom aides. Inspired by teachers in Oklahoma, Kentucky and West Virginia who recently protested low pay and funding cuts and won concessions from state lawmakers, teachers in Los Angeles took to the picket lines after negotiations between the teacher’s union and the school district failed to reach an agreement in early January 2019. In a related story, after 14 months of negotiations with the school district, teachers in Denver, Colorado have voted to strike until their demands for better pay are met. "They're striking for better pay, they're striking for our profession and they're striking for Denver students," a lawyer for the teachers said.

Working without paychecks, furloughed federal workers across the country are staging protests to demand that the government reopen. In several cities, including Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Chicago, airport security officers working for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) staged demonstrations to call on the president and Congress to end the government shutdown. In Memphis, employees from the Internal Revenue Service, Customs and Border Protection and the Food and Drug Administration, protested outside the IRS' Memphis Service Center on 19th January 2019. Workers chanted, “Hey hey, ho ho, government shutdown’s got to go!” and “What do we want? Pay! When do we want it? Now!” In Houston, dozens of NASA employees chanted and held signs saying, “Let me do my job” and “Will science 4 food,” outside of the NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The shutdown, which started on 22nd December 2018 amid disagreements over Trump's demand for more than $5 billion in funding to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, has affected at least 800,000 government employees. The shutdown is now the longest in U.S. history.

Women's rights demonstrations

On 19th January 2019, thousands of people in cities across the U.S. and the world took to the streets for the third annual Women’s March. Crowds were smaller than in previous years, but thousands of marchers in places like Washington, DC, Boston, and San Francisco sang songs and voiced support for reproductive rights, income equality, and social justice. 

Other protests

In commemoration of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Day, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets for protest and parades to celebrate his life. In San Antonio, for example, a march for “Equity, Love, Diversity, Unity and Social Justice” drew about 300,000 people, including many who have been participating in MLK day protests for decades. In Sacramento, a march organised by Black Lives Matter eventually merged with a city-sponsored parade in a sign of unity. “We might dance differently but we got the same song and that song is love and justice and freedom for everybody,” said one of the group’s leaders. In other cities like Phoenix and Houston, where the president’s plans for a border wall have stirred many emotions, thousands of people took to the streets with some saying that King’s message is not limited to African-Americans. "I talked today with Democrats, independents and Republicans, people who have very sincerely different views on a lot of issues, but we were able to walk in unity and were able to walk in harmony in the legacy of Dr. King.,” said one Phoenix participant.

On 3rd December 2018, hundreds of people gathered at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to protest the university's proposal to construct a new $5 million building to house a confederate monument. Students held signs and chanted "who do you protect, who do you serve" on campus near the barricaded site where the statue once stood. The protesters were met with police wearing riot gear and at least one person was arrested. Alex Robinson, the vice president of the Black Student Movement, said, “It can’t be Carolina for all when the university continues to invest in white supremacy instead of its own students of color.”

On 11th December 2018, hundreds of people blocked streets in downtown Seattle in support of a native group who is opposed to a pipeline project running through their land. The Wet’suwet’en Nation, a community in British Columbia, have said they will not grant access to their land for a proposed natural gas pipeline project. Five people were arrested for allegedly assaulting on an officer, failing to disperse, obstructing and resisting arrest during the mostly peaceful protest.

Supporters of a man killed by police at an Alabama mall on Thanksgiving night continued their calls for justice by staging protests and calling for a boycott of the city where the shooting occurred. At least six people have been arrested in separate protests over the killing of Emantic Fitzgerald “EJ” Bradford Jr. by a Hoover police officer on 22nd November 2018. Protests have been held at the mall and outside of the home of Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall where people chanted, “Recuse yourself” and “Hands up, don’t shoot.” The Birmingham Justice League has called for an economic boycott of Hoover until the local district attorney reopens the case.

On 18th January 2019, thousands of activists and students gathered on the National Mall in Washington, DC and in other cities across the country for an annual march against abortion and reproductive rights. Many of the attendees of the March for Life event carried signs with messages like, "Choose love, Choose life," and "Defund Planned Parenthood". Vice President Mike Pence was in attendance and spoke to the crowd in DC. The event drew national headlines after a video showing a group of students from Kentucky harassing Nathan Phillips, an activist for indigenous people's causes, near the Lincoln Memorial. Phillips was part of the Indigenous Peoples March, which was held at the memorial the same day as the March for Life.

Expression

Attacks and detention of journalists 

On 6th December 2018, a Detroit-area man was arrested and charged with sending threatening messages to journalists and a local official. According to authorities, Lawrence Steven Brayboy allegedly was responsible for sending hundreds of calls and emails, many containing sexually violent threats and racist messages, over several months to staff at The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press. He is also accused of sending a local government official dozen of threatening messages, including one calling for the extermination of “Israel USA Bullies of the World”.

On 13th January 2019, a journalist was arrested for unspecified charges while trying to visit family in the U.S. U.S. born, Marzieh Hashemi, who works for the Iranian state-run media outlet Press TV, was detained by authorities after she landed at an airport in St Louis but it remains unclear why she is being held. Reports that she is a “material witness” in an ongoing investigation. She was transferred to Washington, DC where she remained behind bars until 24th January 2019. RSF issued a statement saying:

The opaqueness surrounding her detention is unacceptable. Marzieh Hashemi’s fundamental rights must be guaranteed.”

On 13th December 2018, several newspapers received bomb threats through email prompting some offices to evacuate. The emails, which authorities later deemed to be a hoax, were also sent to government buildings, universities, and businesses in dozens of cities. For example, the Raleigh News & Observer received an email, and the entire building that houses the paper and several other businesses was evacuated. The Park Record newspaper in Park City, Utah, also evacuated after receiving the hoax bomb threat. Authorities are investigating if the threats are related.

On 12th December 2018, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin posted a video and series of tweets bashing the Louisville Courier-Journal for its plan to partner with ProPublica in an investigation of the state-run programs. "Who is holding the Courier Journal accountable,” Bevin asks in the video before accusing the paper of being biased. The newspaper fought back saying, "You called us a 'biased, left-wing organisation.' Actually, we believe in evidence. Hard, indisputable evidence. Carefully gathered and precisely told,” the news organisation responded. Similar investigation in other states found widespread government waste and corruption.

Censorship 

Journalists at three news organisations were asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement by Portland’s mayor if they wanted access to the city’s police command center during a right-wing group’s rally on 17th November 2018. According to news reports, the agreement prohibited the publication of “confidential” information which included quotes by officers. The Portland Mercury reported that the mayor’s staff had worked with the Portland Police Bureau to select journalists based on their history of “fair and balanced” reporting. None of the news organisations accepted the offer.

Restrictive legislation

The Senate is considering a series of bills that would encourage states and local governments to "divest" from companies that boycott Israel. At least two bills that target supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement were rejected by Senate Democrats, who say the measures violate the First Amendment. "It’s absurd that the first bill during the shutdown is legislation which punishes US citizens who exercise their constitutional right to engage in political activity," Senator Bernie Sanders posted online. In a related story, Bahia Amawi, a speech pathologist at a school in Austin, Texas was fired after she refused to sign an oath vowing that she “will not” engage in a boycott of Israel. She had been working at the school for almost nine years before she was asked to sign the pledge.

Positive developments

On 14th January 2019, Virginia state legislators introduced two bills aimed at protecting journalists from being forced to reveal their confidential sources (HB 2250) and to help keep student journalists from being censored (HB 2382). According to media sources, there is no federal shield for sources and Virginia is one of only 10 states that does not offer protections for journalists.

Association

Despite a recent state-wide referendum that rejected a so-called “right to work” policy, a state Senator in Missouri has introduced in early January 2019, a bill that would push legislation in that direction. Senate Bill 63 would bar employers from requiring employees to pay union fees as a condition of their employment. Proponents of right to work proposals say states that allow mandatory union dues hurts the local economy. Opponents say the laws reduce the bargaining power of workers when negotiating over labor issues. As previously reported on the Monitor, on 27th June 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that public sector workers cannot be required to pay fees to unions that they do not belong to.

Association in USA

Although the freedom of association is not expressly mentioned in the US constitution, the courts have made it clear that it is a constitutional right protected by the First Amendment and it is regulated through subsidiary laws at the state level.

Although the freedom of association is not expressly mentioned in the US constitution, the courts have made it clear that it is a constitutional right protected by the First Amendment and it is regulated through subsidiary laws at the state level. In practice, most associations operate without restriction, and the USA is home to every conceivable type of organisation, pursuing a wide range of agendas. However, cases of impunity for those involved in attacks on CSOs have been documented. In 2012, police refused to investigate the motive for an arson attack on the offices of Women with a Vision (WWAV), a women’s rights organisation that had also worked on police misconduct cases. Labour rights are also hampered by the government’s refusal to ensure that the right to form unions and strike extends to all segments of society. Less formalised social movements like the Occupy Movement and #BlackLivesMatter gained prominence in recent years and have suffered infiltration by law enforcement agencies and private actors trying to disrupt their legitimate, peaceful activism. Documents leaked in 2012 and 2014 show how the FBI and private actors attempted to monitor and infiltrate both movements, calling into question the role of law enforcement in defending commercial interests.

Peaceful Assembly in USA

Protests – both planned and spontaneous – are an integral part of civic life in the USA. Demonstrations on a wide range of issues take place every day throughout the country and most of them are peaceful and well-policed.

Protests – both planned and spontaneous – are an integral part of civic life in the USA. Demonstrations on a wide range of issues take place every day throughout the country and most of them are peaceful and well-policed. The shooting dead of unarmed black men including Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, however, sparked a series of nationwide protests against the unlawful use of deadly force by police. Participants in some of those protests were intimidated by police in heavy-duty riot gear with military-grade weapons and equipment. Excessive force was actually used against demonstrators in some instances including the 2011 Occupy Movement and the 2014 Ferguson protests.The latter included the use of tear gas and rubber bullets against demonstrators as well as assaults on journalists by the police. There have been additional concerns regarding the creation of ‘free speech zones’ by local authorities and some universities, where protestors are corralled into defined geographic spaces, often far from the places where they could be seen and heard. While regulations vary by state, in some places protestors are required to secure authorisation for specific forms of demonstration, including where amplification is used or where there will be a disruption to traffic circulation.

Expression in USA

The first amendment to the US constitution guarantees the freedom of speech. A wide interpretation of this right by the US Supreme Court has protected forms of speech that in other countries could be considered inflammatory or labelled as hate speech.

The first amendment to the US constitution guarantees the freedom of speech. A wide interpretation of this right by the US Supreme Court has protected forms of speech that in other countries could be considered inflammatory or labelled as hate speech. Press freedoms are also constitutionally guaranteed and the USA is home to innumerable national, state and local media outlets. The rapid expansion of Internet connectivity and online content in the last two decades has also created a new arena for unfettered interaction, the sharing of ideas, reporting – and surveillance. Information leaked in 2013 proved that the National Security Agency (NSA) was carrying out mass surveillance of electronic communications, revealing that the right to privacy of millions of US citizens had been seriously violated. Terrorist threats have been frequently invoked to justify many of these violations. The 2015 Freedom Act limited the scope of phone record collection and increased oversight over NSA surveillance activities. However the law has been criticised for failing to impede the justifications used by the US authorities to monitor the communications of people outside the US. The security of private communications has also recently been called into question as officials put pressure on technology companies to weaken encryption. Recently, the lack of protection for whistle blowers has raised serious concerns, with journalists noting that the current administration has prosecuted more leakers under the 1917 Espionage Act than all former presidents combined.