Government actions continue to drive people to the streets

Peaceful Assembly

On 21st December 2017, a jury in Washington DC delivered a not guilty verdict for six people arrested on Inauguration Day last January. Judge Lynn Leibovitz’s verdict dropped the felony rioting charges in a determination that that there was not enough evidence. “None of them engaged in conduct that amounted to urging other persons to destroy property,” Judge Leibovitz said.

As previously reported on the Monitor, about 200 people, including freelance photojournalist Alexei Wood, were arrested by the DC police for their alleged involvement in demonstrations on January 20. The remaining defendants’ trials will take place in 2018.

From November to December, numerous protests took place across the country gathering thousands on a variety of issues. Examples of those protests include the following:

DC protests over government's actions

On 7th November nearly 200 people were arrested while demonstrating at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington DC to persuade Congress to take legislative action on immigrants at risk of deportation. The “Defend our Immigrant Communities” Day of Action was comprised of various rallies and protests throughout the country, with thousands of people participating in the demonstrations. A week later, five people were arrested for participating in a “die-in” at a senator’s office in DC when they ignored the police’s calls to disperse and did not get up off the ground for about 30 minutes.

On 5th December, demonstrators blocked the corridors of a congressional office building in Washington DC to protest legislation that would change the country’s tax laws. Dozens were arrested by Capitol Police. 

Protests across the country

On 12th November, hundreds of demonstrators protested in Hollywood to denounce sexual assault and harassment. Two demonstrations, “Take Back The Workplace” march and “Me Too Survivors’” march, took place near the Dolby Theatre and included speakers and chants of “Survivors united, will never be divided,” and “Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no”.

In advance of President Trump’s meeting with Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte as part of his Asian tour in November 2017, demonstrations by the Filipino-American group BAYAN-USA were held in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. In San Francisco, hundreds of people protested outside of a federal building and included improvised performances mocking the president and effigies of Uncle Sam, Trump and Duterte.

On 29th November, dozens of police, dressed in riot gear and backed up by armored vehicles, broke up an anti-fracking protest encampment in Olympia, Washington. Inspired by the Standing Rock protest in North Dakota, protesters had been occupying the makeshift encampment since 17th November with the intent of blocking trains carrying fracking sand and related materials from the Olympia port.

Postal workers in Boston and Des Moines staged protests in response to plans to cut funding and jobs. On 17th October, the postal workers’ union in Boston organised a protest near the city’s downtown post office that drew about 100 people. A similar protest was held in Des Moines by about 100 postal workers, teachers and other supporters on 8th November.

Crackdown on environmental protests

Crackdowns on environmental protests have become widespread, according to environmental organisations and activists. For example, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline filed a billion dollar lawsuit against Greenpeace and other environmental groups for their roles in the Standing Rock protests in North Dakota. The lawsuit attempts to use the RICO Act, a statute that was meant for prosecuting organised crime, and a defamation law to go after nonprofits that spoke out against the pipeline’s construction. In Montana, a 65-year-old man was found guilty of criminal mischief and trespassing after he entered private property and altered a valve on an energy pipeline, part of a coordinated protest involving five activists in four states along the pipeline. Leonard Higgins now faces up to 10 years in prison and a 50,000 USD fine. Other activists were previously found guilty of felony charges and another one of second-degree burglary.

In November, a grassroots environmental group staged a five-day protest outside the Starbucks headquarters in Seattle, Washington to end the company’s wasteful practices. The group, Stand.earth, built a “wall” and “monster” made from thousands of used disposable cups outside the company’s headquarters to put public pressure on the company to advance its sustainability goals.

Protests over recognising Jerusalem and against Trump's actions

People in different cities expressed outrage over President Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Near Dearborn, Michigan on 19th December, about 300 people gathered at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center to hear speeches and speak out against the move. Some carried signs saying, “free, free Palestine” and “ending apartheid, ending racism”. In Syracuse, New York, more than 30 people gathered outside the James M. Hanley Federal Building to protest the president’s decision. The protest was organised by the Islamic Council of Greater Syracuse.

When President Trump travels, he is frequently the target of protest. For example, in Jackson, Mississippi, Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, NAACP President Derrick Johnson and others denounced the appearance of Trump at the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum on 9th December. As Trump toured the museum, more than 100 demonstrators gathered outside and chanted, “No Trump, no hate, no KKK in the USA.” Protesters also gathered outside of a Pensacola, Florida event on 8th December where Trump was holding a campaign event for Senate candidate Roy Moore. Protesters shouted slogans including "shame, shame" and "lock him up" or "he's got you fooled".

Countering neo-Nazi actions and rhetoric

Prompted by the unrest following the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, thousands of people marched in different cities to protest or counter protest against racism and inequality. In Boston, thousands of people staged a counter protest to the 18th November pro-Nazi rally in Boston Commons. There were reports of fighting between the two sides and a handful of arrests. In another example, on 20th November about 100 students at the University of Northern Florida protested the appearance of neo-Nazis in support of a suspended student. That student was accused of publishing threats and hate speech. 

Expression

On 1st November, the U.S. was one of the countries to vote against a United Nations’ resolution condemning the glorification of Nazism. Officials from the U.S. State Department said free speech protections were among the top reasons for declining to sign. Stefanie Amadeo, deputy US representative to the UN economic and social council, stated that:

"This resolution's recommendations to limit freedom of expression, freedom of association, and the right to peaceful assembly contravene the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and must be opposed”. 

The president continued his criticism of professional football players for participating in a league-wide protest over racial injustice. In a 28th November, Trump issued an online post stating that: “At least 24 players kneeling this weekend at NFL stadiums that are now having a very hard time filling up. The American public is fed up with the disrespect the NFL is paying to our Country, our Flag and our National Anthem. Weak and out of control!” NFL players continue to kneel or sit during the national anthem before the games each week.

On 20th December, Congress temporarily shelved a proposed expansion of National Security Agency surveillance. The measure would have reauthorised Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and vastly expanded the government's domestic spying powers. According to Access Now, 

"Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act is the legal authority that the U.S. government uses to conduct warrantless surveillance programs, like Prism".

The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a suit on November 30 2017 against three federal agencies demanding information about the government’s Tattoo Recognition Technology program as the organisation believes "[t]his type of surveillance raises profound religious, speech, and privacy concerns."

“Tattoos have served as an expression of the self for thousands of years, and can represent our innermost thoughts, closely held beliefs, and significant moments. If law enforcement is creating a detailed database of tattoos, we have to make sure that everyone’s rights to freedom of expression are protected.” an EFF press release says.

On 13th December, a district court judge ruled that an independent journalist will not have to give up his sources in the trial of Jason Van Dyke, a Chicago police officer being charged with the first-degree murder of an unarmed man. Van Dyke’s lawyers had attempted to identify Jamie Kalven's sources for an expose he published on the murder. Kalven's attorney argued that compelling him to reveal his sources was a violation of the Illinois Reporter's Privilege Act.

Attacks on media

Members of the media continued to be threatened or verbally attacked by the White House. For instance, on 13th December the President tweeted, in part, “Much of the Mainstream Media (sic) has become a joke!” He was critical of CNN’s Don Lemon, who has received death threats after similar outbursts by the president. CNN’s Jim Acosta says White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders threatened to ban him from participating in White House press pools if he asks a question during a presidential event.

On 27th November, a Fox News camera crew was assaulted by members of Roy Moore’s campaign staff after they attempted to get video of the Senatorial candidate arriving at a rally in Henagar, Alabama. While maneuvering to video the candidate, two campaign staffers “decided to push the cameras back and physically manhandle two Fox News photographers,” according to Fox News staff member Jonathan Serrie. One of the men was later identified as Tony Goolsby, a county coordinator for Moore’s campaign.

Free speech on campuses

A lawsuit on behalf of a student was filed against Arkansas State University on 13th December, claiming that the school denied the student her free speech rights. According to the Alliance Defending Freedom who filed the lawsuit, ASU student Ashlyn Hoggard was not permitted to set up a table outside of the student union to promote Turning Point USA, a conservative nonprofit. Hoggard says an ASU administrator cited the school's speech policy to explain the refusal. The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the policy, which sets limits on times and places for speeches and demonstrations, as well as on the distribution of written material and organisation of marches. Turning Point USA has been involved in similar matters at other schools such as the University Of Wyoming and University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Net Neutrality

Protests broke out in the streets and online in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) decision on 14th December to repeal net neutrality protections. Access Now explained the importance of the protections, stating that: 

"Net Neutrality rules require internet service providers to give users equal access to all content on the internet". 

Before and after the decision was made, people held demonstrations in multiple cities, including New York City, Washington DC and San Francisco, calling for the rules to remain in place. Smaller protests were also held, often led by young people, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Keene, New Hampshire, according to the New York Times, which reported that:

"They wrote letters and sent tweets to F.C.C. commissioners and volunteered for texting and phone campaigns to push members of Congress to use their authority to overturn or dilute the F.C.C. decision”. 

Many prominent websites and online services, such as Netflix, Facebook and Microsoft, also expressed disappointment with the FCC’s action. An online protest known as "Break the Internet" was promoted widely, and more than 150 organisations representing a diverse group of consumer, media, technology, library, arts, civil liberties, and civil rights advocates, artists, and musicians sent a letter to Congressional leaders asking them to step in to protect net neutrality.