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Republican Missouri legislators still seek to chill nonviolent protest

Published St. Louis American, May 7, 2023

The Missouri legislative session is drawing to a close. Those of us who were suited up as the People’s Warriors are resigned to waiting until the end. When the smoke clears, we can start counting our legislative casualties and assess the loss of political ground.

Since 2015, nearly 300 anti-protest bills have been introduced in almost every state. That number increased with the protests of George Floyd’s murder by police in 2020. In Missouri, we have beat back the most punitive of these laws, but the legislative session is not over.

In red states (like Missouri) where the Republicans dominate the House, the Senate and the office which signs the laws, we must bear witness to the passage of laws that consolidate the power and authority of backward conservatives.

The people’s warriors have been fighting for affordable housing, food security and accessible healthcare. These are basic human rights. We’ve also fought for criminal justice reforms and for civil liberties, specifically the right to petition our government and the right to peaceful assembly.

It is the attack on civil liberties that have been most aggressive and vicious. That’s because these are directly linked to our ability to fight for the other reforms.

The right-wing agenda to put a chill on legitimate, nonviolent protests has been underway for several years. The main goal is to curtail the growing number of protests against the repressive conditions that racial capitalism has created yet expect us to suffer in silence.

Since 2015, nearly 300 anti-protest bills have been introduced in almost every state. That number increased with the protests of George Floyd’s murder by police in 2020. In Missouri, we have beat back the most punitive of these laws, but the legislative session is not over.

Florida’s HB1 has already had a chilling impact on movement protests while shielding vigilantes and counter-protestors against liability when they act recklessly. Republican governors will abuse their authority to further the GOP agenda. Georgia’s Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency against “unlawful assemblage.”  These declarations can trigger the deployment of the National Guard against citizens.

Perhaps the most disturbing act of collaboration between reactionary forces and the government came together with the recent filing of domestic terrorism charges against 42 Stop Cop City protestors in Atlanta. Protestors are righteously fighting against the building of a massive 85-acre police training facility at the cost of $90 million. Sadly, environmental activist Manuel Esteban Paez Terá was killed during the protests.

We can expect these coordinated attacks on our right to organize, to speak out and to assemble in the name of justice and democracy to escalate. To lose any ground in this fight now will be a devastating step backward as we face more authoritarian types of laws, tactics and governance in the future.

We who believe in freedom and democracy must galvanize all sectors of our movements from attorneys to funders. This is our reality and only we can change it by intensifying a united, coordinated campaign against the tyrannical acts designed to criminalize and de-legitimize the resistance by citizens fighting for transformative change in the U.S.

As Dr. Martin Luther King reminds us, “there comes a time when silence is betrayal.” I think it’s that time.

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