Lawmakers look to crack down on grassroots protesters

Grassroots protests against the Trump administration and in support of causes like Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock have taken off lately across the country. 
So it’s not surprising that conservative opponents of grassroots movements are fighting back. They’re doing so by pushing new laws, of dubious constitutionality, that would make it easier to punish some protesters and harder to prosecute members of the public who hurt them.
Bills introduced in Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, and South Dakota would impose fines and criminal penalties for intentionally obstructing traffic. The Florida bill would also create immunity for drivers who unintentionally injure or kill protesters, as would separate bills in Tennessee and North Dakota.

A Colorado measure would make anyone who tampers with oil and gas equipment guilty of a felony. One in Virginia would create penalties for failing to leave any “riot or unlawful assembly” after a warning. Another in Oregon would require community colleges to expel any student who participates in a “violent riot.” And a Michigan bill would stiffen the penalties for “mass picketing” and demonstrations outside work-places or on the streets. 
“People are just kind of sick and tired of this garbage,” Nick Zerwas, a Republican state representative in Minnesota who co-sponsored the bill to increase penalties for obstructing traffic, told Reuters in January. “If you block a freeway, you ought to go to jail. And when you get out, you ought to get the bill.”

 All these anti-protest measures were introduced by Republicans. The Minnesota bill had 19 co-sponsors, all Republican.
The group Grassroots Change, which supports grassroots activism, is tracking the bills here.
Most of the bills would likely be challenged in court if they passed. The ACLU has said many that many are unconstitutional violations of free speech rights. Still, the push to crack down on protesters is part of a larger trend against grassroots political participation. 
The Great Suppression detailed the recent wave of state-level pre-emption, in which conservative states have reacted to the passage of progressive local laws by stripping local governments of their authority to legislate on everything from the minimum wage to the environment. Because these progressive local laws often have come in response to the kind of vibrant grassroots movements that are central to our democratic tradition, state-level pre-emption represents a direct attack on the viability of citizen activism. 

And of course, we’re all familiar with the slew of state laws passed over the last decade that restrict voting. In all three cases, the apparent goal is to chill or neuter a form of political participation that’s integral to the functioning of our democracy.

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