The First Amendment protects Americans’ freedom of speech and assembly. Unfortunately, at various times in US history, our law enforcement and intelligence agencies have disregarded these protections, targeting people or groups based on political viewpoint, religious affiliation, or participation in lawful protests. The advent of the internet as the new “town square,” has opened a new front in the battle to protect free speech and assembly, and new technologies make it easier for the government to track our communications and movements both on and offline, inhibiting our willingness to dissent.
Undercover agents have infiltrated law-abiding activist groups, police have beaten and tear-gassed protesters at peaceful protests, and people are considered suspect merely because of their real or perceived Islamic faith. On the internet, police and intelligence agencies monitor social media and speech that should be protected by the First Amendment is considered evidence of “material support for terrorism.”
Dissent is being criminalized by DHS Terror Threat Assessments that name environmentalists, practicing Muslims or people with Ron Paul bumper stickers as potential terrorists, by legislation that conflates activism with terrorism (as in the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act), and by over-policing at protests and restrictive “free speech zones.”
The report documents illegal treatment of water protectors by law enforcement and courts. It charges this conduct as violations of constitutional and human rights law. The report calls for government accountability and drastic changes in U.S. practices towards Indigenous environmental protectors and their supporters.
Throughout the states that saw major teacher strikes, retaliation has come in the form of threatening freedom of speech, assembly, and association. The goal of many of the laws are not only to make striking illegal, but to use the very communities that teachers struck for as political fodder.
The announcement that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) plans to roll back protections for Americans trying to collectively bargain and unionize is worrisome