Today, citizen journalism has taken on a scope and dimension previously unimagined even in recent history, slowly fostering in everyday people a healthy dose of much-needed skepticism, as well as a willingness to challenge the assumptions of authority. The effect can be seen all over the world, from the role amateur videographers played in the launching of the Arab Spring in 2010 by exposing the atrocities committed by local authorities during the various protest movements, to independent news media organizations like The Young Turks and Politico.com fanning the recent controversy over the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to withdraw their support from Planned Parenthood at the demand of its now-former CEO, Karen Handel. Independent news media has now become a critical function of representative democracy, a fundamental component of a new free-speech movement greatly needed not only in America, but throughout the world over.
The Center for Research on Globalization is an independent, non-profit research and media organization based out of Montreal, Canada. According to their website, globalresearch.ca, they are an alternative news media group focused on “social, economic, strategic and environmental processes” and makes the statement that, “in an era of media disinformation, our focus has essentially been…on the ‘unspoken truth’”. Their online presence is primarily geared towards functioning as an independent news feed, openly accepting article submissions from a wide variety of people and attempting to support them in their own independent endeavors. The standard disclaimers are applied, of course, against “inaccurate or incorrect statements” and things of that nature, and I believe that’s important to note here, given the site’s rather loose guidelines for acceptable submissions and their apparent willingness to publish just about everything that comes across their desk. While this is certainly a laudable act, one must note that, in order to do such a thing in anything resembling a timely fashion, quality control is bound to take somewhat of a backseat.
I discovered Global Research after stumbling upon a link in my Facebook feed to an article hosted on their website. The article, titled “The Criminalization of Protest: Say Goodbye To Free Speech in America”, speaks about the recent vote in Congress over the ‘Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act’, currently awaiting approval and signature by President Obama. The bill seeks to outline enforcement of restrictions on protests, demonstrations, and civil disobedience in areas of government business and official function, specifically those occupied by individuals under Secret Service protection or that are designated for “special events(sic) of national significance”. The author, a 20-year-old political science major styling himself ‘Devon DB’, has constructed a rather crude polemic(funny…Global Research claims they don’t allow those) indicting both the President and almost every member of Capitol Hill with accusations of a vast and grand conspiracy to silence the whole of the nation with one cunningly-executed piece of legislature.
Here’s a link to the article:
“The Criminalization of Protest: Say Goodbye To Free Speech in America”
‘Devon DB’ is guilty of fanning the flames of discontent from the very first sentence. There is no mention in the bill itself, or anywhere else for that matter, of its being titled “The Trespassing Bill”, and the statement that the bill is “…soon to be signed by President Obama” is clearly the author’s assumption, and not based in any real evidence or fact. Furthermore, if you actually read the contents of the bill(and I think it’s safe to assume that the commenters on the Facebook feed hurling simple condemnations like “Fuck Obama!” and Caps-Lock-choruses of “REVOLUTION!” didn’t), you’ll find that he’s quoting it grossly out of context by not including any mention of how it defines “restricted buildings and grounds”.
“…the term “restricted buildings or grounds” means any posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted AREA(my emphasis)—
(A) of the White House or its grounds, or the Vice President’s official residence or its grounds;
(B) of a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting; or
(C) of a building or grounds so restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance”
(For a link to the bill, click here.)
The author makes the claim that “…such a law will make it impossible for Americans to exercise their First Amendment rights when ‘government business’…or ‘official functions’ are occurring”, but this is clearly untrue, not to mention misleading. The bill clearly outlines that the term ‘restricted buildings or grounds’ specifically refers to “…any posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area” of the said locations, not the locations themselves. Now I know that the concept of an ‘area’ as defined in the bill is fairly nebulous(they could designate all of Manhattan as a ‘restricted area’ for all we know; not like that would stop anyone), but it certainly doesn’t automatically equivocate with some kind of blanket ‘no-protest zone’ across the whole of the nation, especially when you consider the bill’s focus on protecting government officials under Secret Service protection, and its emphasis on special events. There are only so many Secret Service agents in America, and only so many people that are qualified to receive their protection at any given time. And if we reach the point as a society where we actually feel compelled to protest directly on the grounds of the White House, then I would imagine that, to those who would be involved, this bill will hardly be a dissuading factor.
I’ll concede that the bill’s language regarding what constitutes “…impeding or disrupting…orderly conduct”, “government business”, and “official functions” is rather vague, but what were you expecting? For the bill to outline every specific action that is classified as an impedance or disruption? For it to list every single governmental function in America that could potentially be impeded or disrupted, and contain a calendar marked with every “special event of national significance”? C’mon. That’s completely unrealistic. The bill would be thousands of pages in length, and would probably incite even more outrage than it already seems to have.
Look, I’m not implying that we as citizens should not be concerned by the precedent that this bill seeks to establish. Does it thumb its nose at the Occupy Movement? To a certain degree, yes; organized protests in America have taken on a size and scope not seen since the Civil Rights Movement, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that yet another bill has come across the table attempting to outline ‘acceptable’ protest guidelines. Does the bill diminish the ability of citizens to petition government officials directly? Absolutely, under certain conditions. But when was the last time any of us were able to speak directly to our elected representatives? Unless you’ve got some serious dough or high-level press clearance, the odds of being able to communicate with members of the Senate or the House are pretty slim, and this bill isn’t going to make that impossibility any more impossible. But this bill certainly does not nullify the 1st Amendment altogether, not any more than making it illegal to yell “Fire!” in a movie theater does.
I applaud ‘Devon DB’ for his willingness to attempt to bring attention to what certainly is an important issue, and The Center for Research on Globalization for providing a home for people like him where sensitive information can be aggregated, amplified and echoed across the internet in order to incite and inspire positive change. But it’s important we, as citizen journalists, do not fall into the same trap as many of the more major media outlets have(I’m looking at you, Fox News; I’m looking at you, MSNBC) of generating polemic arguments simply to generate interest. Fanning the flames of the Culture War only serves one end: mutually assured destruction. The truth, if controversial enough, will almost always be sufficient.
And in “Devon DB“‘s case, a minor in English might help.