The GOP’s Attack on Basic Rights Continues

Over the last several weeks, Republicans have proposed—and sometimes passed—legislation limiting the civil liberties of some citizens.

Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President

Late last month, Gov. John Kasich (R) signed legislation hampering the voting power of minorities in Ohio. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

All those rights Amer­i­cans cher­ish, those fun­da­men­tal human and polit­i­cal free­doms pro­tect­ed by the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion, Repub­li­cans con­tend those aren’t real­ly inalien­able rights or any­thing sol­id or per­ma­nent like that.

See, according to the GOP, some Americans are sub-citizens who don’t deserve rights equal to those enjoyed by, well, the right-wing.

See, accord­ing to the GOP, some Amer­i­cans are sub-cit­i­zens who don’t deserve rights equal to those enjoyed by, well, the right-wing. Repub­li­cans think they’re right, and any­one who dis­agrees doesn’t deserve rights.

Repub­li­cans man­aged to high­light that per­verse plank in their polit­i­cal plat­form over the past sev­er­al weeks as they pro­posed — and some­times actu­al­ly passed — leg­is­la­tion lim­it­ing the fun­da­men­tal rights of spe­cif­ic groups of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens. That includes gay Amer­i­cans, African-Amer­i­cans, and Amer­i­cans who are mem­bers of labor unions. Right-wingers sought to seize from these Amer­i­cans their rights to vote, protest and live free from discrimination.

Let’s start with A for Ari­zona, home of the show me your papers,” law that requires Amer­i­cans who look His­pan­ic, say the great grand­chil­dren of peo­ple who legal­ly immi­grat­ed from Mex­i­co a cen­tu­ry ago, to pro­vide doc­u­ments prov­ing cit­i­zen­ship if police accuse them of jay­walk­ing or speed­ing or some oth­er minor crime. No one asks white look­ing Amer­i­cans to authen­ti­cate their citizenship.

Last week in Ari­zona, right-wingers in the leg­is­la­ture tried to extend that kind of dis­crim­i­na­tion to gay peo­ple. Repub­li­cans passed a bill that per­mit­ted busi­ness­es to refuse to serve gay peo­ple if the shop own­er con­tend­ed his reli­gious beliefs would be offend­ed by sell­ing a hair brush to a gay man or by com­plet­ing a lesbian’s tax return.

Ari­zona Gov. Jan Brew­er vetoed that attempt at legal­iz­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion. But right-wingers in at least five oth­er states — Geor­gia, Ida­ho Mis­sis­sip­pi, Mis­souri and Okla­homa—con­tin­ue try­ing to leg­is­late sub-cit­i­zen­ship for gay people.

Unlike Brew­er, the Repub­li­can gov­er­nor in Ohio, John Kasich, late last month signed leg­is­la­tion strip­ping rights from minori­ties. The law elim­i­nates what Ohio called the Gold­en Week” when cit­i­zens could reg­is­ter to vote and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly cast an in-per­son absen­tee bal­lot. The intent of de-gild­ing Gold­en Week was to dis­en­fran­chise African Amer­i­cans, who in 2008 account­ed for 77 per­cent of ear­ly vot­ers in Ohio.

Ohio also moved one of the state’s most heav­i­ly used ear­ly vot­ing loca­tions from down­town Cincin­nati to a neigh­bor­hood that vot­ing rights advo­cates say is sig­nif­i­cant­ly less acces­si­ble to low-income and dis­abled voters.

One Repub­li­can elec­tion offi­cial, Doug Priesse, explained why the right-wing is restrict­ing vot­ing: I guess I real­ly actu­al­ly feel we shouldn’t con­tort the vot­ing process to accom­mo­date the urban — read African-Amer­i­can — vot­er-turnout machine.”

Oth­er Repub­li­can-con­trolled states are cur­tail­ing ear­ly vot­ing as well, includ­ing Geor­gia and Flori­da. Eliz­a­beth Poythress, pres­i­dent of Georgia’s League of Women Vot­ers said the Peach State’s pro­posed slash­ing of ear­ly bal­lot­ing would silence the voic­es of those least heard and rarely lis­tened to in Geor­gia — the poor, the elder­ly, racial and eth­nic minori­ties, the young and the disabled.” 

Those Amer­i­cans might think twice before exer­cis­ing their right to protest the right-wing’s war on their rights. That’s because at least four states want to revoke the basic rights of assem­bly and protest for work­ers who hap­pen to belong to unions.

This is not even Boston Tea Par­ty stuff where pro­test­ers tres­passed and destroyed prop­er­ty. This is walk­ing in cir­cles with signs at the front gate of an employ­er — includ­ing the entrances to cor­po­ra­tions that lock out work­ers who are will­ing to labor under the terms of an expired col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment but whose offer to con­tin­ue work­ing was rebuffed by bosses.

Right-wingers in Ten­nessee, Geor­gia, Mis­sis­sip­pi and Michi­gan all put for­ward bills that would out­law pick­et­ing at a pri­vate res­i­dence and demon­stra­tions inter­fer­ing with the entrance to a place of employment.

Fed­er­al law already pro­hibits pro­test­ers from block­ing entrances. This would add inter­fer­ing.” And this would pre­vent union work­ers from demon­strat­ing at the home of a CEO.

It might be a lit­tle annoy­ing to a CEO if some work­ers marched in a cir­cle with signs out­side his man­sion, but mak­ing protests per­son­al is an Amer­i­can tra­di­tion as old as the Boston Tea Par­ty, when the Sons of Lib­er­ty” vio­lent­ly demon­strat­ed at the homes of British colo­nial officials.

The right to protest was so impor­tant to the found­ing fathers that they pro­tect­ed it in the First Amend­ment to the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion. But right-wing law­mak­ers in Ten­nessee, Geor­gia, Mis­sis­sip­pi and Michi­gan want to take that right from mem­bers of labor unions.

Repub­li­can Jere­my Durham intro­duced the bill in Ten­nessee and explained that he felt he had to restrict the civ­il lib­er­ties of union mem­bers to pre­vent work­ers from orga­niz­ing and col­lec­tive­ly bar­gain­ing for bet­ter pay and ben­e­fits in his state. Here’s what he said: Ten­nessee unions qui­et­ly added 31,000 mem­bers in 2013, rep­re­sent­ing the largest per­cent­age increase in union mem­ber­ship in the coun­try. I just feel like if that’s such a grow­ing part of our econ­o­my that we need to take some pre­emp­tive measures.”

In Michi­gan, the pro­pos­al to take away union mem­bers’ right to pick­et was intro­duced by Repub­li­can Tom McMillin, who has, how­ev­er, used his First Amend­ment right to protest at abor­tion clin­ics.

Even the web­site of Right to Life Michi­gan stress­es the free­dom of cit­i­zens to protest, stat­ing: The U.S. and Michi­gan con­sti­tu­tions pro­tect the fun­da­men­tal free speech right of cit­i­zens to peace­ably speak, assem­ble, pick­et, and dis­trib­ute leaflets in pub­lic places.”

But McMillin and his right-wing bud­dies in Ten­nessee, Geor­gia and Mis­sis­sip­pi think that work­ers who join unions should lose those rights.

No rights for union mem­bers, gays, African Amer­i­cans, the dis­abled or young or old or poor, says the right-wing. No one’s rights are safe in their hands.

Leo Ger­ard is inter­na­tion­al pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed Steel­work­ers Union, part of the AFL-CIO. The son of a union min­er; Ger­ard start­ed work­ing at a nick­el smelter in Sud­bury, Ontario, at age 18, and rose through the union’s ranks to be appoint­ed the sev­enth inter­na­tion­al pres­i­dent Feb. 28, 2001. For more infor­ma­tion about Ger­ard, vis­it usw​.org.
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