Occupy Congress

This week Occupy will bring its message of reform to Washington, D.C., with mass protests, both in D.C. and nationally, planned for Tuesday, January 17 and Friday, January 20. Tuesday marks both the four-month anniversary of the nascent movement and the start of the second session of the 112th U.S. Congress. Organizers have called for a million tents to be erected on the West Lawn of the Capitol, in reference to the prior effort of the Million Man March. On Friday, the protest will be geared to the Supreme Court, with an action sponsored by MoveToAmend.org, aptly named ‘Occupy the Courts.’ At issue are unconstitutional legislation and court decisions like the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and Citizens United respectively, and pending legislation for internet regulation called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA).

NDAA allows the U.S. military to indefinitely detain American citizens under suspicion of terrorism. With the term terrorism being bandied about freely these days, the NDAA opens the door for widespread abuse of military authority and the destruction of civil liberties outlined in the Constitution, namely of due process, habeas corpus, and Miranda rights… !!! Yes, you should be alarmed! How does a Constitutional lawyer and former head of the Harvard Law Review (Obama) sign legislation that is so blatantly unconstitutional? The cognitive dissonance is mind-boggling.

Quick refresher for those rusty on the legalese… Due process requires that citizens not be deprived of life nor liberty without opportunity to affect the outcome of the decision, e.g. the right to trial in the case of the imprisoned. Habeas corpus, a legal writ or action on behalf of the prisoner, ensures his right to be released from unlawful detention lacking sufficient evidence. Often habeas corpus petitions are sought by a supporter of an ‘incommunicado’ detainee, a prisoner held without contact to the outside world. Miranda rights refer to the Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights of privilege from self-incrimination and to legal counsel, respectively. The Miranda warning is the spoken reminder of those rights to arrestees by the police.

Move to Amend is an organization promoting a Constitutional amendment denying corporate personhood. Corporations have been considered ‘natural persons’ since the 1886 Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad decision of the Supreme Court, and given accumulating corollary Constitutional rights ever since. Under Citizens United, corporate money was deemed free speech, and limits on political campaign spending were lifted. This case is especially relevant this year because of the presidential election. Corporations are now allowed to spend unlimited money for issue-oriented advertising campaigns through ‘Super PACs,’ super political action committees. These Super PACs must be independent of individual candidates, and cannot coordinate with them in any way, but may endorse whomever they please.

Supporters of the SOPA and PIPA legislation argue that they will enforce copyrights and protect profits of the copyright holders, specifically from foreign-based websites engaged in piracy. Thus, media, music, and pharmaceutical industry heavyweights like ABC, Disney, Rupert Murdoch, and Pfizer are rallying behind it. SOPA’s opponents assert that the bill will kill the freedom and innovation of the internet, and include tech giants like Google, YouTube, and Facebook. The bill seeks to deny distribution of content that may infringe on copyright, and punish online portals that engage in such distribution. The major issue at hand is how the censorship will be doled out, e.g. defining fair use and determining who, or what regulatory body, will make those calculations. SOPA is currently in revision to omit a controversial provision for DNS blocking. However, with PIPA, Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to make it a priority on the Senate agenda for January 24.

Regardless of whether you can attend a protest yourself, you should be spreading the word about these unconstitutional bills. Most people are unaware that this erosion of freedom is occurring, that our most cherished civil liberties are in danger. Apathy is not the answer… Occupy Congress, Occupy the Courts!


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