The right to protest is constitutionally protected and has been a hallmark of our democracy since the founding of this nation. Yet today, our First Amendment freedoms are at serious risk as legislatures across the country—backed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and fossil fuel companies—seek to stifle dissent and criminalize the right to protest.
Over recent years, we have seen an escalation of the effort to criminalize and silence protest and critical advocacy. Since 2017, following the Dakota Access Pipeline protest, hundreds of anti-protest bills have been introduced and several dozen have been enacted in over 20 states. The year 2021, following the Black Lives Matter-led national days of reckoning in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing, was a banner year in terms of the sheer number of anti-protest bills introduced: 93 bills in 35 states and 1 federal bill.
These anti-protest bills have a disproportionate impact on BIPOC communities which, for example, are most impacted by fossil fuel pollution and police brutality. Of grave concern are recent trends to tag environmental activists as “domestic terrorists” as was the case in the Atlanta Forest Defenders. This can be used to diminish the horror of violence against peaceful protestors, which is only increasing.
Corporations and special interests are driving efforts to undermine our democracy by contributing to extremist lawmakers sponsoring racist voter suppression and anti-protest bills.
Across the U.S., people like you and me are being punished simply for speaking out for what they believe in. These attacks, coming from the fossil fuel industry, secretive lobbying groups like ALEC, and others like police unions, are heightening the crisis we see in our democracy by putting our ability to peacefully protest at risk.
We are seeing an alarming rise in legislation that drastically represses peaceful protest. These attacks include anti-protest bills—many modeled after bills drafted by ALEC—that increase criminal penalties for protest at fossil fuel facilities which have a disparate impact on marginalized communities, climate activities, and defenders.
The very kinds of activism that brought progress in the environment, civil rights, voting rights, and workers’ rights are now at risk at the hands of corporate polluters and the elected officials they influence.
By continuing to expose the fossil fuel industry and secretive lobbying entities like ALEC, blocking anti-protest laws, and passing legislation to protect the right to protest, we address this critical threat to our ability to protect our planet through peaceful protest.
Energy Transfer Partners President and CEO Kelcy Warren speaks at an industry conference in Houston to discuss the strong opposition that his pipelines have faced across the United States.