Last weekend, hundreds of thousands of people crammed into the streets of Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and beyond for a series of massive rallies in response to Donald Trump's inauguration. It was, quite possibly, the largest collective day of protest in American history.
But at the same time, Republican lawmakers across the country are introducing legislation designed to make it harder for groups to protest.
A number of states now have pending legislation which, if enacted, would curb the rights of protesters, according to The Intercept. These include the Midwestern bloc of Minnesota, North Dakota, Michigan, Indiana, and Iowa, as well as Virginia and Washington state. In each of those states, Republican lawmakers have suggested harsher police responses and increased legal consequences for protesters.
Viewed together, the proposals—some of which were shot down, others that are still alive—represent a significant effort to limit one of the most vital tools of a functioning democracy: protest.
In Minnesota on Monday, onlookers cried "shame!" as the state's House Civil Law Committee passed a GOP-introduced measure allowing cities to present protesters arrested for public nuisance or illegal assembly with a bill for police services rendered. In other words, people arrested while protesting would be forced to pay for the cops sent to arrest them.
During debate over the proposal, sponsor Rep. Nick Zerwas (R–Elk River) reportedly cited the protests that followed the police shooting of Philando Castile as the impetus for the measure. The bill, which was approved 6–3 along party lines, now heads for the state's House Public Safety Committee.
In neighboring North Dakota, a bill introduced by Rep. Keith Kempenich (R–Bowman) earlier this month would shield motorists from liability if they accidentally injure or even kill protesters with their car. "[Roads are] not there for the protesters," Rep. Kempenich, told the Bismarck Tribune. "They’re intentionally putting themselves in danger."
Similarly, Indiana state Senator Jim Tomes (R–Wadesville) has proposed a bill which would instruct law enforcement officials to use "any means necessary" to break up protests that block traffic, explaining during a committee hearing that he doesn't care "if the folks want to be 10 deep on the sidewalks. I want the streets opened up."
"This idea of spontaneous getting out in the streets and bringing things to a grinding halt?" Tomes added. "That just doesn’t cut it."
And it doesn't stop there.
In November, Republicans in Washington state proposed a measure to classify some protests as "economic terrorism," suggesting they should be considered felonies. In Michigan last month, Republicans proposed a bill that would significantly increase the fines for those who picket in front of doorways or roads—a move blasted as "unnecessary, overreaching, outrageous, oppressive and un-American," by Democratic State Rep. Leslie Love (The Intercept reports that this bill has since been nixed). A bill co-sponsored by nine Iowa Republicans aims to slap protesters who take to the highways with up to five years in prison, while the Virginia House this week voted down a measure by Sen. Richard Stuart (R–Montross) which would have added possible jail time to anyone who failed to disperse from a protest after police orders to do so.
Whether these bills become law or not, the message is clear: Republican politicians are trying to make it harder for people to speak out.