Occupy Atlanta, Tea Party Patriots Defeat SB 469

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(APN) ATLANTA — Thursday, March 29, 2012, the last day of the General Assembly, began for Occupy Atlanta, unions, religious leaders, leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, community activists, and the Tea Party at 9:30am with a prayer vigil outside the Capitol steps.  

Activists continued with a rally to speak out against some of the most oppressive bills.   SB 469 was the main target for the day, commonly called the anti-free speech, anti-union bill.  

As previously covered by APN, this legislation contained provisions making it an aggravated misdemeanor to protest on or near private property, punishable by a year in prison and fines of one thousand dollars per day.

“We own the Dome!  We need to send a strong message (to the legislators who vote for SB 469) that groups will come together and we will remember your vote come election time when you are up for re-election.  You are either for upholding the Georgia Constitution and for First Amendment Rights, or you oppose it,” Debbie Dooley, a National Coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, said.  “The Georgia Conservatives in Action were also on all our press releases and oppose SB 469.”

The entire crowd chanted, “WE OWN THE DOME!  WE OWN THE DOME!  WE OWN THE DOME!”

“We have over ten thousand names on a petition put out by Martin Luther King, III, opposing SB 469 and the support of Dr. Joseph Lowery, who would be with us today except for health reasons,” Charlie Flemming, President of the Atlanta chapter of the American Federation of Labor Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), shared with the gathering.

“In this bill, Republicans are attempting to cripple the voice of workers.  The payroll deduction portion of this bill is class warfare in its most brutal form and is being perpetrated by the Chamber of Commerce,” Jim Daws, President of Firefighters Union in Atlanta, said, referring to another provision in the bill that would have required union workers to re-authorize their deduction of dues every year.  

“It is a cruel attack when workers, who over the years, have been losing ground on wages, going without health care, and divested of their retirement security.  The Chamber of Commerce is seeking to kick workers while they are down by taking away their last voice that advocates for their interests.  This bill seeks to cripple unions and take advantage of a time in our nation’s history when workers are most vulnerable.  So I want to remind Republicans that a lot of unionized workers vote Republican on social issues.  We will remember at election time, if you continue to attack workers for the benefit of the moneyed interests in this state,” Daws said.

“The Interfaith community and the christian churches all around this state that wield tremendous power and respect from the people and our friends in this chamber need to recognize that when you confront the right of the voice of the church to be heard, you are confronting the very foundations of this nation.  It is an affront to what is right and decent,” Dr. Johnny B. Hill, Dean of the Baptist School of Theology at the Interdenominational Theological Center, said.

After the rally, everyone went inside to lobby legislators to vote against SB 469.  Some of the others bills lobbied against by the coalition were SB 292, requiring a drug test for certain welfare recipients, and HB 347, cutting Georgians’ unemployment insurance.

In the evening everyone settled into the gallery to watch the State Legislature at work.   

Exactly who many legislators are working for has been a recurring question this year, with the Chamber of Commerce having written SB 469 and with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) also writing other repressive and oppressive bills for years such as last year’s HB 87, the anti-immigrant law.

Around 6pm, the House sent SB 469 back to the Rules Committee for the second time in less than a week.  

All of Section 1, which pertained to picketing at private residences, was removed.  

The Minority Leader, State Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta), questioned leaving section 5 which pertained to conspiracy to commit criminal trespass, if Section 1 was also being removed.  The Section 5 was also removed.  This left the bill strictly an anti-union bill.  

Occupy Atlanta had planned non-violent, civil disobedience (CD) if the bill look like it would pass today.   Now that the bill had changed, they asked the CD volunteers if they were still committed to CD with the free speech part removed from the bill.  Yet, everyone recommitted to support the unions.

Before SB 469 was brought up again in the House, police began to enter the House gallery area.  They completely surrounded the gallery walls with about thirty police officers with guns on their hips and plastic handcuffs in their hands or tied to their belts.  

In the hall another forty or more police officers stood waiting to arrest the thirty people who volunteered to protest the bill and go to jail.

Around 11pm, word circulated that a deal was being made to table the bill and for Occupy to hold off on any CD.  

Occupy re-grouped again and voted to wait and watch as the SB 469 drama continued to change.  During the last hour of the General Assembly, Occupy showed a lot of discipline in their ability to change tactics, with the conflicting information and changing status of SB 469.

At midnight, the end of this year’s legislative session, SB 469 did not come up for a vote in the House and thus it was a dead bill.   

Instead of going to jail, this APN Senior Staff Writer–who had committed to CD–went home to sleep to write another day.

Most agree that credit goes to the the diverse coalition of Occupy, the Tea Party, unions, and religious, civil rights, and community activists for killing the bill, SB 469.  

The Tea Party was effective by lobbying the Republican base.  Occupy was effective for being willing to go to jail to bring national media attention to Georgia’s own Wisconsin.  Numerous activists were effective for their persistence in lobbying, speaking out, petitioning, writing letters, making phone calls, and protesting to stop a bill which could have undermined the very foundations of democracy in Georgia.

As APN will report in the near future, other repressive bills did, however, pass in that last tension filled-hour.

(END/2012)

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