The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

“This is what democracy (within certain proximity from a restricted area) looks like!”

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Lissette Miller is Oxfam America’s G8 Campaign Coordinator, providing logistical coordination and global team support for the Oxfam team heading to this year’s G8 Summit. You know things are bad when Russia Today breaks a story about civil liberties in the US. On March 8, President Obama signed into law H.R. 347—the harmless-sounding “Federal Restricted […]

Lissette Miller is Oxfam America’s G8 Campaign Coordinator, providing logistical coordination and global team support for the Oxfam team heading to this year’s G8 Summit.

You know things are bad when Russia Today breaks a story about civil liberties in the US. On March 8, President Obama signed into law H.R. 347—the harmless-sounding “Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011”—essentially making it a crime to peacefully protest in areas protected by the Secret Service, whether or not you even know they are there.

Protest is vital to global summits like the G8. Craig Owen/Oxfam International.
Protest is vital to global summits like the G8. Craig Owen/Oxfam International.

The bill, passed unanimously in the Senate and with only three dissenting votes in the House, is a rewrite of an existing law that makes it a federal offense to “willfully and knowingly” enter a building or grounds closed off by Secret Service (who, given their name, don’t usually go out of their way to make their presence known. They’re cool like that). 



The word “willfully” has been omitted from the updated law, making it a crime even if you didn’t know it was illegal to be there (“Willfully” implies intent. You may “knowingly” enter a restricted area, but you may not necessarily have intended to break the law). The bill also makes it unlawful to engage in “disruptive or disorderly conduct” within proximity of said restricted area, and extends to include anyone protected by the Secret Service (goodbye, glitter bombs!). Trespassers can be fined or imprisoned up to ten years, or both.

The troubling thing here is the vagueness of the bill’s language, which lends itself to be easily misconstrued and could give law enforcement more of an incentive to arrest protestors who challenge authority.

Hard to believe this was signed by the same President Obama who, in his 2010 speech to the UN General Assembly, said, “The arc of human progress has been shaped by individuals with the freedom to assemble; by organizations outside of government that insisted upon democratic change.” I guess human progress is now also shaped by restricted areas where individuals don’t have the right to protest.



Just days after signing the bill, the President, together with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, released a Joint Factsheet on US-UK Partnership for Global Development, which, among other things, references the Open Government Partnership—an “innovative partnership between governments and civil society” that commits governments to “new levels of transparency and accountability.” Maybe open governments are strictly an export business?

With last week’s news that the upcoming G8 Summit in May will now take place at the already heavily-restricted Camp David, one wonders how many more safeguards this administration needs against civil society engagement. Meanwhile, at the Russian G8 back in 2006, there was a whole “Civil G8” organized by the Russian government for non-governmental organizations to bring their concerns to world leaders. Compared to the US, the Kremlin, (despite their well-earned reputation for cracking down on opponents) is starting to look more like those fuzzy kitties on YouTube. I can haz democracy?

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  1. norcc@connexions-norfolk.co.uk'Zola

    What incredible monvig words Cameron Bishopp spoke and ever so true! I appreciate you bringing my attention to Oxfam, they are truly a wonderful organization and will be getting of my support.

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