WASHINGTON -- Subscribers to an Atlanta Tea Party email list received an alert Monday morning urging them to take a stand against SB 469, a controversial Georgia bill that would criminalize certain forms of mass picketing.
The email, which went out to 50,000 people, puts the Atlanta Tea Party with some unusual company: organized labor, environmentalists and the Occupy movement. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Don Balfour (R), a Waffle House executive and Georgia Chamber of Commerce board member, would impose $1,000 fines on people who picketed outside the homes of corporate executives or outside some businesses, a tactic commonly used by Occupy groups, environmental protestors and unions in the midst of labor disputes.
Julianne Thompson, Georgia state director for Tea Party Patriots, told The Huffington Post that she and her fellow organizers don't see SB 469 as a political issue so much as a free-speech issue. Thompson spoke out against the bill at the state capitol Monday.
"When we're talking about the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution, we're not talking about political right-versus-left. We're talking about right versus wrong," Thompson said. "If it's a violation of free speech we're going to be on the side of the Constitution. I'm happy that we've reached across party lines with regard to this issue."
Although the bill's supporters have said the legislation would pertain only to labor unions, Thompson pointed out that it could be read more broadly, to include a "person" or "organization" whose picketing interferes with a resident's "right to quiet enjoyment."
"I think any organization on the right or left, whether it's a labor organization or the Tea Party or the pro-life movement, this will affect everyone," she said.
Charlie Flemming, president of the Georgia AFL-CIO, told HuffPost that the state's unions are happy to see Tea Party activists coming down on the same side as them.
"We may have disagreements about labor and other issues but the reality is we all agree this is our constitutional right to stand up speak out and protest," Flemming said. "I would certainly support their right to do likewise. So I think it's terrific."
The bill passed through the GOP-controlled state Senate earlier this month by a 34-18 vote. It has not yet come up for a vote in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives. In addition to labor groups and the Tea Party, the bill has drawn the opposition of Martin Luther King, III, and the sheriff of Fulton County, Ga.
From the Atlanta Tea Party email on SB 469:
SB 469 -- Also sponsored by Senator Don Balfour claims it is geared toward stopping mass picketing on private property ([even] though we already have trespassing laws). The bill at face value, [appears] to be geared toward labor unions, but the devil is in the details ... it clearly adds a "person or organization", which could include not only big labor, but also Tea Party activists, those protesting outside abortion clinics, or many other scenarios. Please see below ...
Under Sec. 5, Church groups and neighborhood associations picketing to protest a strip club in their neighborhood would also be subject to prosecution for the conspiracy and for the criminal trespass itself. Others who conspired with them in planning the protest who were not arrested at the site, would also be subject to criminal prosecution, including congregations. The penalty for criminal trespass is a misdemeanor -- up to $1,000 fine and/or up to 12 months in jail; The penalty for conspiracy to commit criminal trespass would be a fine of up to $5,000 and/or up to 12 months in jail.
Environmentalists staging a protest in a neighborhood protesting a proposed landfill would be affected by SB 469 with greater criminal penalties for conspiracy and criminal trespass, and criminal penalties of up to $5,000 plus up to a year in jail against any individual or organization that participated in the conspiracy to commit criminal trespass -- Sierra Club, Riverkeepers, etc. -- even if they did not themselves criminally trespass.
Civil rights groups, anti-war protesters, and others would also be affected. Martin Luther King, III has said of SB 469 that it would have stifled the civil rights movement in the 1960's if this had been law.
It should be pointed out that the Bill would limit peaceful non-violent protests. Nor would it be limited to "mass picketing."
This is not a right or left issue, it is a right or wrong issue. We may not agree with the all of the politics listed in the scenarios above, but we will defend their right to speak and protest, because this is America. If we destroy the First Amendment, we cease to be a free nation. [their emphasis]
We believe SB 469 is a gross violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution, and needs to be defeated. We will be testifying at the hearing today and will keep you informed!