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Senate Bill 33 Violates Ohioans’ Rights

I recommend taking a moment to search online for one of my favorite photographs. Reminiscent of the infamous “Tiananmen Square” moment in China, a chilling snapshot by photographer Ryan Vizzions depicts Lakota water protector Mega Mae Plenty Chief riding on horseback, staring down militarized police vehicles amidst protests over the wildly unpopular Keystone XL Pipeline.

Throughout the course of the months-long standoff over said pipeline, law enforcement blasted Indigenous activists in South Dakota with water cannons at freezing temperatures, tear gassed them and pummeled them with rubber bullets. All for the terrible crime of wanting clean drinking water, and to protect the land they called home. Activist Sophia Wilansky, demonstrating alongside the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, asserts that her arm was nearly blown off by an “explosive munition launched by a heavily militarized law enforcement presence.”

By all accounts, the battle at Standing Rock was a cut and dry case of government betrayal for the sake of corporate interests, of citizens being violently attacked by those who claimed to represent them. Now, a fresh wave of legislation is sweeping across the nation in reaction to these events. Not in response to the brutality of a government against its Indigenous population, however, but to the peaceful protestors themselves.

Based on model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group funded in part by Koch Industries, Ohio’s House Public Utilities Committee recently approved Senate Bill 33. Explicitly designed to avoid a repeat of Standing Rock by stripping away Ohioans’ First Amendment Rights, SB 33 seeks to label forms of protest against “critical infrastructure facilities” such as pipelines a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. It would, furthermore, fine organizations who support protests of this nature up to $100,000 per violation, an outrageous sum designed to discourage citizens’ participation in their own democracy.

Such legislation is far from unique. Right next door, West Virginia now faces its own mutation of SB 33, House Bill 4615, which seeks to have a similar impact in stifling the voices of protestors against fossil fuel infrastructure.

All of this comes at a time when scientists have reached a unanimous consensus on the urgency of fighting climate change, and citizens have begun rising up to demand accountability from their governments. While corporate criminals such as ExxonMobil, whose own scientists knew their product was heating the Earth’s atmosphere as far back as the 1970’s, continue to go unpunished for their unspeakable behavior, the government instead focuses its efforts on penalizing those who dare to raise their voices and demand a habitable future for their planet.

Increasingly we find ourselves living in an era of Davids and Goliaths. And far too often, we’re rooting for Goliath.

I urge you to contact your state legislators today to stop this undemocratic legislation from being turned into law. And for more ways to get involved with the fight for climate justice, please consider joining Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action!

Aaron Dunbar

Lowell

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