Of course we all know about the SHAC7 sentencing, and about the AETA then being passed, and what both of those might mean to civil liberties in this country. It is a bit scary, and in both cases makes people like me, peaceful activists, think hard about the things we do.
The funny (as in, ironic and sad) thing about this is what I do is perfectly legal. Writing letters to newspapers, politicians, companies. Handing out information to people walking by. Voicing my opinion. And none of the things I write are threats, none of the information I hand out is about something illegal. And yet I still find myself hesitating. That is what the chilling effect is all about, whether the naysayers want to believe it or not.
See, regardless of what you think about animal enterprises or animal activists, the scary truth is that what the AETA calls terrorism is only terrorism if done against an animal enterprise. Think about that one a little. The acts were always illegal. No, seriously, throwing a rock through a window was always illegal, always something that could be prosecuted. It is only now, since the AETA, that throwing a rock through a window of an animal enterprise is terrorism. Take the same person, the same rock, but a different window – one of, say, an abortion clinic – and it is merely illegal, but not terrorism.
The AETA claims to protect the First Amendment rights, but it requires quite a bit of faith in which way the judges would judge to believe that people voicing their opinion will be allowed to do so in peace. There is, after all, the language about causing an animal enterprise to lose money, and that obviously is the intent (as a side effect of saving animals) of fur protest, as an example. Already there is a case of a fur store trying to get activists labeled as terrorists for holding signs in weekly protests outside their store.
This is the government going to lengths to protect corporations. There are some politicians who are claiming that the AETA was needed, that their job is to protect corporations as well as citizens, but to me this is them protecting corporations (and is it too much of a leap to assume protecting their donations to these politicians as well?) at the expense of the citizens. And that is wrong.
But as it stands now the AETA is law. The SHAC6 (the 7th was Huntington itself) are all in prison. There is little that can be done to change those two things at this moment in time.
What one of the things I can do, and what I did last night, is to write to the political prisoners. And there are more than just the SHAC6. I wrote four letters last night. I had a mini-party to help give others the space and time to do the same. I provided the information, and the food. It was good. We’ll do it regularly, or as regularly as we can. It isn’t much, and it is something I spent only a few hours doing, but to them it will seem huge. Or, at least, I know if I were in their shoes, I’d treasure every communication.
I’ve never written to anyone in prison before, and I have to admit it feels odd. I had to keep reminding myself that regardless of anything else, it is not illegal to send mail to people in prison! And that I worry if it will put me on some list somewhere…well, that is just one more sign of the chilling effect. I’m probably on lists already, and I’m not going to worry about it. The truth is that nothing I do is illegal. I write letters. Now to political prisoners as well as newspapers, politicians and companies. I still hand out information to people who want to take it. If any of that becomes illegal…well, we’ve all read 1984.