State Sen. Doug Ericksen has a bill for the coming legislative session that would allow felony prosecution of people expressing their First Amendment rights. It’s wrong.

Share story

AMERICANS believe that a single person or a movement of people can change the world. Americans believe this because it’s true.

The Civil Rights Act, women’s suffrage, labor rights, the anti-war movement, the very founding of our republic: All of these had their roots in protest. The First Amendment is the First Amendment for a reason. The Founding Fathers knew Americans must have the freedom to speak truth to power.

People have died for this right — in city streets here at home and on battlefields around the world. Any threat to this inalienable right is a direct threat to our democracy.

On Wednesday, I was dismayed to read about state Sen. Doug Ericksen’s bill for the coming legislative session that would allow felony prosecution of people expressing their First Amendment rights. He talks about labeling protesters as “economic terrorists” and describes criminalizing actions that already are crimes. His proposal would make it a class C felony when “illegal protests” aimed at causing economic disruption jeopardize public safety and property.

It wasn’t that long ago that Ericksen’s bill would have been laughed at, but this sort of nonsense isn’t funny anymore.

Americans just witnessed a presidential campaign fueled by fear, hate, lies, sexism, racism and white nationalism. Americans watched in shock as President-elect Donald Trump talked of banning Muslims from entering our country, threatened to lock up political opponents and punish women for exercising their reproductive rights.

All of these threats, whether they turn out to be idle or not, violate our Constitution. That is why ideas like Ericksen’s — the deputy director of Trump’s campaign in Washington state — are no laughing matter.

Ericksen, R-Ferndale, will dismiss my words as hyperbole. But we have no way of knowing what kind of president Trump will be. We have no way of knowing the direction his administration will try to take us. All we know is what we have witnessed in our own communities and around our country in the wake of this election: a swastika drawn on the side of a building in Spokane, bullying based on race and religion among our youths in our schools.

And now, a proposed bill criminalizing the behavior that dares take a stand against such atrocities.

It is Ericksen’s right as a legislator to propose any bill he likes. It is the Senate Republicans’ right to pass or reject their colleague’s bill. But the freedom of assembly is at the heart of our right to free speech. And those who seek to diminish or criminalize that right are clearly seeking to silence people already struggling to have a seat at the table.

I ask them, what are you afraid of? How can peaceful protests scare you more than the things that have already been said and done?