The ability to gather together to hold people in power accountable through protest is a founding principle of our democracy. However, a bill recently passed by the Wisconsin State Legislature could jeopardize our right to engage in dissent.
Senate Bill 296 is purportedly intended to stop so-called "riots," but the broad and ambiguous language used in the legislation could criminalize various aspects of lawful assembly and threaten punishment of innocent protesters who are not involved in – and may not even be aware of – any illegal activity during a demonstration.
Send Governor Evers a message. <[link removed]>
Take Action <[link removed]>
This bill imposes guilt by association by punishing a person who merely participates in a protest where another person engages in or threatens violence or property damage, or "substantially obstructs" a governmental function. Any protester who attends such a protest can be jailed and fined for a Class A misdemeanor, even if they do not know that other protesters may have engaged in violent or obstructive behavior.
The purpose of this bill is to chill dissent and deter protest – and the fact that it has emerged after the nationwide demonstrations against police violence and white supremacy is no coincidence – but Governor Evers has the power to stop it.
Everyone who values free speech and expression should encourage the governor to veto this bill and ensure our constitutional right to stand up for what we believe in is preserved. You can send Governor Evers a message right now and ask him to prevent SB296 from becoming law. <[link removed]>
Protest is one of the most powerful tools we have for making change and defending democracy. Any attempt to undermine that right or criminalize people for exercising it poses a dangerous threat to our civil liberties. We need to make it clear to Governor Evers that this anti-protest legislation has no place in Wisconsin. Send him a message now! <[link removed]>
Dr. Melinda Q. Brennan
Pronouns: she, her, ella
Executive Director, ACLU of Wisconsin