New Video: Protecting the Right to Protest and Defeating Corporate Bullies

Paul Paz y Miño, at Amazon Watch, a Protect the Protest member org wrote this blog post. See the original here.

Despite growing global public awareness about the role of extractive industries in the climate crisis, the public’s right to speak out and challenge corporations harming people and the planet is under threat in the U.S. and around the world.

Environmental defenders in the Amazon, across Latin America, and in many countries are routinely threatened or killed. Times like these call for solidarity and action to protect not only the lives of defenders, but the ability of entire organizations to continue to do their work.

A dangerous and growing tactic to silence and intimidate activists – especially those focused on corporate malfeasance – is the SLAPP lawsuit, or “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.”

In a SLAPP suit, an individual or an organization is targeted with civil claims from industries that oppose our work in order to inhibit our ability to speak out about injustice. The suits are framed as accusations of defamation or racketeering, but their true purpose is to quell dissent and silence activists and journalists who are digging into wrongdoing, by targeting vocal advocates with costly and lengthy legal action.

To combat this, we joined other social justice, human rights, and environmental NGOs who formed a task force called Protect the Protest in 2018 – because an attack on the rights of one is an attack on the rights of all. 

We formed this task force to protect our rights – and yours – to speak out, criticize, and protest peacefully. From SLAPP suits to surveillance, we are here to defend your protest. Because democracy needs dissent.

State and corporate actors resort to such tactics because they see activists as a real threat to their plan to continue business as usual.

As our allies at the Protect the Protest explain:

Through SLAPPs – Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation – the most powerful are using the courts to sue protestors, journalists, advocates, and others who speak out on public matters, hoping to tie them up in court until they sign away their First Amendment rights. These lawsuits, often filed by powerful interests, have impacted people from all walks of life, from journalists and bloggers, teachers and activists, to survivors of domestic abuse. 

What can you do? First, educate your personal network about this threat. With the help of Pulitzer Prize-winning animator Mark Fiore, Amazon Watch has teamed up with Protect the Protest to give you an easy way to do this. Watch and share this short animation explaining the threat of SLAPPs to free speech and then encourage everyone to support federal anti-SLAPP legislation like the bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin in 2022.

Amazon Watch knows very well the risks of SLAPP attacks. We were dragged into Chevron’s bogus SLAPP suit against human rights lawyer Steven Donziger and Ecuadorians poisoned by Chevron’s toxic dumping in Amazon. We did nothing more than support their peaceful pursuit of justice, and in retaliation we faced multiple subpoenas which violated our First Amendment rights and were unduly burdensome and intended to harass us into silence or bankruptcy.

In 2013, with the help of allies from EarthRights International, we defeated the legal intimidation tactics by Chevron’s ”fossil fuel mob lawyers” at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Since then, they have not come after us again. Not every organization or individual is as lucky. 

Since that case, many more SLAPPs have been filed against environmental justice organizations. Most recently, Greenpeace USA celebrated a major victory after fighting for seven years to defeat a frivolous suit brought by Resolute Forest Products, a Canadian logging company.

Resolute’s goal was to stop Greenpeace from calling attention to unsustainable and damaging logging practices and scare away others who would do the same. The logging giant failed, but it is important to amplify this victory to make it even more costly for corporations like Resolute to continue using this tactic.

Rather than silence Greenpeace, Resolute has brought much more attention to their environmental damages. In this way, their SLAPP attack has backfired.