The voice (Tweet?) of the people

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This March, the United States government amended a bill (HR 347: Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011), which restricts the ability of United States citizens to protest in locations visible to their government. Specifically, among other things, it prohibits “knowingly, and with intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of government business or official functions, engages in disorderly or disruptive conduct in, or within such proximity to, any restricted building or grounds when, or so that, such conduct, in fact, impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of government business or official functions.”

The definition of “restricted building or grounds” covers a few things: the White House and its grounds, the vice president’s official residence and its grounds, any building or grounds where someone protected by the Secret Service is or will be visiting, or any building or grounds used for an event of national significance.

It’s the first sign that the U.S. government is getting with the times and adapting its policies on protest and free speech to the modern age. But if citizens can’t protest near a given politician, how can their voices be heard?

Social networking is how we can be heard. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and YouTube are the protest venues of the modern age and the near future. Citizens have already begun moving their protests and complaints off the streets; this just reinforces that movement. Even in 2009, in its infancy, Twitter was used to spur on protests and revolts in Iran, and everyone can see how well that went.

Later, social networks were used to great effect in the Arab nations once again, helping citizens rise up and organize during the Arab Spring. Though the new Tunisian and Egyptian governments are under criticism from their people once more, citizens can return to the Internet and do it all again. Maybe this time that mess in Tahrir Square, the heart of the revolt, can stay online — those murals on the walls have almost been covered up, too.

After all, how much smoother would the Libyan revolution have gone without all those people marching in the streets? How many lives could have been saved? There’s little risk of the government firing live ammunition on you and your buddies when you’re in the wi-fi section of the hookah lounge or whatever.

I think the recent anti-gay protests at Chick-Fil-A restaurants across the nation show a way Americans in particular prefer to speak out. We prefer to speak out and vote with our dollars. Who, after all, wants to write a letter to a congressional representative or some judge? It’s so much easier to just buy the right brand of sandwich.

Here’s what happened at Chick-Fil-A: after the CEO and founder’s son, Dan Cathy, made a few comments about same-sex marriage being “prideful and arrogant” during an interview, some people, both American and international, made use of social networking — see what I’m talking about? — to protest his words and his company’s funding of Christian organizations that support and have supported one-man one-woman marriage.

In response, supporters of Chick-Fil-A drove to local restaurants en masse on Aug. 1 as a counter-protest. Chick-Fil-A reported record sales that day. Thousands were able to protest that day with no police presence, no pepper spray, no tear gas, no live ammo, not even anti-protest ammo.

Isn’t that better than thousands sitting in parks, singing and shouting, making all sorts of ruckus, getting beaten or sprayed with chemicals, getting arrested and costing taxpayers valuable money? There’s no shocking media story about a UCLA campus police officer hosing down people in their teens and 20s with military-grade mace while they were in line to get chicken sandwiches. The worst thing to happen was a fast food restaurant ceased to be fast — people had to wait as long as a few hours for their chicken.

Even then, the Internet makes a better protest ground than anywhere in the physical world. No muss, no fuss — we don’t even have to look at it if we don’t want. Just hit “block user” or filter messages tagged “protest” and there’s no sign of any of it on your news feeds. Leave all that messy activism nonsense to the malcontents who want it.

Maybe we can mix the two. Go online and buy the Democrat doughnut or the Republican rice pudding, then tweet about it to your friends. Buy a large pepperoni pizza to vote in favor of the tax cut bill, or buy two sandwiches to vote against it.

Who needs to stand up for what they believe in when they can sit down and, for the low price of $15.99, say exactly what they mean with a red white and blue ice cream cake. So go out and tell business owners to tell your congressmen what you want. Vote with your dollar, like God and George Washington intended you to. I think the government proposing uppity protesters keep to proper channels is a very modest request. After all, what good is change if it doesn’t come on a silver platter?