In the face of an ever-growing campaign to stop Skanska and the University of Washington from building an underground animal lab, Skanska is weaving a web of attempts to shut down No New Animal Lab protests...giving us a reminder of why we must fight so hard to save the animals who would be destined to die in that lab. Skanska will use the corporate tricks available to them, but we have the power to overcome their obstacles with a movement inspired by the animals and dedicated to using a diversity of tactics to make sure this lab is never built.
On Tuesday night, the Sherwood City Council declared a “state of emergency” in order to pass (and have go into immediate effect) Oregon’s first ordinance that bans targeted residential picketing, as well as a new stricter noise ordinance. The state of emergency? Public protests on a public street about an issue of public concern, i.e. protest activity that was constitutionally lawful...but contrary to corporate interests and the desire to live in a privileged bubble. Although it is possible for jurisdictions to enact targeted residential picketing ordinances that will be upheld as constitutional when content-neutral and leaving open alternative channels of communication, the actions of the Sherwood City Council are clearly directed at the No New Animal Lab campaign and part of a web of attempts by Skanska to completely shut down protest activity.
For the last year, people have protested under the banner of “No New Animal Lab” in a Sherwood neighborhood outside the residence of a Skanska USA executive. Skanska is a multinational, multibillion dollar corporation that is contracted to build a new underground animal laboratory at the University of Washington in which thousands of animals--including primates, rabbits, and dogs--would be buried, tortured, and killed. This proposed animal lab has been the subject of a lawsuit against the UW Regents for their illegal approval of construction, as well as sparked international protest--including civil disobedience, marches of hundreds of people, and protests against Skanska in over a dozen U.S. cities as well as in Finland and Sweden.
The movement is determined to stop the construction of the animal lab, and it has a growing momentum of inspiration and action. Pushback from Skanska was predictable--the move of a corporation desperate to save its crafted image of responsibility and sustainability. In the last few weeks, that pushback has centered around Washington County--specifically affluent areas of Sherwood and Beaverton, where Skanska executives out of the corporation’s Portland office live.
Just a few weeks ago, those executives filed injunctions known as SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) against five individuals and “No New Animal Lab” for alleged residential protest activity. In response, with representation from the Civil Liberties Defense Center, No New Animal Lab filed an anti-SLAPP motion to ask the court to dismiss the injunctions on the basis that the alleged protest activity is protected by the First Amendment. The hearing on the anti-SLAPP motion is scheduled for February 23 at the Washington County Courthouse.
The pairing of the filing of the SLAPPs and the passing of a targeted residential picketing ordinance within just a few weeks of each other illustrate a clear attempt by Skanska to exploit legal proceedings from multiple angles in order to chill the exercising of free speech and the right to assemble, and to escape public accountability. The irony of this targeted legislation though is that it does not criminalize residential protest; it merely states that such protests cannot be targeted at specific homes--here, the home of a Skanska corporate executive--effectively distributing protest pressure over a wider residential area.
It is a privileged view of the world to believe that a public protest outside of wealthy home to hold corporate executives accountable for their desire to profit off the suffering of animals constitutes a state of emergency. Skanska and its executives surely hope that convincing city councils to pass ordinances to shut down protests and filing SLAPPs will shield them from the pressure of dissent, but the fate of thousands of animals cannot be so easily brushed aside...