Lindsey German

The banning of the wave of vigils round Sarah Everard was a deliberate decision to criminalise protest under cover of the lockdown regulations at a time when police completely ignore most breaches of those regulations.

Creative Commons License: the MET police at a protest in London in 2019.

This week sees the second reading for the Tory Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which is a malicious attempt by the Tories to curtail protest – as well as among other things a discriminatory attack on the Traveller community. The Bill is aimed particularly at curtailing demos like the XR protests last year but will deal with all sorts of others including single person protests outside parliament.

It will widen conditions police can place on static protests, broadening the range of circumstances in which police can impose conditions – including where noise causes a significant impact on those in the vicinity or serious disruption to the running of an organisation.

These clauses will be used to protect parliament and major companies from legitimate protests. The Home Secretary will decide how to judge them through regulations which don’t have full parliamentary scrutiny. Breach of the police conditions won’t just be if you ‘knowingly failed to comply’ but where the person ‘knows or ought to have known’ a condition has been imposed.

The truth is all demos aim at disruption and impact – that’s precisely what their point is and precisely what the Tories want to silence. There is no point in having a protest if it is parked somewhere in a corner, whispering its message. Demos are also profoundly democratic – the voice of the non-politicians, the ordinary people. They are sometimes co-opted by the rich and powerful who use the protests to further their own ends or to replace governments. But they are generally a voice of the voiceless.

The right to protest has never been handed down by our benevolent rulers but been won by direct action. This was true of the free speech movement in East London in the 1880s, of the right to protest against fascists marching through Jewish, Asian or black areas, mass trespass on private property, or demanding access to the London tube for use as air raid shelters during the Second World War.

I recall three issues when I have been involved in conflict with police and government over the right of the Stop the War Coalition to demonstrate. On was around the mass Feb 15th, 2003 demo against the Iraq war when we were initially denied the use of Hyde Park – because the demo would damage the grass – by the Blair government. The second was later that same year when George Bush came to London and the police wanted to close huge sections of central London including sections of the tube. In both cases the movement refused to accede and stood our ground. In both cases the police backed down. Later when Gordon Brown was prime minister police banned a much smaller demo on Afghanistan from marching down Whitehall. Tony Benn declared that he would march on it wearing his Second World War medals. He did – and the police allowed it.

You have to stand up to bans. The best way of defending the right to protest is to keep protesting. It’s particularly important over the next few months. The Tories and the police are doing this under the cover of lockdown because they know there is growing discontent as we’re seeing on a range of issues including more glimpses of industrial action. They fear a wave of protests and demonstrations once lockdown ends, and they are hoping to introduce these laws in order to further criminalise those taking action and to restrict the impact of resistance to them. The protests still going on show how vital it is that we don’t let them get away with it.


Via Counterfire

Read Lindsey German’s full Counterfire Briefing Here.

15 Mar 2021 by Lindsey German

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