Sunday 2 May 2021

Defending the Right to Protest

All around the country, thousands marched yesterday, May the 1st, protesting against the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021. The biggest march was in London but most towns had their own protest, including our small town, where we gathered around the bandstand in the Pump Room Gardens to register our protest against this bill that would be an attack on some of the most fundamental rights of citizens in the UK, aiming to silence protest. 

The bill is being rushed through parliament before people have been able to fully understand its profound implications and it's driven through at a time and in a way where those who will be subject to its provisions are least able to respond. The bill would give the Home Secretary powers to create laws to define 'serious disruption' to communities and organisations, which police can then rely on to impose conditions on protests. 

The bill covers a wide range of areas, from sentencing to digital information. But it is a specific section on the policing of protests which aims to silence them that is the most worrying. The point of demonstrations is to be heard, to have an impact, they are the free speech of the unheard, the last medium of communication and influence available to people who are frozen out of the formal political system - the government is effectively sticking duct tape over the mouths of protesters. The inability to be heard is now a precondition for being able to protest.

A notable proposal in the bill is to make defacing statues and monuments punishable by up to 10 years in jail. The bill contains next to nothing on countering violence against women and girls; it does nothing to increase sentences for rapists, stalkers, or those who batter, control and abuse women; it does nothing about street harassment and assaults. It would consequently,  make it possible for someone to be more harshly punished for damaging statues than for rape.

More than 150 organisations have warned ministers that the new law handing police tougher powers to crack down on protesters would be an attack on some of the most fundamental rights of citizens. The bill has passed its second reading by 359 votes to 263.

There were a lot of speakers, some of them excellent,

and a lot of organisations took part,

and lots of placards. We were pleased with the turnout, which, for a small place like ours, was excellent.

Meanwhile, Ken wore his 'Stop the Bill' badge, which dates back to 1971, when thousands around the country protested against the Industrial Relations Act, introduced by Edward Heath's government. The law meant that strikes without official backing would be banned. The act was intensely opposed by unions and helped undermine the Heath government. In 1974, the Labour government repealed the act.

A clear reminder, that our struggles are not new, but on-going, and that those in power will always try to repress our attempts to improve our lives and try to silence us.

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