Wednesday 28 February 2024

Neutering protest


There is a valid debate to be had about how much notice should be given to police and other authorities about the intention to hold a large demonstration and, in principle, planning to increase the notice period from 6 days, as the Home Secretary is apparently considering, isn’t a wholly unreasonable suggestion. It does take time to plan the police presence and make any other necessary arrangements. How much notice is needed is another question again, however; and the idea is not without other problems. Firstly, some demonstrations happen as an immediate and almost spontaneous reaction to events where people wish to express their feelings immediately, and secondly – more practically – defining a ‘large’ demonstration in advance isn’t as easy as it might appear. In truth, even the organisers will rarely know how many people to expect.

Whilst being presented as a reasonable step to take in terms of practicality and planning, the real agenda here is to make it harder to organise mass protests and to constrain – yet again – the right of people to protest. The Home Secretary himself almost says as much with his comments about the protesters’ aims, telling the Times in response to protests about what’s happening in Gaza, “They have made a point and they made it very, very loudly and I’m not sure that these marches every couple of weeks add value to the argument. They’re not really saying anything new.” There is, within that, an implicit view that people should protest once, make their point, and then become silent, even whilst the actions about which the protests are being held continue unabated. It completely misses the point that those demonstrating are also seeking to influence events (whether demonstrations are the most effective way of doing that is an entirely different question, but they are one of the few ways that people actually have of expressing themselves). And, as we know from experience, once people stop protesting, the powers that be will simply assume that the issue has gone away, and that people no longer feel so strongly. Protest, almost always, needs to be sustained if it is to have any effect. But the idea that protest might actually influence events is precisely the reason why authoritarian governments want to stamp it out. Making it more difficult to hold a protest is just the first step.

1 comment:

Gav said...

As an aside, as pensioners with far too much time on our hands (evidently) my wife and I thoroughly enjoy going on protest marches. It's healthy exercise, walking and shouting and waving flags, very suitable for an older person; a day out in the fresh air; good company; a pleasant glow of self-righteous anger; all the police we've encountered so far have been respectful and often good-humoured; altogether to be recommended as good for ones physical and mental health. And the occasional delightful surprise: on one of the anti-brexit marches in London, I forget which one, we had a morris dance group a little way behind us playing the Ode to Joy in 6/8 time! Beethoven would surely have approved.

We happened to be in London on 11 November last year, you know, when the right wing hooligans attacked the police. We'd gone up for a concert and hadn't thought to join the march - a plague on both sides - but when a load of people of all ages and apparel carrying Palestinian flags piled onto the tube at Green Park we were struck by how friendly they all seemed. And a whole fleet of vans with "Heddlu" on the side parked along Westminster Bridge, just like Cathays Park! We might well join one of the marches if they're still going the next time we're in London, mainly because while not supporting one side or another we're totally p****** of by the Government and some sections of the media telling us which side we ought to be supporting.

And now the Government are trying to take this away too. Why we can't have nice things.