By Annette J Beveridge
Don’t Turn Away, Don’t Close Your Mind, This Affects You!
You wake up one morning and you have lost your voice. It is completely gone. You feel a rising sense of frustration at not being able to communicate or to have your say. But this is temporary, frustrations are short-lived and your ability to speak out will soon be restored.
Now just imagine that your right to campaign for change has been eradicated overnight. You have been silenced as new legislations come into being and you are deeply opposed to them. It doesn’t matter how badly these changes impact your life or those around you. It doesn’t matter if they revoke previous laws that protected human and animal rights. There is nothing you can do.
You have no right to protest. How would you feel then? Angry? Frustrated? Disbelieving?
We have long enjoyed our democracy in Britain and felt that the foundations were secure, immovable and unshakeable. Democracy underpins the very heart of our society. As a country, we have been able to speak out against the atrocities that occur across the world from a very moral high ground. Yet, change is coming. While most people were unaware, the extreme factions at the heart of the British Government has been working to take away our rights.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
This new bill is a hefty document that takes away so many of our ‘taken for granted’ rights. It is restricting, controlling and dangerous. We may not always agree with the reasons for protests, but irrespective of this, we have always respected the right for people to speak out. Most protests are peaceful and certainly, non-threatening and this is the way it should be. We find power in a collective voice and when people pull together, their voices are heard not just by those in power but it provides a powerful platform on which to incite change. It informs everyone of the potential injustices, threats or risks.
Protests are collaborative and attention-grabbing but most people would prefer to live their lives without having to take to the streets.
No doubt we have all felt exasperated at times if delayed by protests but protests are not fun. They take a great deal of organising, and the people who attend generally do so for the good. We must always consider why protestors feel the need to influence change. It is about seeing life through the eyes of the protestors. What is it that we are not seeing? What is affecting them that is not affecting us? Are they right to protest?
When protests are peaceful, when there are no violent fringe protestors and the message is clear, then, the right to speak out must remain. To block those rights only fractures the heart of our democratic rights.
Our freedoms as we know them are at risk. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill championed by Priti Patel the Home Secretary has gone through Parliament and is in the House of Lords for review. The House of Lords worked through this extensive bill in 2020, and refuted some of those draconian measures but with an 80-seat majority in Government, this bill could yet go through.
Within this insidious new bill is a very real threat to protests and protestors. It will not matter whether protestors have caused an offence, they could still face up to 51 weeks in prison. The police will decide how, when and where people can protest but sentencing and fines will be far easier to implement.
Why protests are important
Over the years, the right to protest has led to organised campaigns against injustices, helping to gain invaluable victories for nature, and for the climate. People have protested for human rights, gay rights, for trans rights, and for Black Lives Matter. We must have the power to fight the fight and to remind those in power to do what is right for this country. Without this ability, there will be a feeling of dissent, of anger, of frustration, and indeed, loss. This Government is power-hungry. They talk of democracy while insidiously trying to remove the rights of all.
This is not democracy in action, this is dangerous.
Peaceful protests are powerful. The Government knows this. They bring a powerful argument to any campaign that can lead to discussions taking place at the heart of Parliament where real change occurs. Many MP’s have also joined in protests over the years because they believe so strongly in the need to join the public and to incite change.
Even the most peaceful of protestors may fall foul to these new legislations should they go through. What then? Those calling for social change will face a significant threat to their abilities to stand up and put their heads above the parapets calling out those who make the rules. Is it right to silence people?
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill was already sinister but new oppressive powers were added quietly at a very late stage.
New orders will effectively ban people from attending a protest if they have been subject to a protest-related offence. If this does not sound unreasonable, let’s bring this into context. In 2021, I attended two protests to try to save the life of the Alpaca – Geronimo. A group of animal lovers and Alpaca owners, we stood outside Defra HQ and voiced our anger and dismay at the decisions made. We knew that Defra were wrong and we were proven right to demonstrate. Under the new rules, I or any other protestor could have been stopped, searched and threatened with criminal action. These new powers will mean the police can monitor the protestor’s movements, home address, and Internet usage.
Why this is happening
It is about power and control…pure and simple. During lockdown, we obeyed the Government’s requests to stay home and to isolate. We did it so save lives and to protect others. Covid-19 led to some draconian laws being put in place – laws that some Government MP’s and the Prime Minister allegedly broke. It is the rule of ‘do as I say not as I do‘. But our general compliance revealed much and power is addictive.
Many protests were abandoned during 2020 even though injustices occurred. Some protests were slated by the Government and damned in the media. The Government called protestors violent and disruptive and so, public opinion was swayed. The media were used as a tool to create hostility, and they cited protestors as a destructive force moving against the establishment simply to create uproar, so people became angry with protests.
Consider the negative hype re Extinction Rebellion or Insulate Britain.
When you turn the population against protests and protestors, it is very easy to create a political bill that further takes away the rights of people to speak out and which gives this Government and the police more powers.
By sullying the right to protest, this Government has cleverly created an authoritarian bill that damages the rights of people that far outweigh the issues relating to even the most disruptive protest.
Stop and search
This article does not attempt to create a Police vs People divide. The role of the police is an important one although their reputation of late has become extremely tarnished. This new police bill will do nothing to restore the reputation of the police and is likely to lead to more protests and unnecessary criminal sentencing. Extreme repressive measures should not be a part of our society. New stop and search powers based on suspicion and protest-aimed stop and searches could lead to criminal sentencing unjustly. Those people in the Black and ethnic minority societies may also suffer the most.
How you can help
We must all do what we can to oppose the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and we can start by raising awareness of its sinister control tactics. Ask those you know if they are prepared to lose the right to protest or to demonstrate? Are they prepared to simply accept every new law that is put in place even if those laws greatly impinge on life?
The point isn’t whether someone wants to protest but it is about their rights to do so if needed.
Our rights are fragile and we must fight against the drive to diminish them. Sign protests and share this article on social media as awareness is everything. Write, phone or email your MP and state you oppose the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. You can also ask Labour to vote against this bill in Parliament but hurry, time is running out.
We have rights, we have freedoms, but we MUST protect them.
Annette J Beveridge is a political and environmental writer. She campaigns for animal welfare and for the right to speak out. Annette is an author and editor of Creative1 Publishing and the editor of EcoHive.