Protesters took to the streets around the country in renewed opposition to the Tory attack on our right to protest
London – Peter Bird
A large crowd assembled in Lincoln’s Inn Fields on Saturday in an activity which the government seek to regulate and make substantially unlawful. They were, in common with people in 22 other cities across the country, demonstrating against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which is currently at its report stage in the House of Lords.
Mark Thomas spoke and made several powerful points permeated with considerable humour. He started off by playing his harmonica which he said could cause serious annoyance and could be deemed unlawful once the legislation is enacted. He said that progress invariably comes from grassroots action and mentioned the long campaign for justice by families of the 97 people who died at Hillsborough. He also pointed out that a possible 10 year prison sentence for damaging a statue exceeded what might be imposed for sexually assaulting another person, hence giving statues more rights than women would have. He ended by again playing his potentially seriously annoying harmonica. There were also speakers from Liberty and The People’s Assembly after which the crowd marched to Parliament square.
The march was upbeat and noisy and certainly disrupted the traffic as it took well over two hours. There were several marching bands and also placards from all manner of groups concerning such matters as racial equality, human rights, climate change, and Palestinian rights. There were also a large number of homemade placards from concerned individuals and someone wheeled a coffin through the streets representing the death of British democracy. Several women wore suffragette colours providing a vivid reminder of how our democracy was won.
The bill, should it become law, will give the police powers to stop and search without suspicion, arrest anyone who does not comply with all their requests during a stop and search, and will create new offences such as locking onto other objects or merely being equipped to do so. Hence anyone carrying a bicycle lock or tube of super glue would be subject to arrest. The bill is worded in such a broad way that it may become illegal to cause ‘serious annoyance’, disrupt traffic, strike with a union, be part of a picket line, or attend a protest or a march at all.
One of the proposed amendment clauses is designed to protect corporations over the rights of workers by criminalising anyone who stops a business running; and the bill would increase sentences for ‘criminal damage to memorials’. Additionally traveller communities fear that a provision to give police powers related to mobile homes puts their way of life at risk.
Jeremy Corbyn said that if you have to seek police permission to do anything it leads to every protest becoming a conflict about having the protest, rather than what the protest is about. “So we end up endlessly defending things instead of demanding things. This sense of disempowerment is designed to have a depressive effect….”
However, at a time when a jury declined to find the Colston Four guilty of criminal damage for pulling down the statue of Edward Colston, the slave trader, and throwing it into the harbour, it is clear that dissent is there and it is vital as a way to protect democracy. As the speaker from People’s Assembly pointed out, some years ago there was legislation to outlaw unauthorised protest within a square mile of Parliament. It didn’t stop Brian Haw having a permanent peace camp in Parliament Square, nor did it stop hordes of other anti-war protesters. If the government want a conflict with civil society, they appear to have it.
Bath – Johanna Everritt
By noon on Saturday, there was a reasonably large gathering of about 200 people assembled to protest the police bill in the Abbey Courtyard in Bath. Having attended 3 other Kill the Bill protests in Bath, this was the best-attended, many probably having been drawn out by the fact that we were lucky enough to have Ken Loach address the crowd.
His speech was passionate and compelling: outlining the most damaging aspects of the police bill and drawing attention to the discriminatory nature of it as well as its ability to politically paralyse those who wanted to raise their voice against those in power. He made explicit reference to the lack of opposition in parliament and his criticism of Starmer was greeted with enthusiastic applause from the audience.
Setting off at about 12:30, many marchers had brought pots and pans as well as drums and other percussion instruments and the people of Bath can be proud to say they made significant noise against the police bill.
Manchester – Chris Neville
In Manchester, there was a fantastic turnout for the demo which was organised by the Kill the Bill Coalition.
Starting in St Peter's Square, speakers from different organisations talked about how the bill will affect us, with a particular focus on the communities that are most likely to suffer from the effects of the bill.
There was a long march which stopped the trams through the central retail district and along Deansgate, back to St Peter's Square where more speeches were heard. It was great to see Gary Walker, picket supervisor at the current Chep strike speaking, where he reiterated the need for unity and solidarity between workers, tying up the key link between everyone present at the demo.
There was a strong union presence overall, with several Unite banners and the PCS Samba Band leading the march. Also present were Jewish Voice for Labour, Extinction Rebellion, Kids of Colour, CND and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
Some of the recent protests around this issue have been lacking in support but today showed a renewed sense of anger in the fight to protect our rights. The best way to stop this bill having an effect on protests is to mobilise en masse and the Cap Energy Bills protest in Manchester on 12 February should provide that next step.
Newcastle – David McAllister
Newcastle had a great turnout at the Monument on Saturday for the national day of action to Kill the Bill. A coalition of causes made their presence known, as a range of speakers talked about how the bill will impact upon them.
The presence of trade union speakers was important, given the developing cost of living crisis. Craig Johnson of the RMT made the link to the right to strike, as he warned us all that striking workers stand to be criminalised even further than they already are. Fran Heathcote of the PCS stressed the need to build an alliance of campaigns to take on the Tories, adding that we want Boris Johnson to go, but we also "want the whole bloody lot of them out!" to huge cheers.
The rally was powered by broad participation. The socialist mayor for North of Tyne, Jamie Driscoll, also spoke, as did speakers for the People's Assembly, Stand Up to Racism, Resist NCL, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War, the North East Green Party and Newcastle Unites.
Local musicians Bethany Elen and John Holtaway added a carnival atmosphere with some protest songs, concluding a significant day for our movement which lays down a strong marker for the breadth of resistance we need to take on the crack down on civil liberties, and topple Johnson and the Tories.
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