‘Activist’ is no more a cohesive term than ‘voter’ or ‘customer’ – it is an activity which many people do and should be free to do. However, lately it seems that the mere act of protesting is getting the Jim Crow treatment .
While it isn’t illegal to protest per se, the authorities are increasingly employing dubious tactics to stop people from doing it. This covers both herding protestors into as small (and invisible) a space as possible, kettling them to stop their movements/punish them for coming out, brute force such as repeatedly dragging a disabled man from his wheelchair, horse charging an already kettled group which included pregnant women. And that’s just on the day. Later protestors can look forward to punitive, Kafka-esque charges for activities which have not broken any laws, bail conditions which restrict movements, and being prosecuted with trumped-up charges such as ‘violent disorder’ as the police try to cover their own arses for nearly killling someone.
I first became active when I had some first-hand experience of the very thin end of this wedge. (Background here if you’re not already sick to death of it.)
The two things I keep hearing from various acquaintances when I wax lyrical about any particular case in the huge portfolio of police abuses are:
a) “Well, what did they think would happen, being there/dressing like that/holding that placard?”
b) “Well it’s hardly Guantanamo/a police state/Nazi Germany/any other facetious example”
To the ‘what did they think would happen’ argument indicates that the person saying this already considers protesting to be a kind of war zone, or at least a state in which assault, threats, and abuses of police power are to be expected. The elderly, the young and the infirm should stay away for their own good, and anyone who does turn up is ‘fair game’. I don’t think it’s idealistic to disagree. Protest does not and should not have a basic fitness requirement. Many of those protesting the NHS cuts have serious medical conditions. Funny that. I also firmly believe that the ‘what did you expect’ argument is precisely what those policing demonstrations want you to think. It drives a wedge between ‘normal’ people and ‘protestors’ – but anyone can and should feel free to protest. A protest is a legitimate part of a functioning democracy.
The second argument sneers and insinuates that because someone can name a time or place that a thing is worse then you must be a great big crybaby to still be banging on about improving what’s in front of you here and now. ‘Why are you complaining that some protestors got hit with truncheons? In some countries they would’ve been shot.’ Does that bump on the head feel better now? No? Strange, that.
Let me tell you the view from the ground is scary, and it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better, but we, the people, are in the right and it’s important to stand up to this bullying and harassment. Why do they put so much effort into trying to silence us? What are they afraid of?
It’s important that we protect our rights to free speech, free assembly and freedom of movement. Don’t cede an inch when it comes to your rights: people fought and died for the rights that you enjoy. The thin end of the wedge leads to the mid-size which in turn leads to the fundamentals.
Irritatingly the current climate means just defending the right to protest at all is taking up a lot of energy, when there are obviously other very important things to do as well – but the right to protest is important, so I’m fighting for it with all (peaceful) tools at my disposal.
Here are some organisations it’s good to know:
Netpol – the network for police monitoring.
FITWatch – monitoring the Forward Intelligence Teams who spy on protestors
Green & Black Cross (GBC) – an independent grassroots project set up to support autonomous social struggles within the UK.
Useful things to know
1) Green & Black Cross’s phone number – write it on your arm before a demo, just in case. Keep it in your phone for future reference: 07946541511
2) You do not have to give your name, address, or any other details to a police officer unless you are under arrest. If you are under arrest you only have to give your name and address. Answer ‘no comment’ to any other questions and be sure to call the phone number above for legal support. They will organise for a lawyer to come be with you in the police station.
3) It is best to avoid being photographed by the police if at all possible. Don’t be on a database. You probably don’t have anything to hide, but this won’t stop them putting you on the National Public Order Intelligence Unit’s (NPIOU) database of ‘domestic extremists’ which can lead to more harassment – sometimes on first-name terms.