• Noisy and Annoying Team

It’s never too late to stand up for what you believe in

Written by Carla Burns

Photo by Dolapo Ayoade on Unsplash

I never saw myself as a protester. Before Brexit, I had never even been on a march. It seemed a bit pointless to me - what could it really achieve?

I was having this conversation with my brother, who reminded me how I'd kicked up a fuss in my Catholic Secondary school, back in the 90s. A woman came to talk to us, claiming that contraception is the work of the devil and that it should not be used. Given that at least two girls in my year group had got pregnant before the age of 16, I didn’t find this message particularly helpful. So, I protested to the school board and the woman didn’t come back.

I began to realise that, for me, the motivation to protest lies in rectifying a particular issue. At school, it was about impressionable teens being given terrible advice that exposed them to risk. In 2016, it was alienated communities being misinformed, exposing the whole of the UK to the risks of exiting the European Union.

Brexit is a big deal for me, as the wife of a French national residing in the UK. It dashed many of our dreams and forced my husband to apply for the right to remain in his own home. Suffice it to say: I was pretty pissed off.

Since 2016, I’ve been on several marches both locally and in London. The anti-Brexit protests have always been very good-natured and I've never witnessed acts of violence or vandalism - although they were always very noisy. I frequently found myself leading chants, which tend to bring crowds together in unity for the cause.

But in 2021, the British government wants us, the people, to sit down and be quiet. Its Policing Bill would add increasing risks to people who start or join ‘noisy’ and ‘annoying’ protests, with legislative interpretation at the discretion of local officials and the police. This could enable the police to get away with almost anything. If their performance to date is anything to go by, we are in serious trouble.

The police are notoriously under-resourced and often ill-equipped to make commensurate decisions when responding to protests. Let's not forget the vigils in the wake of Sarah Everard's attack, which saw peaceful mourners, many of them women, being manhandled.

It feels to me like the government is conditioning us to accept that protest is unacceptable. Well, I am here to tell you that it absolutely isn’t. Protest - including the noisy and annoying kind - is a fundamental part of an effective democracy. I intend to continue to exercise that right.

The potential risks of this Bill passing scare me, but not standing up for what I believe in scares me even more.

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