Reasons you’ll want to protest
Written by Carolyn Parker
The UK Policing Bill, and in particular the section on protest powers, may feel far removed from day-to-day life. Some of us may wonder what all the fuss is about - why do people need to be noisy and annoying about changes intended to strengthen law and order?
To begin to answer this complex question, let’s consider all the ways in which protesting has benefitted modern life. Women’s right to vote, the abolition of slavery, and the decriminalisation of homosexuality are just a few milestones achieved through the democratic right to protest.
The Johnson government argues it is not removing the right to protest, but offering the police more powers to prevent protests from being “highly disruptive”. But what constitutes “high disruption”? And where would we be today if previous protests hadn’t disrupted mainstream ways of thinking?
Our right to protest, and to do so in a way that captures the attention of decision-makers, remains important. Here are today’s most urgent issues that depend, in part, on the British public’s ability to protest:
1. Climate Change
It is real and getting worse. Rising temperatures are already resulting in heatwaves, wildfires, droughts, storms, floods, and rising sea levels all across the world, with a devastating impact on the environment and human life. Since 2020, we have seen wildfires raging in Australia, California, and Greece. We’ve seen severe flooding in both Germany and the UK.
The UN’s 2021 IPCC report confirms that one of the quickest ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to phase out fossil fuels and introduce sustainable solutions. The rate of temperature increases must be reduced - and fast - if our species is to survive. Public pressure, including protest, is integral to ensuring that governments keep their commitments from the Paris Climate Agreement.
2. Racial inequality
We know that unemployment rates are higher for ethnic minorities than white people, Black people are more likely to be stopped and searched by police, Black women are five times more likely to die in childbirth than white women, and that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people’s health has been disproportionately affected by Covid-19. These are significant, evidence-backed impacts on people of colour’s quality of life.
And yet, in the Government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities published in March 2021, the notion of institutionalised racism was rejected as a useful way of understanding why such inequalities persist. If we can’t name the issue, how can we address it? Public protests, as we saw after George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, are critical to getting governments and businesses to take meaningful action against systemic racism.
3. Human Rights
At the time of writing, Kabul has fallen and Afghanistan is in the hands of the Taliban. Currently, the UK Government has committed to resettling up 20,000 Afghan citizens in the UK. This shift in support was no doubt in large part due to the British public and activists campaigning restlessly for the basic human rights of Afghans to live, work, and learn in peace, using petitions and protests as a way to make their voices heard.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of what we need to advocate for. There are and will always be improvements to make in our society. But the main point to remember is that there can be no social progress without the right to peaceful protest - and it ultimately has to get disruptive, noisy, and annoying, if we want those in power to take notice.
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