This bill has been in motion for some time now as a result of Priti Patel’s well-documented hatred of public protest against government and institutional failings. Forming in reaction to the widespread Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion protests last year, this bill aims to make it harder to organize, attend, and to avoid arrest and sentencing for protesting.
The government’s new stance on protest is laid out in alarming detail in Clause 59: “a person would commit the new offence if… the person… obstructs the public or a section of the public”. Going on to say that serious harm would be caused where a person “suffers serious distress, serious annoyance, serious inconvenience or serious loss of amenity”. This ruling gives the government and police the power to decide what constitutes an “obstruction” – now tell me; what is a protest if not an attempt to cause distress, annoyance, inconvenience and loss of amenity? The whole point of protest, the very basis of the practice, is to cause all of the above in attempt to shine a light on oppressive practices.
Without the right to protest, many campaigns for social justice would have fallen on deaf ears. From the fight for improved workers’ rights, the campaign for universal suffrage, and the civil rights movement, protest has been a key instrument for marginalised sections of society to get their voice heard by those in power. In the week following the police violence seen at the vigil for the murder of Sarah Everard, there have been multiple protests up and down the country highlighting the public outcry not only at this bill but also at the police – an institution that many sections of the public deem to be outdated and not fit for purpose.
In order for us to protect our right to protest we need to do just that – get out and protest in large numbers – they can’t arrest all of us. Prove to government that it does work. We also need to put pressure on the Labour party to have a backbone in opposing the government. Keir Starmer needs to effectively and swiftly oppose everything this bill stands for, protecting the rights of everyone in this country.
As well as the attacks on our rights to protest, we cannot ignore the other section of this bill. New laws on “unauthorised encampments” will impact the already marginalised Romani Traveller community. Already a discriminated against ethnic group, this community will face evermore persecution as a direct result of this bill. In addition to this, changes to stop and search powers will have disproportionate effects on our black communities who are already 9 times more likely to be stopped and searched.
The overt authoritarianism and racism that are built in to the new bill come as no surprise from this government. What is needed now more than ever is public protest and political opposition to shoot down these changes and oppose these new methods that are a push towards authoritarianism.