Last 8th of October I attended the demonstration called by CND and the Stop the War Coalition. As all the others in Trafalgar Square, I was there to express my opposition to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Knowing that the police had not guaranteed permission, I also wanted to make a point: my right to protest is inalienable and therefore, I do not need anyone’s permission to exercise it. However, I soon felt my presence in that march was a big mistake. I realised I was doing anything but protesting against the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. By attending that march, I was effectively complying with a law that contravenes the Human Rights Act. The fact is, you did apply for ‘permission’ to protest and finally permission was ‘given’ to you. That is not protesting. Your demonstration was ‘legal’ and therefore made other protests that might not ask for or receive permission ‘illegal’. By being in that march, we were actively stopping others from also exercising their right to protest freely; all others who might not get so ‘lucky’ with the police, just because they might not be that many or have the right influence. By saying this I am only trying to make a request. That next time please, do not apply for permission so as not to give them the opportunity to deny it or accept it at their will.
It is yours, my and everyone else’s responsibility to disobey a law that clearly violates one of our most fundamental rights, the right to protest. It is a right we have been born with and, therefore, cannot be put to scrutiny by the police or any other institution. It is not open to negotiation and it cannot be ‘granted’ under conditions that render it irrelevant (such as being forced to take just one route, being herded by so-called stewards who are really doing the police’s job, or guaranteeing access to “any MP or peer who wants to attend Parliament”*). It is a right that is there to serve a crucial purpose: to make sure that minorities are heard by those who govern in some other way than just casting an unheard vote. Democracy means respect for minorities’ human and civil rights, even if that minority happens to be just one person. Democracy is not, as some may wrongly defend, the exclusive government of a majority. That is a dictatorship. As Rosa Luxemburg put it: “Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters”** . Therefore, because to protest is the right of the individual, you cannot apply for ‘permission’ or give guarantees on behalf of others, particularly if you have not even bothered to consult them before hand. You comply now thinking it does not affect you. They will introduce even more restrictive laws and you will keep on complying, while others receive more repression. Then, there will be a moment when it will be your own existence as an effective social movement that will be at stake. But, of course, it may be that this time there won’t be anyone left to help you.
* This guarantee was given by CND and the STWC after the police used a Sessional Order of the House of Commons of the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839. As Henry Porter writes in his article “The government trumpets free speech while trampling on it” published in the Observer on Sunday October 7, 2007:
“That is where it becomes a problem. Instead of using the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, the law preventing demonstration within a kilometre of Parliament Square without police permission, the authorities have disinterred a Sessional Order of the House of Commons of the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839, passed at the time of the Chartists. With archaic relish, they have banned the march because it may impede the progress of any MP or peer who wants to attend Parliament (it is surprising there is no mention of Mr Speaker's coach and four). The organisers have guaranteed that access, but the ban stays in place, which is odd given that the Prime Minister is on record as saying he wants to repeal the section of SOCPA that requires police permission.” [my italics]
**Rosa Luxemburg’s “The Russian Revolution” (1918)