Mayday, 1st May, is a day of anti-capitalist workers' struggle. Traditionally, Nottingham's contribution has been a march through the town centre and a rally of anti-capitalist campaigns and agitators. For the past few years, this gathering has taken place in Brewhouse Yard near Nottingham castle. However, this year the City Council have been putting all manner of obstacles in the organisers' way.
Permission for a rally in Brewhouse Yard was refused because "there were going to be Robin Hood activities in other places"! Permission was finally granted for the rally in Victoria Park on the St Ann's end of town but only subject to restrictive conditions such as displaying the Council logo on all publicity, displaying Council banners and was subject to a charge... all for using a 'public' park. In addition, organisers are having to pay to get roads closed for the march.
All of this has led one of the organisers to question whether the streets and public spaces of Nottingham really do belong to the people or are just an extension of the City Council's private fiefdom. These restrictions have very serious impacts on people's freedom to protest and assemble, as demonstrated by recent police crackdowns on festivals, such as the Strawberry Fair in Cambridge.
MayDay rally and march from 11am, Victoria Park, Bath Street.
Organising May Day this year has brought us face to face with how local protest may look in the future. And it looks expensive. And corporate.
Like most years, we initially asked if we could book the Square for the rally. Like every year, we were turned down. This is possibly just as well, as using the Square would have entailed vast amounts of public liability insurance, as well as other fees, including those we came up against later. Also, if using the Square, we couldn’t put up our own stalls and gazebos – no, we’d have to hire the council’s little huts – again, at no small price.
So we tried Brewhouse Yard again. But this year, the council would not let us have it because there were going to be Robin Hood activities in other places. Please don’t ask us to explain the logic of that. But it begins to show how difficult it is to find a public place in which to hold a public meeting or rally. Aren’t the streets and parks our streets and parks? But the council believes otherwise, and the council makes arbitrary decisions.
Finally, the council agreed that we could use Victoria Park. But with this came a plethora of regulations, including: litter picking in the surrounding area as well as the park; displaying their logo on publicity; risk assessments; first aid; displaying their banners if they wanted us to; etc, etc. We had to get public liability insurance for the use of the park. And there was a charge. Whose parks? Our parks!
Next, there was the route for the march to be agreed. We have always had police permission for the route in the past – not because we all believe that a protest should be agreed by the forces of the state, but because we believed it would make a safer, more family-friendly environment, where first-time marchers would feel comfortable. It had never been difficult to get this police permission before. This year, however, the system has changed. Instead of asking the usual man at the cop shop, a council official is now in charge of permitting the streets to be used for protest. (Apparently this is at the request of the police “because the streets belong to the council”. Whose streets? Our streets!)
Despite having public liability insurance for the use of the park, we had to get another lot of public liability insurance for the rally.
Well, we got permission. But during this, we found out about Temporary Traffic Regulation Orders (TTROs). These mean that, to march along a public street – and therefore close it to traffic – costs money. In Nottingham, it is around £400. A Temporary Traffic Regulation Order is made by a Council when it is necessary to prohibit or control vehicular and / or pedestrian traffic along the highway. The Council can make a Temporary Traffic Regulation Order to cover planned situations, or can issue an Emergency Notice if regulation is needed without delay. TTROs are normally used to allow essential or emergency works to be carried out on the highway, typically installation of, or maintenance works to, services such as gas, electricity, water etc. And, apparently, political protest.
All this has alarming implications for the future of political and popular protest. Already we have seen the Square become a showcase for Council and corporate gloating and self-aggrandizement rather than a meeting place for the people. Access to the Council House has become more restricted as it seems the people were wearing out the fabric of the grand building. Now the council’s authoritarian and money-grabbing control of the parks and streets make it more and more difficult to organise any autonomous public activities at all. It’s either proud, ambitious, cleaner, safer and full of corporate snot, or it’s not allowed. TTROs are effectively a tax on protest.
Imagine you want a protest march against poverty – well, you’ll have to pay for it. Imagine you’ll want a protest march against some council policy – well, you’ll need council permission.
In this country, you now have to bribe the council and the police before you can protest. Let’s not take this lying down. Lying down probably needs a licence and a risk assessment anyway. Keep protesting and keep marching.
And please support the May Day march and rally this year – see http://nottinghamshire.indymedia.org.uk/2010/04/448550.html and FIGHT BACK!
(May Day Saturday May 1st 11am onwards at Victoria Park, Bath Street, near Sneinton Market. March at 12 noon. Music, stalls and speakers before and after the march.)
Notts IMC + One of the MayDay organisers