London Indymedia

Monopoly on Protest: Open Letter to CND and the Stop the War Coalition

MF | 13.10.2007 09:25 | Analysis | London

This is an open letter to those who organised the demmostration against the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan last 8th of October. It is a reflexion on the law that forces protesters to request for permission to the police.

Dear members of CND and the Steering Committee of the STWC,

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)



Hide the following 4 comments

Yes. But

14.10.2007 19:14

Good point. I am not going to let the Prime Minister Gordon Brown, - who often forgets to put his trousers on - stop me from protesting.

However, what about the organisers of a "banned demo". Would they be charged with something nasty?

Harold Hamlet

SOCPA and Marches

14.10.2007 21:22

"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."

I appreciate this article and believe the freedom to protest should be supported. However SOCPA does not cover marches so it makes it a bit more complicated. Marches have been covered under the Public Order Act as a 'procession'. If some group (or individual) is doing a march along a road which is normally used by traffic then obviously the police will want to know about that. The need to get permission obviously then gives the Police an opportunity to apply all sorts of restrictions like duration, location, route etc. just like with SOCPA. SOCPA is interesting in that (i) it applies only to one particular 'designated' area around the Houses of Parliament which should be considered the same as any other public place and (ii) it applies even if it is a small demonstration by one or a few people that will cause no disruption to anyone. SOCPA also bans most use of a loudspeaker (what about megaphones???). The border of the designated area is decided by the Secretary of State, which is presumably a political appointment.

If a march be actually banned as suggested has happened by the Stop the War Coalition, and at the behest of the Government (if that is true) then that would be an abuse of political power, and as you say an infringement of the freedom of expression.

Brian B


15.10.2007 11:09

several times in Brighton in the past couple of years the police have sought to restrict anti-war demos by encouraging would-be demonstrators to comply with restrictions, negotiate, kiss their bottoms etc

a much criticised stance of non-negotiation has regularly been successful with the police not following throught with their threats. we are now in a situation where the police are happy to assume the responsibility of presenting parliament with reccommendations for new laws so it is hardly surprising that they seek to add informal laws that are also restrictive of protest



15.10.2007 17:14

I'd like to second MF's concerns. Hopefully the StWC will respond publicly to this.




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