'It is better to protest than to accept injustice'
As demonstrations take place against the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill, campaigner Jess Hall writes of the importance of protest
I was 25. As I reached for my placard and stepped into the road, I joined the long history of ordinary people taking to the streets in protest and calling for change.
It was my first protest, and it is etched on my memory.
From the prophets of the Old Testament, to abolitionists and the suffragettes. From land rights movements in India, to anti-poverty campaigners in Colombia, all over the world non-violent protest is - and always has been - a vital tool of democratic expression and vehicle for social transformation.
Here at Christian Aid, I’ve been proud to be part of rallying people to hit the streets in protest. Together we’ve stood in the conviction of our faith and in solidarity with our sisters and brothers around the world. We’ve lived the call to love our neighbour by calling out injustice and demanding that decision makers act for the common good.
And as a global organisation we continue to work around the world to promote civic space. We believe that advocacy and non-violent protest are part of a healthy political culture in which marginalised people’s voices are likelier to be heard.
What’s more, I’ve seen protest change things. I’ve seen land rights secured in India, climate legislation won in the UK, and social justice movements strengthened to fight another day.
Protest is an expression of people power, but in the UK this vital tool is under threat
In early 2021, the UK Government began rushing through a piece of legislation called The Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill.
The proposed Bill seeks to curb the right to protest and silence the voice of ordinary people - people who want to see a more just world, where everyone gets to live life in all its fullness.
Without the full right to protest we will find ourselves muted and unheard.
What’s in the Bill?
The Police Crime and Sentencing Bill covers a range of new police powers including limits to protest, as well as criminalising already marginalised nomadic groups in the UK. Here’s what you need to know when it comes to protest.
The police will be able to decide what constitutes a ‘nuisance’ during a public protest. The vague description in the Bill gives the police broad powers to arrest and charge people they deem to be a nuisance.
This could see people facing vastly increased prison sentences of up to 10 years for exercising their right to protest.
Who hasn’t been to a noisy protest? The new Bill gives the police powers to decide on an acceptable level of noise for a protest, static or moving. Chants, drums, and music are all traditional aspects of protest that alert decision makers and wider society to the presence of the people.
Restrictions to noise will literally silence the voice of people who are calling out injustice.
The Bill will limit the presence of protests around the Palace of Westminster, pretty much creating a buffer zone around the biggest seat of power in the UK.
Diminished and shut out
By limiting protest, the voices of the people are diminished. With tougher penalties for participating in protest on the cards, people may find themselves less willing to pick up a placard, particularly if they're from an already marginalised background or been subject to racial discrimination.
It’s not about us
One of the amazing things about being part of a global justice movement is that it’s made up of diverse people and voices. You and I are part of a thriving ecosystem of community groups, organisations and institutions all pushing for change. Ecosystems are delicate – in short, we all need each other to survive.
The new Bill will likely impact some of the emerging and most energised movements that we’ve seen in the past few years, from the climate justice movement to Black Lives Matter.
We don’t all share the same tactics, but we share the same desire for a more just and equal world. As one part of the movement is silenced, we’ll all feel the impact.
So, what can we do?
God calls us to ‘seek justice and correct oppression’ (Isaiah 1:17), and so we must speak out.
Thousands of people have already said no to the new Bill and limits to protest.
You can join them today by signing this petition hosted by our friends at Friends of the Earth. As the Bill is debated in the House of Lords, we still have time to make our voices heard.