Little Rock Whether governments in power like it or not, a fairly minimal requirement involved in the pretense to democratic norms is the right to protest, whether it be a demand for change or action against injustice. Sometimes just protests have been powerful enough to bring governments down, pass needed laws, and undo greivious wrongs. In an ostensibly democratic government like that of the United States, even insurrectionists, like those involved in January 6th, believe they have a proper defense for their actions in the claims founded on the right to protest.
The United Kingdom and its ruling conservative government seem to have lost their bearings in outrage against current tactics being employed in contemporary protests there to the extent that they have gone full-on, hardcore authoritarian in their proposals to curtail some recent protest tactics that are setting their hair on fire. Some of the climate protestors have taken to gluing themselves to this and that or chaining themselves to what and what not. Some have specialized in blocking tunnels. Others have blocked highways and roads. Honestly, I have to concede that street blocking was a go-to tactic for ACORN since the early 1980s, so, yes, I know it complicates business as usual, but honestly that’s the whole point of protest, now, isn’t it? We didn’t go into glue and chains, but that might have only been because we didn’t think about it at the time on one hand, and on the other hand that it doesn’t align well with a mass base, as opposed to a couple of troopers taking one for the cause.
In the UK, the response seems to be if you can’t stop them, put them in jail and make protests illegal in various ways embracing a standard set of authoritarian tactics. There was a bit of an uproar when the government proposed a new Public Order Bill that clearly attacked protest, but now they have amended that bill, curtailing protests even more aggressively. Furthermore, they took what was frightfully clear and mad it even more dastardly. The amendments claimed to be clarifying these new orders for the police, particularly what defined “serious disruption” in their listing of various tactics. Unbelievably, their amendments half-hearted effort was to define a “serious disruption” not legally in anyway, but in the negative. A “serious disruption” was defined repeatedly as “more than a minor degree”. What kind of Catch-22, 1984 doublespeak is that? Adding insult to injury, the Public Order amendments also give the police the powers to preemptively block protests if they even think there might be a “more than a minor degree” of disruption. What kind of fresh hell illogic has taken hold in Westminster?
Obviously, this is controversial in the UK, where protests have been part of the standing orders for organizations, unions, and others trying to make their voice heard. The claims of the Prime Minister ring very hollow when he says protest is fundamental to a democracy, and then does his level best to empower the police to stop them before they start and block them as they unfold in such an arbitrary and capricious way. If you ever wonder why so many autocratic governments can act with such impunity against their citizens without really worrying about the world’s censure, the answer may be in the double standard showcased by countries pretending to be democratic, yet acting identically, as Britain is doing so now “in more than a minor degree.”