Wednesday, 7 March 2012

What now for Peaceful Protests?"

Occupy Nottingham
So, Nottingham City Council are to go to court to evict the "Occupy Nottingham" camp from the Old Market Square. This is in line with other authorities across the world who have removed protesters from their areas.

The "Occupy the Cities" movement began in Wall Street, New York in September 2011, and swiftly spread to cities across America and the world. Occupy Nottingham began on the 15th October 2011, so in a weeks time it will have been in the Market Square for six months. The Occupy movement was largely a protest against the international financial system, with particular UK focus on unfair banking practices resulting in the near collapse of the banking system. Many banks were rescued with taxpayers money, resulting in debts that all of us are expected to pay for. Have lessons been learnt, as even largely taxpayers owned banks are still paying immoral bonuses to senior executives. The Occupy Movement's slogan of "We are the 99%" is a message that the 1% should not destroy the lives of the rest of us. The camps have been a great way of drawing attention to the greed of capitalism, and the iniquity of government cuts. I have supported the protest 100%, because they are presenting a message that needs to be heard.

Occupy Nottingham Common Statement
I have read and heard a number of people who do not support the protest, criticize those who are involved for not providing details of viable alternatives to the system that they are criticizing. 

This is grossly unfair. There is a "Occupy Nottingham Common Statement" for all to see at the camp. There are good points made as to what should be done. For example, point 5 declares that "We want regulators to be genuinely independent of the industries they regulate". Without this, it's like an old boys network.

Also, why should protesters who may well largely be ordinary working class people be expected to come up with all of the detailed answers? Isn't this what we elect our politicians for? Isn't this what we pay senior executives for? The Occupy Movement has rightly pointed out what is wrong, and what needs to change. If enough people agree with this, then it is up to our representatives in Parliament and local government to bring about the changes that are needed to ensure a fairer society for all. So, what now for the we are the 99%?

In considering all of this, two issues come to light. One is the right to peaceful protest, and the other is do protests have a shelf life? (I may address the latter in a future blog).

Where does Nottingham City Council's aim to evict the Market Square protesters stand in relation to the right to peaceful protest? The Council's Corporate Director of Communities has said, "We've got an increasing number of businesses and members of the public who have raised concerns about the camp". We're not told how many people have raised these concerns; is it 10, 100, 1000? What was the nature of these complaints? Do such complaints allow the rights of others to peaceful protest to be denied?

The Government's own website, Directgov says, "The right to peaceful protest is a vital part of democracy, and it has a long, distinguished history in the UK. Taking part in a demonstration, rally or protest is a high-profile way to take a stand on issues important to you. Protests can make a real difference - leading to changes in governmental policies and laws. Peaceful protests allow people to come together and stand up for what they believe in, and can be a very effective way of promoting change".

The Human Rights Act protects freedom of expression and freedom of assembly - these form the basis for our right to gather with others and protest. The Act forbids governments and other public bodies, including the Police, from violating those rights. There are of course limitations on these rights, but these are designed to prevent unrest, violence and crime, and for the protection of the rights and freedom of others.

Let's look at this in relation to the Occupy Nottingham camp. For nearly six months this has been a peaceful protest; as far as I'm aware, there has been no reports of unrest, violence or crime. As for protecting the rights and freedom of others, I can't see the problem. Some may claim that it's unsightly, but I feel the same way about some of Nottingham's buildings, but I wouldn't dream of asking for them to be pulled down. The camp is tucked away in one of the corners of the square, with still plenty of space for people to walk by. It is not affecting anyone's freedom, and as such, I fail to see why legally they don't have the right to peaceful protest, and to stay in the Square for as long as they wish.

On its Facebook page, Occupy Nottingham said, "We have collectively decided, so far, not to move from Market Square and through civil disobedience and lawful rebellion we will stay". As a believer in democracy, liberty and the right to peaceful protest, I applaud their intention, and support them 100%.

Keir Hardie
What is a disappointment to me is that it is a Labour controlled administration that is seeking to evict the protesters. Disappointed, yes; surprised, no. Long ago Labour forgot its roots, and turned its back on those it was set up to represent.

Keir Hardie, who founded the Independent Labour Party, and became the first Leader would be turning in his grave. He was a giant, when most others who followed him were mere pygmies.

The Council will undoubtedly have its way; protesters will be evicted, the camp will be cleared, and those 'nasty' protesters will go their way. Perhaps the protesters will be denied their right to peaceful protest in Market Square, but this may well be the start of a new phase of "lawful rebellion", as I've a feeling that they won't go away that easily.

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