Did you know that everyone has a right to protest in the streets? n2k finds out about your right to peaceful protest.
Although many non peaceful protests like the May Day riots in London get headlines for the wrong reasons, peaceful protests are a very important part of our society. Many of the rights and freedoms we enjoy today are there because people were prepared to go out on the streets and protest.
The right to protest
In 1988 the government passed the Human Rights Act which included the right to peaceful protest or ‘non violent direct action’.
This means that you can take part in public protest as long as it does not involve violence against property or persons. That includes rival protestors, objects of your protest or the police.
The point of peaceful protesting is to get a point of view across to as many people as possible. Protests can often get loads of media coverage so more people get to hear about the campaign.
So what is non vilonet direct action?
- You can take part in or organise a rally, march or meeting of people. However organisers have to get permission from the police first, stating how many people are expected to turn up, time and place and the route of a march
- You can also do a ‘sit in’ – a protest sitting down
- You can even organise a blockade
- You can run also set up a stall as long as you have permission from your local council
There are also loads of laws that the police can use to stop protests – even if they are peaceful ones. Recently, they’ve been given new powers to control, restrict and even stop protesters.
They can do this by saying there is a threat of terrorism or it is anti-social behaviour – a good example of this is the government bringing in a law to prevent anybody protesting within a kilometer of the Houses of Parliament in London.
A sit-down protest or a blockade even if it’s a peaceful one, can be seen as an obstruction and stopped. Also chanting racist remarks or remarks likely to incite violence can also lead to arrest.
Police can refuse to give permission for a march if they think it might lead to:-
- Serious public disorder
- Serious damage to property
- Serious disruption to the life of the community.
Peaceful protest groups
Some of the most famous groups that try and bring attention to issues through peaceful protest include the suffragettes in Victorian England, who campaigned successfully for women’s rights. Without them women today might not be able to vote!
Greenpeace have often trodden a thin line between peaceful protests and taking ‘direct action’ (which are things like strikes or graffiti), and the Countryside Alliance saw people of all ages and wealth marching through the streets in protest about the fox hunting band.
Pressure groups like the league against Cruel Sports, CND, and Drop the Debt have long used peaceful protests as a way to bring attention to their campaigns. Drop the Debt have been so successful that governments have now dropped many of the debts owed by the poorer countries of the world.
More recently, the political comedian Mark Thomas claimed the world record for the most amount of ‘authorised protests’ in one day! He has famously been a thorn in the governments side for many years as he combines his humour with cold, hard facts about the government that they don’t really want the public to know about.
Protesting is an effective way of the public reminding whoever is in power that they can’t just do what they want – if enough people disagree with it then they will make their feelings known.