Written by GMIAU volunteer Challoner Zon
When the Home Secretary describes impassioned anti-racism protests as “dreadful”, and a government commissioned race report belittles Black Lives Matter protesters as “idealistic”, we should all be worried. This is not a new perspective from the current government; it represents an escalation, another step up the staircase of authoritarianism. The Conservatives have recently jumped 3 steps up those stairs with the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which if passed will rapidly ramp up the ability of police power over protests. The bill will criminalise “public nuisance”. It will impose noise and time limits on direct action. It will introduce a sentence of up to ten years for damaging a memorial and criminalise trespass, a measure that will disproportionately affect Travellers in the UK. This boils down to the Home Secretary and police possessing ultimate power to stop any protest from going ahead. This is an unforgiveable infringement on our right to free expression.
Protest is the major driving force behind systemic change. It is our inarguable right to stand up for our beliefs, to show our solidarity and to resist the cruelty of those in power. Direct action has been successful throughout history. It has played an important part in the struggle for equality for those coming to the UK from abroad – the people the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU) supports.
GMIAU was founded in the late 1980s, an effort by ardent campaigners against deportations to connect their legal work with local communities. These activists had seen first-hand the power that solidarity and direct action possessed – through community organising they drew attention to particularly egregious cases, bringing stories like Anwar Ditta’s to light, uncovering the threat racist immigration controls posed to a wider community. GMIAU was formed to combine these principles with legal work; to “not only to fight individual legal cases but to be a space for community resistance”.
31 years later, we still recognise that our duty to expose and fight the inequalities people face extends beyond our legal work. We have been involved in many campaigns throughout the years and will continue to take part in protests to show support for those seeking a better life in the UK, rain or shine (often rain). Those in power clearly see the threat that organised collective action represents; to bring about a fairer world, one with freedom of movement, freedom of expression. The government have no interest in this. They have spent years covertly chipping away at the human rights of people who have come to the UK seeking a better life; they wish now to extend their remit.
For now, the bill has been delayed due to public outcry – another example of the power of direct action. We must do everything we can in the meantime to prevent it from ever coming into effect. As Shadow Justice secretary David Lammy recently expressed to the House of Commons: “By giving the police the discretion to use these powers some of the time, it takes away our freedom all of the time.”
The hostile environment subjects many to violence every single day, in the form of hunger, homelessness and anxiety. This will only worsen in the light of Priti Patel’s recent asylum proposals. From the direct action of the Stansted 15, to demonstrations at Yarl’s Wood and the barracks being used to house people seeking asylum, protest remains one of our most effective methods of drawing attention to this violence. It is not the job of Priti Patel and Cressida Dick to decide if we can exercise our fundamental human right to fight inequality publicly and communally, or to use the pandemic as an excuse to launch a broad assault on our rights. Join a group campaigning locally (like Sisters Uncut); sign Liberty’s petition; write to your MP; read about your legal rights at a protest; inform your friends and family. We are in this struggle together; now is the time for action.
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