To the streets

IssueOctober 2005
News by Ippy D

On 24 September tens of thousands took to the streets in London and Washington DC to protest at the ongoing occupation of Iraq.

In the US the turnout was unexpectedly high, as many used the opportunity to vent their anger and frustration at a catalogue of disasters foisted upon the people by the Bush administration.

Speaking after the event, US War Resister David McReynolds commented: "24 September will go down in history as a genuine victory. It was a moment when people all across the nation, who may have felt themselves a lone voice in their own communities, realised they were part of a vast movement, politically as powerful as Hurricane Rita."

In London the theme was "peace and liberty" and, while the turnout was modest, the atmosphere was upbeat and defiant. A succession of speakers condemned British foreign policy, made the links between the war and oil dependency, and called on us all to fight racism and attacks on civil liberties.

Starting the London march in Parliament Square was a highly symbolic gesture as, since the beginning of August, there is, effectively, a ban on protests without permits. As nobody was arrested, it can only be assumed that the march organisers dined with the devil and asked "pretty please".

This however, has not been the experience of everyone pottering about in the Square, as Emma Sangster reports...

Defiance continues

Since the introduction of the ban on unauthorised protest in the "designated area" around Parliament, brought in under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, defiance of the new law has continued every weekend.

Two sizable protests (PN2463-4) started the ball rolling and saw 10 people arrested for doing nothing more than holding a banner or a placard. At least two arrestees will be asserting in court that they were not demonstrating at all but just happened to be in the area.

Every Sunday since, smaller groups have gathered on Parliament Square to hold picnics and People's Commons - discursive, colourful and creative events at which the definition of protest is tested. In a continually arbitrary way, the police have arrested a further seven picnickers, although many more remain unarrested and are urging others to join them. The police have delayed charging recent arrestees for several weeks. However, one arrestee has had strict bail conditions imposed which prohibit return to a wide area in central London.

Trial dates for 11 of the arrestees have been set for November and January. They plan to use these occasions to question the (in)compatibility of the restrictions on protest with the right to the freedoms of association and speech enshrined in the Human Rights Act of 1998.