A dialogue is needed

Dave – the editor

28 March, 2021

On Saturday 20 March, there was a large demonstration in central London called by a range of groups opposed to the seemingly endless successions of lockdowns and tiered restrictions we’ve been subjected to for a year now. On Sunday 21st, Tuesday 23rd and Friday 26th in Bristol, there were protests against the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. On Saturday 27 March, there was an anti-lockdown protest in Bradford and a series of protests against the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in towns and cities across the country. As I write, this wave of protests looks set to continue. Suffice to say, it’s been quite a week and there’s a lot to take in and think about.

Protests against the lockdowns and tiered restrictions have been going on for the best part of a year with peaks and troughs in terms of mobilisation and frequency. They’ve been met with varying styles of policing from relatively hands off to more forcible attempt to break up marches and also, mass arrests. It should be born in mind that for the vast majority of those attending these protests, it’s their first experience of ever having been on a demonstration. For the range of groups involved in calling them, it’s been a learning curve in how to successfully mobilise and conduct these protests. It should be noted that unlike protests and actions organised and called by the Left and the anarchists, the anti-lockdown movement has yet to develop an adequate legal observer and arrestee support infrastructure.

The protest of Saturday 20 March was large and has galvanised the anti-lockdown movement. Another protest has been called for London on Saturday April 24. All things being equal, I intent to be going to that one in order to cover the proceedings for this blog. Obviously that comes at some risk, not just from overzealous policing but also from the potential embarrassment of being clocked by an Antifa spotter who may well be someone that I know!

The start of the anti-lockdown protest in London on March 20, 2021

Despite attempts by some elements within the Left and the anarchist movement to portray the anti-lockdown movement as being ‘right wing’, as we’ve written before, it cuts across established political divides. I watched a fair bit of the footage of the end part of the protest in London on Saturday 20 March and what struck me was the range of people attending. As I’ve previously argued, the Left and the anarchists need to be making the effort to understand and engage with the anti-lockdown movement rather than dismissing or condemning it: A challenging situation… – March 14, 2021. Sure, a large protest of 50,000 or more is going to attract a few cranks and rightists who want a chance to spread their bile. To this, I would say look at all of the large protests called by the left over the decades and you’ll find there have been some pretty dodgy people turning up on these as well.

Then, all of a sudden, there has been a flurry of protests against the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. For the last year, the coronavirus legislation has been wilfully used by the state to restrict our lives and deployed as an excuse to hassle protests that are deemed unacceptable, most notably, those against lockdown and tiered restrictions. The Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill still has a few stages to go through before it is enacted into law and becomes fully operational. The government are probably quite relaxed about that because with the coronavirus legislation in place for at least another six months, they can pretty much do what they want anyway when it comes to stifling ‘inconvenient’ protests.

The three protests in Bristol against the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill caught the headlines because they all ended up with police using force to disperse them. Force which included using rectangular shields to batter protesters sitting down on the road. Force that resulted in a fair few protesters needing hospital treatment. Force that can only be described as legalised thuggery. It was as if the Avon and Somerset Police on behalf of the government were sending out a signal that this is what any protesters can expect in the future if the issue they’re protesting against is deemed to be inconvenient to the authorities.

Daffodils in a face off with the cops

Without wanting to be judgemental or dismissive of the protesters out on the streets of Bristol, the Avon and Somerset Police were picking on a relatively easy target. Namely, mainly (but not exclusively) middle class and mostly wanting a peaceful protest. Also, the vast majority were masked. Not masked up in proper protest fashion but sporting the so called ‘medical’ masks which is more virtue signalling than providing any proper protection against any viruses that may or may not be out there. The proper protest masks only seemed to come out after nightfall. Sit downs, laying out daffodils on the road and even handing them to the cops isn’t exactly a threat to the established order is it? Sure there was a more militant element who made their presence felt as night fell but overall, they weren’t the dominant elements in the protests. Had the Avon and Somerset Police tried their tactics on a group of disaffected youths from one of the peripheral estates such as Withywood or Hartcliffe, they would have well and truly got their arses handed to them on a plate!

Police under attack from locals in Hartcliffe, July 1992

What has struck me and a number of other commentators is how, after almost a year of the anti-lockdown protests being hassled by police, the Left (and some anarchists) have latched onto the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill as if it’s a new existential threat to the right to protest. If anything, it’s the use of the coronavirus legislation over the last year to selectively clamp down on protests that has paved the way for the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Aided and abetted by a Left that all too often has been calling for tougher lockdown measures.

Anyway, we are where we are with two protest movements that at the moment, have little or no overlap with each other and appear to operate in parallel universes. Is there any chance the two can be brought together to mount a serious challenge to the authorities or will elements in both strands continue to (mainly) unwittingly play into the hands of the divide and rule merchants? The common element that both protests have is wanting to exercise the right to freely protest without fear of undue arrest by, or assault from, the police. Isn’t that enough to encourage a dialogue between the two strands of protest?

The key to dialogue is understanding each other. That can only happen if there’s a willingness to do that. Although I see myself as anti-lockdown and opposed to the ‘great reset’ agenda that’s behind lockdown, I’ll be the first to admit that there are elements on our side who really do need to make an effort to understand. Granted, I share their bafflement at the virtue signalling of wearing masks outside, in the fresh air while on a protest. However, I’ve been round the block enough to understand that in an age of all pervasive surveillance, there are valid reasons for properly masking up in certain situations while out on a protest. Any militant action outside or near a cop shop is definitely a situation where masking up to disguise your identity is a wise course of action to take. It could well come to the point where in certain circumstances on an anti-lockdown protest that’s getting seriously hassled by the cops that masking up may have to be considered as a tactic.

What the Left and a fair few anarchists need to understand is that prior to the wave of protests against the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, anti-lockdown protesters have for almost a year been out on the streets defending not just their right to protest but by implication, that of the Left and the anarchists. All of us face continuing restrictions on our lives with at least another six months of coronavirus legislation allowing the government to do pretty much what they want. Opposition to the ever continuing roll out of coronavirus legislation on the one hand and on the other, a Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that will severely curtail the right to protest has to be seen as one unified struggle. Fortunately, there are other voices making the same argument: We are Living Through a Time of Fear – Not Just of the Virus, But of Each Other – Jonathan Cook | CounterPunch | March 25, 2021.

I may well end up being shot down in flames by all sides in this. So be it – at least I will have tried. The point is that there’s too much at stake to allow the divide and rule merchants to do the bidding of the authorities by pitting anti-lockdowners against those on the left and in the anarchist movement opposing the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Dialogue isn’t going to be easy because after a year of the shitshow we’ve been forced to endure, there’s a lot of bitterness around. All of us need to take a step back, take a look at what’s coming down the line, admit our mistakes and start a genuine dialogue that will unite anti-lockdowners with those opposing ever more oppressive policing. If we fail to make the connections between the two and allow ourselves to continue to be divided then we won’t have a future worth living in.

8 comments

  1. Great article.

    In Bristol the protesters were a mixed bunch especially the demo that happened on the sunday, abit like anti lockdown protests befor but kill the bill demos have been much larger, there were more than a few anti-lockdown elements there &some that crossed over despite the lockdown mentality of some from the ‘left’ in the city, to be fair there wasnt any exclusion going on, there were at least a few plandemic placards, and people carrying them didnt seem to get hassle from others, and again the same crys of ‘Free-dom’ that could be heard on the anti lockdown demos here. Some of us had discussions with other anti lockdown elements that turned up who’d got disapointed to see people wearing masks, but when we reasoned about survalance and choices some seemed to understand. Though they were still to afraid to get their anti 5G banner out.

    There does seem to be some bitterness I see online, with comparisons going on about the state being less brutal with kill the bill demos ( the state got egg on its face on the sunday after attacking protesters), but after the tuesday and friday protests the other week ( some of the cities youth and passive student/university elements.) when the law was trying to skalp our youth its became clear from a local perspective for some that didnt believe it before that the State was not being selective with its violence.

    Police brutality and state repression are what we have seen here against both anti lockdown and kill the bill protests. And some think its Soros that pulls rebels out in Bristol, again if you know this city you’d know thats not the case, at least for the anti authoritarian elements amongst the working class and excluded here. A culture of resistance exists here for many hundreds of years, it ebbs and flows at times but is kept alive by defiance, the folk tales of our elders, resistance to the merchants power, the state, and the bosses from past and present. Something that some middle class activist tourists who come here expecting to organise us should really bear in mind before they throw shitty mis-judgements at locals who dont fit in to their PC ideological view. Its more of a raw anti authoritarian culturehin part, by no means perfect or pure. With Anarchist and left wing elements around the edges.

    I agree bridges must be made, reasonings must be had, we cant allow the media and the right/left of the state to create and spread more fear and division, there are clearly threads between these movements (anarchist and anti lockdown). And it is true whether its covid restriction measures or the police courts crime sentencing bill both need to be resisted, creating a dialog between some of our comrades (who have been slightly less concerned about great reset/covid restrictions lockdowns etc) and anti lockdown people is worth while but will be difficult because of suspicions held by each side.
    Its good to hear there are other comrades (like yourself) that are trying.

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    • Many thanks for this thoughtful and insightful comment, it’s appreciated. It’s interesting to get a report from the ground suggesting there are growing connections between the Kill The Bill protesters and the anti-lockdowners. That gives us some degree of hope as we go further into the year. Granted, it will be hard work but it needs to be done.

      I’ve been to Bristol a fair few times – some for bookfairs and the rest to visit family down there so I’m getting an idea of what makes the place tick in terms of protest. Definitely picked up on the culture of resistance from talking to people and reading a lot of Bristol Radical History Group pamphlets. Hoping toget down there as soon as possible this year…

      Cheers,
      Dave – the editor

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      • Nice1. Also wanted to say as I was a bit Bristol centered, revolt against power is not something exclusive to Bristol in these islands, many other places have common threads of resandance. Big up to Bristol radical History for playing a part, documenting & keep memories of struggle and revolt alive.

        Heres a nice little tune about the protest in Bristle, also mentions lockdown preasures from Krasy, Noddles and the gang.

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  2. Reblogged this on easyveggietravel and commented:
    Great article, I’m certainly not shooting you down in flames! Sometimes I see glimpses of people coming together, other times I feel we’re growing further apart. I used to be with the killthebill types but I just feel I’m not on the same page as them now. But I think somehow we need to find common ground between them and the freedom people; surely we’re all against big business, police state, freedom of choice, human rights etc? Or are we?

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  3. I’m at a bit of a loss with this to be honest. I live in a fairly big town which has a lot of vocal anti-mask activists. Every one of them that I have spoken to says that Black Lives Matter is a fake funded by George Soros. The same about anti-fascists and the Left in general. They have told me that the trouble in Bristol (and Sarah Everard’s death) was a false flag designed to help the Government.They say the Kill The Bill movement can’t be on their side because people wear masks.There’s no arguing with them, they are locked into a delusional mindset where facts are meaningless.

    They don’t identify as right wing – they get offended when people call them right wing. But they ARE right wing. This is not some meaningless label. Other than opposition to lockdown I have NOTHING in common with them politically. There’s no way I can overlook their racism and all the conspiracy bullshit: they are part of the problem not part of the solution. They might be fighting _against_ Government restrictions but they aren’t fighting _for_ anything I even agree with. My enemy’s enemy is not necessarily my friend.

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    • When I’m talking about dialogue, it’s more about talking to the many people going on these marches who’ve never been on a protest before in their lives but who sense that something is not right about the narrative we’re being fed. The problem is that the anarchist movement has not acknowledged the real pain and suffering lockdown has inflicted upon many people. Concerns I’ve raised have been dismissed by some anarchists as me ‘wanting to get back down the pub’. The question I keep asking anarchists and keeps on getting dismissed is where do people who’ve suffered a year of lockdown turn to for some understanding and support? Certainly not the majority of anarchists who appear to have little sympathy with what people have had to endure. If the anarchists refuse to even acknowledge legitimate concerns and genuine suffering, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that there may well be questionable elements seeking to fill the vacuuum.
      Dave – the editor

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    • Again mabe its different in different places, Ive heard some of these views from stand up x elements but they do not repressent all people on these demos that oppose lockdown. Look at many of the demos organised recently and not so recent years by the left (labour, momentum, workers power, cpgb, swp, socialist party, and even stalinists and trots, leninists, labour party MPs, the green party, XR all together etc etc…) what could be called elements of the autonomous ‘Left’ often
      coverge with these types on demos.etc, More than a few anarchists and anti authoritarians are uncomfortable with these party political elements and leftist reactionaries, we do not share the same vision as them, but we will still take to the streets if not always around them, then close to them, why not when it comes to largely diverse working class anti lockdown elements (yes there are reactionaries around these too) there is a snobbery to engage, or at least organise anti authoritarian anti-state expressions against lockdown, opening up space and thougt by expressing different resistant persepectives and resistance to state power and domination generally.

      Im not surprised some no longer trust even anarchist elements, yes, because of soros/schwab rumorers (check comrades at winter oaks reasearch of the hijack of our movements for insight that inst qanon fake reaseach), but also because the ‘movement’ by and large has sat on the fense in a reactionary position to expessions against lockdown, and isnt it a similar to what happened with the uk anarcho scene in august 2011. Some are even repeating the same incorrect info that anti lockdown/anti great reset are soley fascist, qanon/Bannon, or far right. Due to 1 elderly man carrying a buf flag at at demo of 29.000 in london, and a few people wearing trump hats, their were many other banners they could have published instead like the one of quotes from Camus, orwell and others against totalitarianisms and fascism. The same mistakes where made in Bristol, when there was the 1st anti lockdown demo here, though sime of the alternative left had to correct themselves later when some a known local leftist attend and spoke at castle park against the great reset and corporate pharmacutical cohersion, authoritarian state controls, bill gates etc. It seems some antifascist leftists confuse working class (non aligned) patriots or not, with fascists in this era, lumping them all in the same box. Thinking they can deal with them all in the same way.

      They also confuse people singing bob marley and the wailers on anti lockdown demos in london with EdL singing ‘ingggrland’ or ‘god save the queen’. Only joking…but not far from… Also isnt it abit shitsery to ignore the fact many people from different cultural bacgrounds amongst the working class are attending these events, with their own perspectives about the great reset and the system, which dont even fit with ickian liZard peoole theories. If more and more people are joining these demos, shouldnt that be a sign that the anarchist movement poticularly, and indivuals especially maybe shoulf be reconsidering their attachment to left & right political spectrums and state politics in these times. Is it so hard not to see things in left and right glasses on. Its seems it is our failure to engage as a movement that is making even some aspects of the ‘official’ social anarchist movement obsolete. Maybe its time to ditch the left/right spectrum created to confuss, divide. and maybe instead get over some differeces, to create a movement that refuses the fake opposition & pro- social control politics of the state?

      Isn’t the state and corporate power just loving it when we are fighting over our differences.

      Liked by 1 person

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