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!
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.
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!
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.