Demonstrating for the right to protest, Newcastle, April 2021, photo Elaine Brunskill (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)
At least 500 people marched in Newcastle on 3 April to defend the right to protest. We began at Grey’s Monument, where protestors were invited to speak. They shared their experiences of unjust policing, sexual harassment and the crippling consequences of capitalism.
There were speakers as young as thirteen years old, relaying experiences of sexual harassment and assault. It was awful hearing of these experiences from such young women, but it was empowering to see young people have a platform to voice a challenge to these issues. There was a real power behind what they were saying.
I think one important aspect of protest is that it affirms solidarity among the working class. Knowing that there are other people sharing your experiences can give the strength to keep organising. The point was made that the right to protest has been essential to struggles throughout history, such as the Bristol bus boycotts and the poll-tax movement. It was also stated that, if the proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is passed, it will not stop our presence in the streets. The mood was defiant. Many of the speakers were clearly and unequivocally anti-capitalist.
In comparison to last week’s Newcastle protest, when the police were heavy handed, there was no trouble whatsoever. There was a small police presence, but they remained on the outskirts of the protest taking videos, not interacting with protesters.
The Socialist Party speaker who raised the need for socialism, was well received. A cheer went up when it was mentioned that Socialist Party members were standing in the local elections as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).
Matthew Collerton, Newcastle Socialist Party
As protests against the Police, Sentencing and Courts Bill continue across England and Wales, I joined Sheffield Socialist Party members at the city’s second ‘Kill the bill’ protest on 3 April. Hundreds of protesters gathered at Devonshire Green. The anger at the murder of Sarah Everard, and the desecration of the bodies of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, was palpable, along with anger at the continued oppression of Travellers and Gypsy and Roma people.
The trial of PC Benjamin Hannam, the 22-year-old Met officer exposed as a neo-Nazi just two days earlier, had also heightened tension. Passionate, articulate speeches were well received by the crowd before we departed for a march around the city centre. The right-wing press have pushed the narrative that these protests are unwelcome, but the reaction of most of the passing crowd was positive. Supportive honking of horns accompanied the protest throughout, especially from bus drivers, who almost serenaded the crowd as the protest moved up Arundel Gate.
A police presence was obvious throughout the day, but they largely kept their distance. The only unsavoury incident of the day was when a Boris Johnson supporter decided to attack some protesters, but the police were quick to remove her, and the incident was over before it began.
With the Tory party beefing up the state to try to prevent protest, and the Labour Party offering no opposition, the engagement around the Socialist Party campaign stall was very encouraging.
Matt Bowen, Sheffield Socialist Party
Thousands poured past Speakers’ Corner, chanting “kill the bill,” on Saturday 3 April. Following scattered megaphone rallies in Hyde Park, around 2,000 marched towards Buckingham Palace and Parliament.
As well as experienced activists, clusters of young people joined the demonstration. Socialist Party members on the march sold 50 copies of the Socialist newspaper.
Many protesters expressed frustration that there was no clear organisation or plan for the day. A number of small campaign groups had separately called for protests. Given this, the turnout was impressive -showing the strength of feeling.
But even better would have been the trade unions making the call, and providing a platform, stewards, and their democratic structures to discuss the next steps. This could draw even wider participation and develop a strategy to win.
James Ivens, London Socialist Party
At least 200, mainly young women, heard speeches and poems, and stood in silence for Sarah Everard in Cheltenham on 3 April. Women were angry about being targets of sexual harassment, sexualised media content, and the response of the police and justice system to recent protests.
A speaker from the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) got an enthusiastic response. She put forward a class position and reminded protesters that the last event held in the park had been a Black Lives Matter protest during the summer. What links racism and sexism is the need for the capitalists to divide us in order to maintain their system of exploitation.
She explained that the police under capitalism exist primarily to protect the property and rights of the ruling class. The policing bill is also targeting the ability of workers and trade unions to organise strikes and picket lines.
We need to take the fight against racism and sexism to the workplace and trade unions. We need women’s taxis, better street lighting, and more protection. But who will give it to us? We need an end to the cuts of the last ten years, and we need working-class democratic control of the police. We won’t get that from the establishment parties, including Labour. That is why TUSC is standing candidates in Cheltenham for the elections in May. We must change society if we want safety and equality.
James Collett, Gloucestershire Socialist Party
Northampton Socialist Party members took to the streets to defend the right to protest on Easter weekend. Around 150 protesters attended with chants of “Kill the Bill” and “Whose Streets? Our Streets.” The atmosphere was electric but peaceful. Our nearby campaign stall was inundated with people signing our petition to end violence against women and talking about the bill, local policing and local politics.
We sold 17 copies of the Socialist and raised £52 fighting fund. Overwhelmingly the feeling of people we spoke to was that this bill is about the Tory government trying to silence dissent at a time when they have so badly let the people of this country down. Every TUSC candidate in Northampton was present with two speaking on the podium and getting cheers from the crowd when we encouraged people to vote for us.
Katie Simpson, Northampton Socialist Party
Socialist Party members attended the latest protest in York on 31 March. It was welcome that a representative of the York IWGB union, organising delivery couriers in the city was invited to speak, encouraging people to join the Deliveroo strike rally on 7 April.
However, far from the open way people had been invited to speak at previous demos, the organisers had hand-picked speakers to start the demo, and then restricted the ‘open-mic’ section to people who hadn’t spoken before, with an emphasis on those from specially oppressed groups.
This meant that a 16-year-old Socialist Party member was blocked from speaking when he went up to the microphone. Unfortunately this approach encouraged very few speakers to come forward, with much of the ‘open-mic’ filled with chanting rather than fresh people speaking.
The protests that have taken place so far have been organised by a self-selected group. It would be a big step forward to hold open online organising meetings ahead of future protests to draw in all forces involved, including the fresh layers that have joined demos over the last few weeks.
This was the approach we took in organising an open-air Young Socialists meeting after the demonstration which 16 new young people took part in. After a short introduction, a number of people spoke, including one person from a group of skateboarders who attended, speaking about how they had been harassed by the police, including being stopped and searched.
As well as organising to take part in future protests, we’ll be holding an open online organising meeting ahead of the Socialist Students day of action on 21 April).