The erosion of the hard fought-for right to protest is being met with complacency. It's time to speak upby Rachael Jolley / January 24, 2018 / Leave a comment
In 1963, crowds took to the streets of Bristol to protest against a “colour bar” that prevented the employment of non-white drivers and conductors on city buses. The protests were part of the Bristol bus boycott, a campaign that ended with the bus company taking on its first black and Asian conductors.
Today, those protesters could find their path across Bristol blocked because a private company, not elected representatives, run the central squares, and decide who is allowed to access them. Marches and demonstrations can now be stopped at a whim, and without a backward glance at history, after the city’s council signed a 250-year management lease with the Bristol Alliance for the central shopping district Cabot Circus, and failed to quibble about protecting democratic rights.
Other districts in Bristol—up to 100,000 square metres—are also at risk of passing into private hands, including part of the main street of Broadmead. A creeping reduction in the right to protest could spread. As you enter Cabot Circus, signs high up on walls i
nform you, if you care to look, that your mobile phone is being “surveyed” to “improve customer service.” There is no right to opt out, your choice is only to shop somewhere else.
“These are the streets where people demanded universal suffrage, gay marriage and their right to education”
Other cities with long histories of demonstrations that created social change, including Manchester and London, are negotiating with private companies to run their thoroughfares and squares. These are the streets where people demanded universal suffrage, gay marriage and their right to education.
Over the years, politicians have sometimes yielded to public demands (as they did within a couple of years of the Hyde Park protest over extending the vote in 1866 and the poll tax riots in 1990), sometimes closed their ears entirely (Iraq), and sometimes the desired change comes in the end, but takes centuries to achieve. At all times, though, governments have learned something about strength of feeling.
Why then are so few voices raised in concern at these new deals? Historically Manchester has been a centre for dissent; it is the site of the 1819 Peterloo massacre, where soldiers slaughtered civilians for protesting for a right to vote and for bread to eat. But Beth Knowles,…