5 ways protest has helped us
Protest has transformed our lives. The fights of yesterday have afforded us many freedoms today.
Here are just some of the reasons why protest is important and why we should fight to protect our right to protest:
1. Influence laws
Women in the UK fought an extraordinary battle to get the right to vote. In 1908, the suffragettes held the biggest demonstration in history (up until that point). Over 1,000 suffragettes were imprisoned for taking part in activism, something that could become more common should the Policing Bill pass in its current form.
Eventually, following many forms of protest – including hunger strikes, marches and writing about their cause in newspapers – women were granted the right to vote, changing the course of democracy in the UK forever.
2. Challenge racial injustice
It’s hard to comprehend that just 60 years ago, it was entirely legal to deny people a job because of their race. And that's exactly what was going on in Bristol in the 1960s. Despite labour shortages, the Bristol Omnibus Company refused to employ Black or Asian people. Inspired by the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Rosa Parks, Paul Stevenson helped lead a boycott against the bus company. Hundreds of people took part in the non-violent protest.
Within 6 months, the company lifted their ban against employing Black and Asian workers. His actions also contributed to the passing of the Race Relations Act in UK Parliament in 1965.
3. Make our lives safer
Fracking isn’t great for a number of reasons. As well as contributing to climate breakdown, fracking poses contamination risks to drinking water due to the chemicals used in the fracking process and the methane gas that's extracted.
The campaign to stop fracking was greatly helped by a variety of protest methods, including that used by a group of women from Lancashire. Self-titled the Fracking Nanas, they donned yellow tabards and matching headscarves to protest outside proposed fracking sites. Day in, day out, they gathered to chant, educate and sometimes even give out cake.
Their peaceful and persistent style of protest paid off.
After eight years of campaigning and protests by the Nanas, local groups, NGOs and supporters, the UK government announced a moratorium (temporary ban) on fracking in 2019.
4. Protect nature
Protests can be effective at highlighting lesser-known issues, particularly when they’ve got a creative angle. Campaigner Nick Rau helped to organise a protest against the Sakhalin-2 (an oil and gas development in a biodiverse-rich area of Russia) by staging an elaborate whale funeral, complete with a life-size whale skeleton and accompanied by amplified whale sounds.
The protest shone a light on the plight of the endangered Western Pacific Grey Whale, as well the hugely rich biodiversity of Sakhalin island.
5. Create community spirit and future campaigners
Protests don't always lead to immediate action, as many activists know. But whether it's a short-term campaign or a campaign that lasts years, protest and the act of coming together over a joint cause can help forge true community spirit.
The youth climate strikes are a case in point. By walking out of schools and taking to the streets, the strikes have brought together a new generation of activists and prompted a groundswell of community climate groups across the country.
Defend the right to protest
With mounting injustices around the world, it’s easy to forget the fights we’ve won and the issues we’ve learned about and challenged by participating in protest.
We want to make sure that the right to protest is something that we can all have safe access to. But this right is currently under threat. A new Policing Bill attempts to seriously limit the right to peaceful protest, increase prison sentences and give police more powers to arrest people for peaceful activities. It also criminalises the lifestyle of nomadic, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities and limits access to nature.
Our voices need to be heard, not silenced.