Protest shouldn’t break the law

I’m due on the BBC’s The Big Questions show in the morning. One of the subjects is protest and in particular the Climate Camp. If you save the planet, can you break the law?

If the protestors really could save the planet, I imagine everyone would turn a blind eye to a bit of law-breaking.

Of course they can’t and the fault is not business or politicians. It’s us. We would not let any democratic administration act too fiercely on climate change. Yet almost all protest pretends it believes The People are OK, but the Establishment is wrecking things.

As it is, it is hard to see any reason why the “nice” (theatrical, stunting) protestors should continue to allow themselves to be used by the “nasty” (violent, anarchist) protestors as a cover. But then – and this is the difficult bit – many of the thousands who flock to set-piece direct action events seem to think a bit of bother is of the essence of what they do.

By what right do the protestors think they can camp out in the streets or interfere with businesses – not to say aim to invade and occupy, or damage, them? I imagine they are pretending that there’s no other way to be heard.

This is nonsense. The police and law will bend over backwards to facilitate big, peaceful demonstrations. Maybe not in The City on a day when the world’s leaders are in town, as in the G20 protests, but the weekend before, sure, as happened earlier this year. I think we ought at least aim to explain to protestors why most kinds of direct action really are much more problematic.

Especially, we should remind them that they do not have the same sorts of claim on our sympathy as did the slaves, the women, the disenfranchised, the American blacks, the black South Africans and all the other protest movements environmental protestors compare themselves to. Many of those causes never did mass direct actions, at least one used violence in an appalling way, all faced the problem of not being accorded a full place in their country’s democracies.

I wish Parliament would get its brain round this issue and try to talk sense. Instead, the authorities seem determined that almost all protest has to be respected as though it was serious.

It’s time we all grew up.


I agree, a small group of workers from a department at my University are protesting something impeding traffic and me getting on with my day. I don't care that you have a crappy job, other people are doing that job around the world and they seem to have it ok.... Just my 2 cents, I'm a little enraged at my extended commute and wanted to find out if this is allowed :(

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Publication date

29 August 2009