21st February 2015  |  News

This week saw a flurry of outrage amongst campaigners as a result of the Metropolitan Police’s decision to refuse to fund ‘traffic management – including measures such as road closures, barriers and stewards’ – for planned demonstrations by twelve campaign groups.

A coalition formed by the protest organisers have voiced that the Met’s choice of action has direct implications on the democratic process of protesting, declaring:

“We believe any demand to pay to be able to demonstrate constitutes an unacceptable restriction on the right to protest.”

One of the events refused funding were the organisers of Million Women Rise (MWR) who were told by the met if they wanted to carry out their March planned for the 7th March they would have to privately organize security measures. With the total cost amounting to at least £10,000 the MWR said they had effectively been asked to pay for the right to protest.

A solicitor, Simons Natas who is representing the organisers of the MWR March stated that the Met could be in fact breaching the European protected right to protest by implementing this as some sort of new policy:

“It sounds to me as if the police have decided that this is a policy of some sort, because they have said exactly the same thing to the Campaign Against Climate Change as they said to MWR. This looks like the first weekend of the policy. It obviously has something to do with budgetary constraints.”

If this does become standard police policy what are the wider implications for social movements and protests? Are the police exercising their own call of judgement or are they carrying out direct orders in their role as agents for the power holders, the government?

The relationship between social movements and the sate are crucial in understanding social movements and central to that theme is the state’s response to protesting through their agent, the police. Protest policing can be seen as a ‘derivative’ of political opportunities and so choices of methods to police or in this case not to police have greater political connotations. [Donatella, p.55] The political social theorist Charles Tilly argues that the degree of ‘facilitation’ can demonstrate levels of repression toward the collective actors. [Donatella, p.57] By refusing to provide policing is the state disregarding the campaigners right to peacefully protest?

Lady Jones a green party member of the London assembly and deputy chair of its police and crime committee voiced her concerns of the perturbing implications in a letter to the leaders of the met, addressed to Hogan-Howe:

“It will affect other groups, like the TUC and NUS, next time they wish to protest. If a demonstration does not require a policing presence then the council should close the roads and allow the march to steward itself, rather than slapping the organizers with a bill.”

The response of the Met was articulated by one of their officers Ch Supt Colin Morgan: “Our position in relation to protests has not changed. We fully recognize the democratic right to protest and organizers have not been subjected to any new council requirements, restrictions or fees”.

However it has been reported that the Westminster Council will only issue an order with evidence of a traffic management plan, the cost of which is unaffordable to organizers without very rich backers.

What does this mean for social movements repertoires? Will the organisers of the campaigns have to develop new innovative methods of political action in response to what can be seen as a the privatisation of protest marches? The Political movement theorist Charles Brockett’s work tackles the consequences of governmental repression for mass protests and rebellion. [Brocket, p.458] Brocket builds on Sidney Tarrow’s ‘cycle of protest’ notion arguing the effect of state repression depends on where it is located within the protest cycle. [Brocket, p.459] If this is a coercive strategy used by the state to decrease the amount of protests, could it spark ascendency in the protest cycle and cause more protesting than not?

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