The need for the campaign has been underscored in the past few days. First, there is the recent report by the Met to the Metropolitan Police Authority. This essentially tries to rewrite history, intimating, amongst other things, that the police did not apply a kettle at the Bishopsgate Climate Camp on April 1. In addition, we have the increasing use of bail conditions to clamp down on peaceful protest. And the recent revelation that government Departments have been gathering intelligence on protesters and passing this on to the police.
The campaign will seek to bring an end to the use of kettling against peaceful demonstrations. It will work to uphold the distinction between 'unlawful' and 'violent' protest. As Guy Aitchison has argued, the police don't seem to acknowledge this distinction. As he commented on a recent post on better citizenship education for the police:
'A good place to start would be to teach the police the difference between a protest being "lawful" and a protest being "peaceful". At the moment they deliberately confuse the two so that if anything happens at a protest which is unlawful they shut down the entire protest.'
But to treat all 'unlawful' protest as on a par with violent protest is to prohibit civil disobedient protest, something which has a perfectly legitimate role in a democratic society.
Defend Peaceful Protest matters mostly for the sake of our civil liberties and for the sake of the environment (the issue around which so much peaceful protest is now engaged).
But it also has relevance to the future of Labour. Labour carries a lot of responsibility for creating the current legal and cultural environment that is so hostile to peaceful protest. Now, at a time of ideological and policy drift, it is vital for Labour supporters to assess critically what we have been doing or supporting for the past decade or more. In taking the first steps down the hard road to renewal, it is essential that we reconnect with the libertarian currents of the Labour tradition. And one way to do that is to support campaigns like Defend Peaceful Protest.