Dirty Protesters

I protest at the way protesters in this country are treated.

I like to think we British recognise the importance of the right to protest.

Recently, “protest” and “protesters” have become filthy words, but if we’re going to be fair, protesters often don’t help themselves because they put their sacred right to protest to such shit use.

I remember how “anti-globalisation” protesters defaced the Cenotaph and a statue of Winston Churchill back in 2000, failing to observe the irony of attacking landmarks to those who had done so much to protect the freedoms that allowed these modern-day Che Guevaras to protest.

The Cenotaph got another kicking in 2010, courtesy of David Gilmour’s son. This expensively educated, shit-for-brains champagne Socialist also provided us with a useful insight into just how intellectually rigorous a History degree at Girton College, Cambridge is these days. If I ever met Gilmour fils, I would be tempted to tap on his head and whisper, “Hello, hello, hello, is there anything IN THERE?”

And I am indebted to Private Eye for pointing out another irony (Issue No. 1278, page 5). The protesters demonstrating against tuition fees in 2010 defaced the statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square, which was the work of the late Ian Walters. According to Private Eye, Walters was a committed Socialist who produced statues to a number of left-wing heroes and who also supported student causes throughout his life. In 1968 Walters was sacked from his job as a lecturer for supporting a student sit-in over…yes, you’ve got it: under-funding of teaching resources.

These rebels without a clue wouldn’t know their JS Mill from their JLS.

And, thanks to the anti-spending protesters in London in March of this year, a few broken windows at the Ritz meant I was unable to fulfil a reservation for afternoon tea which I had been patiently looking forward to for months. Before I had managed to say, “Let me eat cake,” the hotel was closed for business and I was prowling around Piccadilly for alternative sources of fat and sugar.

It doesn’t matter: the right to protest is still a fundamental one in a civilized society, even though it might be exercised poorly in some cases and even though it disrupts my cake-eating. Disagreement, argument and protest represent nothing more sinister than the soothing soundtrack to an open and free society. When everyone everywhere is agreed on everything, the time has come to pack a very large rucksack and run for the hills.

Back to the point about “protest” and “protesters” being dirty words. I am not basing the following on any evidence – it’s just a hunch I’ve had for a while (Esmerelda). Even though the British recognise the importance of the right to protest, I believe the general public (maybe subconsciously) increasingly sees protesters, by definition, as being up to no good and deserving of everything they get.

And by “general public” I don’t mean semi-literate Sun readers with their humorous racist banter and their chips and fish, moaning about people coming over ‘ere and taking all the jobs (jobs which they’re unwilling to do and/or intellectually incapable of doing). No, I’m talking about the chap on the Clapham omnibus; the reasonable man.

That’s one of the reasons I welcome the news that Simon Harwood, the policeman who pushed the newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson to his death at the G20 protests in April 2009, will face prosecution. Clearly, PC Harwood is entitled to the presumption of innocence but hopefully the mere fact he is facing prosecution will remind people that protesters (or as in this case, someone who just happens to be caught up in a protest), aren’t necessarily up to no good and that the police can’t do what the fuck they want to them.

There were a number of things that were disturbing about the Tomlinson case, such as the medical inconsistencies and the suspicious lack of CCTV footage. I also remember Dr. David Starkey talking on Question Time in general terms about the dystopian vision of heavy-handed, disproportionate policing: helmeted police officers, armed to the gnashers, no identification numbers, brutally infringing the rights of individuals.

The Clash had a song called Know Your Rights, which set out three numbered liberties. Number One was:

“You have the right
Not to be killed
Murder is a crime
Unless it was done
By a policeman”

PC Harwood, and the family of Ian Tomlinson, will no doubt be curious to see whether the late, great Joe Strummer was right. And hopefully the court case will remind everyone else that civil liberties can’t simply be airbrushed away just because there are some people with the cheek to express their disagreement at government policies.