March 21, 2021
From Alternative Bristol (UK)

Following on from impressive turn-outs in Brighton & Truro and others, on the 20th, today (21st) was Bristol’s chance to show the world what it thought of the authoritarian new laws curbing the freedom of protest and speech being pushed by Boris Johnson and his gang; thousands gathered to say no to restrictions of free speech and yes to democratic express via protest.

The protest originated somewhere on social media and circulated like wildfire for days in advance. The police issued statements trying to dampen down the turnout and where there are the start, trying to discourage people from taking part. Yet people arrived in their hundreds until there were thousands in the streets and the police, unlike with the London vigil, had little alternative but to back off. Here’s how the day panned out:

The day started with a handful of people hanging out:

The crowd was mostly masked (unlike the London protest on 20th) and mostly socially distanced. Before long that handful was a crowd. A big crowd:

This grassroots mass response to the slow slide into fascism that we’re been seeing over the last few years, is a sign of democratic hope. Johnson and his ilk created this authoritarian Bill as a response to the (relative) success of both the BLM and XR movements. He saw this as a tool in the authoritarian toolbox to turn reasonable demands for racial and climate justice, into battles in the culture war. This has been working for him so far; for in making Brexit a culture war issue he was able to use the billionaire-press and dark-money campaigns to shoot to power irrespective of the damage Brexit caused in jobs, income and standing.

However, now this seems to have backfired; the mass movement of protest that has greeted this Bill, spurred on by the Met’s disgraceful attack on a peaceful vigil, has caught him and other politicians totally off-guard. Indeed, it seemed that until a few days ago Labour leadership was going to abstain on the bill, seeing no ‘political value’ in opposing it. The groundswell of public revulsion for the bill forced them to change.

The lesson here is that Johnson’s ‘4-dimentional’ chess is little more than a busted flush when confronted. That Labour (and others) have been in retreat on over Brexit, cronyism, NHS sell-offs, freedom of speech and protest and many more areas and have simply ceeded the ground to creeping authoritarianism. What Johnson thought was a part of his culture war against ‘cancel culture’ has been exposed as a naked power-grab, in which he cares more about statues then people. So while people organised to oppose the Bill, tame ‘free speech’ champions such as Toby Young and Liam Fox looked embarrassing, banging on about spectral threats to free speech while the government they back was in the process of removal they very freedoms they claim to champion.

We argued that politicians follow where the people lead; and protest is one of the key ways that people can use to lead. Today has shown that, though and though.

Note events for this are still ongoing.

(Image credit here)