sí, protest can feel futile, but what other vehicles do we have to articulate our frustrations at those who lead us (I’ve been protesting all my life. It can feel futile, yet doing nothing is much worse, 21 enero)? It takes effort to protest so it must be important to us.
The targets of protest tend to be issues that are big, with long-term implications, and where the public know that short-term political decision-making will be wrong. Protests also keep issues in the media – which is vital.
Peter Riddle (Letras, 20 enero) noted that the “partygate” pantomime steals the headlines and distracts from what is happening elsewhere in government. A principios de este mes, la environment audit committee issued a damning report on the quality of our rivers and the performance of the Environment Agency, but it was lost in the brouhaha of partygate.
Protection of our rivers is a significant, long-term issue, so at the weekend, I was at Port Meadow in Oxford, protesting against the lack of investment by Thames Water in wastewater treatment and the pathetic response by the Environment Agency to a quadrupling of raw sewage discharges in the upper Thames.
In mentioning the few protests that have prevented illiberal laws being passed in this country, Polly Toynbee forgets an important one, in which the Guardian itself played a role. En 3 enero 2011, 3,000 people of the Forest of Dean marched in blizzard conditions to protest about the Tory government’s bill to sell off into private hands all of our publicly owned forests.
The march, at which Jonathon Porritt, Lady Royall of Blaisdon and the bishop of Gloucester spoke passionately against the bill, and which featured the burning of a large effigy of the Houses of Parliament, was reported on in the Guardian. This was then taken up by all the other media, causing thousands of constituents – many of them Tory voters – to berate their MPs.
Although the local Tory MP Mark Harper did his best to promote and defend the bill, popular opinion forced the then prime minister, David Cameron, into a U-turn and it was dropped.
The group that organised that march, Hands off our Forest, still exists as a watchful eye on subsequent subtler attempts to carve up this valuable real estate for the government’s cronies and donors.
Tragically, their right to protest in future could be severely curtailed by the proposed police and crime bill that the lords are doing their best to amend.
Polly Toynbee is right that the so-called libertarians of the right are only interested in one freedom – to spend their money as they like – and they can’t be trusted to defend our communal and collective rights to freedom of expression and protest.
Rights atrophy if they aren’t exercised and the right to protest protects us from politicians who see no further than parliamentary politics as the art of the possible. Street politics is the art of making things possible, from keeping our brave boys out of Vietnam to ridding us of the poll tax. They are among the freedoms that cement our social cohesion and community spirit, especially at crisis times like these.
It is thus deeply dispiriting to hear absolutely nothing from the opposition on the appalling factura targeting the right to protest.
Mary Pimm and Nik Wood