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In praise of protests, by Dan Kieran

Posted by Tom Howard, 02 February 2011 | 0

<i>In praise of protests</i>, by Dan Kieran



Taken from A Hedonist’s Guide to Life

Dan, author of I Fought The Law, has organised a cricket match for the ‘Ashes’ of the Magna Carta outside the Houses of Parliament, walked 30 miles along the Thames to Downing Street on a freedom pilgrimage, and held an illegal teddy bears’ picnic by Westminster Abbey, all in the name of protest

Protests are good for you. Firstly, it’s shouting therapy, as pent-up tension is exorcised in short, sharp barks. Then there are all those likeminded new friends to be had. But most importantly, protests are good for you because they’re good for your rights. The only way to get what you want is to demand it: “What do we want?! When do we want it?!”

So how to make your voice heard?

First find a cause that makes your blood boil. Happily, for the modern activist there are plenty of gripes to choose from. Not least freedom of speech itself. You can now be arrested for holding a political demonstration outside Parliament unless you have permission from the police. I met a man convicted for holding a banner in Parliament Square that read, “If you do not believe in freedom of speech for people you despise, then you do not believe in it at all.” For the rest of his life, whenever he applies for a job, he will have to answer “yes” to the question, “Do you have a criminal record?” and deal with all the prejudice that that implies.

Or how about the fact that you can now be arrested for doing literally anything at all? The police used to have three crime parameters: there was the non-arrestable offence (cycing on the pavement etc.), the arrestable offence (shop-lifting etc.), and the serious arrestable offence (assault, fraud, burglary, rape etc.). But our government decided that these terms are too confusing for the police so they just made ‘anything’ an arrestable offence instead. Not only that, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, you can be imprisoned without trial – so much for the presumption of innocence.

Then there’s the fact that anyone arrested gets their DNA taken, along with fingerprints and mug shots, regardless of whether they’ve been convicted or not. Britain has the largest DNA database in the world (with five per cent of the population on file; in second place is Austria, hardly a bastion of progressive political opinion, but they only have one per cent of Austrians on theirs). Our database even has samples from over 50,000 children who have never been found guilty. And in Britain we have the highest number of CCTV cameras per person than anywhere else in the world. 1984 meets Brave New World, anyone?

But if that’s too frightening to tackle, there are plenty of daft laws to complain about. Take the Sex Offences Act 2003. This masterful piece of legislation makes it illegal to have sex in a public toilet. So if you were thinking of it, then for goodness sake don’t. Just have sex up against the outside wall of the toilet instead – perfectly fine according to the law.

If you don’t live in the UK then you might not think any of this matters to you. But Britain is the cradle of western democracy. I asked Prasanth Visweswaran, the “criminal” who held that banner, why he was prepared to flout the law. He replied, “Because this is Britain! Britain is supposed to be the gold standard of democracy. It’s more important to fight about it happening here than anywhere else.” Like it or not, if these kinds of policies take hold here, it’s only a matter of time before they spread across the globe.

So with blood duly boiling, it’s time to take to the streets. But how best to fight for your rights? Your audience is your first consideration – what better way to reach millions by making the news? However, some silly publicity stunt is unlikely to have the world’s news networks tripping over you. No, your best chance is by being the side-show at something they’re already covering: offer a bit of excitement during a lull in the sporting/ceremonial/royal action. You need to be both media-friendly (gimmicks, nudity, celebrity names – yes the media is that shallow) and people-friendly, because attracting a crowd fast attracts hype (try bribing bystanders with a tot of brandy, and bring enough for yourself).

Your protest has to be a performance – think sensory overload. There are tried and tested strategies: for instance, the Raging Grannies, radical cheerleading, pretend-handcuffing to railings, die-ins (i.e. fake deaths on pavements; requires liberal use of stage-blood otherwise it can resemble a sleep-in). But nothing tried and tested startles like real shock can, and this is your aim. But don’t for God’s sake get over-excited and turn violent – bad publicity will crush your cause. And do something rather than nothing, because everyone else is far too busy working and shopping to care. And you’d better do it quickly or we’re all screwed.

Content copyright of Dan Kieran /



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