|In most democracies, the right to protest is enshrined in the constitution. The problem is in defining the line between that which is lawful and that which is not.
In the past weeks, there have been three incidents where that line has been challenged.
The Shell AGM. Last week, activists caused a major disruption to Shell’s AGM which led to security guards forcibly removed the protestors. It makes great TV and the removal rather than the protest made the headlines. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0qRyWZVMUQ
The Trevi Fountain. Another anti-oil protest, as protestors jumped into the fountain and released a dark oil-like substance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNUNkXnE24s Again great television.
London traffic blocks. Protesters walk slowly down a main thoroughfare causing huge disruption to traffic and the police seem powerless to do anything. Some motorists take the law into their own hands and manhandle the protestors off the road.
The new protestors. Protest is not new; what is new is who is doing it. Greenpeace, Friends of Earth, WWF are nowhere to be seen. ‘Direct Action’ has now been handled by new loose groupings of mostly young people. The old groups have become, well, old and are gentrified.
The older groups were easy to deal with as one had a point of reference. They had an office and HQ and were willing to engage and perhaps this is their downfall. Younger people tended to see them as beardy old fuddy-duddies.
So, what should organisations do?
The Shell protestors were clever: they were Shell shareholders. I believe they should have been left to protest as long as they did not attack the pompous) podium with the directors or anyone physically. Then they should have been gently herded out. It may have taken hours, but it is boring and not visually friendly.
The actions at the Trevi Fountain were vandalism and this is for the police. Interestingly, the protestors got no sympathy from the onlookers who booed and jeered them.
In London, the police need to clarify their powers about ‘obstructing the public highway.’ It does not help when the mayor, who controls the police, seems to be equivocal about their role.
Where democracy starts and authoritarianism begins will always be a difficult area and will remain difficult to resolve.
Organisation should be prepared.
Have a good week.