Squall 7, Summer 1994, pg. 23.
The Freedom Network, one of a number of activist groups of activists who occupied Artillery Mansions back in February (see 'Heavy Artillery' in Squall 6), are continuing their imaginative and successful protests against the Criminal Justice Bill.
On May 15th people were invited to ‘Bill’s Picnic’, in Hyde Park, to object to those provisions in the CJB that seek to outlaw such gatherings. Up to 400 people met to play drums, dance, talk, share food and enjoy the rain in an otherwise empty park. Later in the afternoon, speakers from several organisations campaigning against the CJB held a captive audience and addressed the crowd on topics such as the right to party, the need for squatting as a self-help option for the homeless and the proposed criminalisation of protest.
Towards the end of the afternoon, and as if to illustrate that no new provisions are needed, the police moved in to disperse the crowd, threatening to confiscate musical instruments if people did not leave. A stand-off ensued where police officers, with dogs, faced a crowd refusing to comply with the directive. The police eventually backed down, retiring to a safe distance until the picnic dispersed of its own accord.
Now Age Suffragettes
On June 8th, members of the Network (“women and honorary women”) chained themselves to the railings outside the Houses of Parliament as a protest against the erosion of human rights enshrined in the Bill. Many were dressed as suffragettes, in period costumes.
Camilla, one of those D-locked, by the neck, to the railings told Squall: “If the suffragettes reversed the law for the sake of sanity and democracy, so can we. It might take a long time but there’s a new generation that’s got the energy and the commitment and is absolutely set on change”.
Ten of the 1990s style suffragettes were D-locked or hand-cuffed to the railings for three hours while the police wondered what on earth they should do about the situation. Up to 25 more protesters were ‘symbolically’ locked with plastic chains around their wrists. Many others stood by in solidarity, waving banners and encouraging support from passers-by.
United under the umbrella of the Freedom Network, activists present came from the Freedom Network itself, the M11 campaign, Rainbow Tribe, Earth First, Zero Gravity, Chill Out and Dragon. One protester was 80 year-old Barbara Kirkwood, also in suffragette-style, who had come from Leytonstone, the current battle ground against the M11 road link, in North East London.
The police and assorted onlookers appeared impressed by this eco-active demonstration which one officer described as “great…. really well-behaved”. Apparently, there was only one complaint: from the owners of the railings. Her Majesty’s Government.
For more articles about the Criminal Justice Act and Public Order Act 1994 - covering the build-up, the resistance, the consequences, plus commentary of discussions in the House of Commons about it click here.