“This is about our freedom”-Kill The Bill protest goes ahead in Chichester
Protestors took to the streets yesterday (May 1) to challenge a proposed policing bill which would restrict the public’s right to protest.
The protestors met up in Priory Park at noon and set off, signs, masks and megaphones in tow, for the city centre via North Street.
Once there, they set up around the Market Cross where they made speeches, played music and led chants until dispersing at 1:30pm.
Wet and windy weather wasn’t enough to deter the protestors, who came together from a variety of organisations to oppose the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is still being discussed in Parliament. If passed, critics say the bill would severely restrict the public’s right to protest by imposing noise and time limits on all public demonstrations, even if there is only one participant.
Those who refuse to listen to police instruction on how to hold a protest could face fines of up to £2,500.
The broad scope of the bill means it has attracted criticism from a wide range of communities, cultures and social groups.
“We disagree with how it will affect the GRT (Gypsy Roma Traveller) community.” Said one Chichester protestor, 19-year-old Michael Stubbs.
The fact that the bill would increase the state’s power to evict travellers on private property has led some critics to suggests it constitutes a form of institutional discrimination.
“They’re people, too. They just want to be left alone,” he added.
28-year-old Sam also attended the protest, saying they are worried about how the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill might affect trans communities: “I’m trans myself and we’re seeing a lot of kickback on trans rights at the moment. I’m quite scared about losing the right to protest because of that,” they said.
The protestors might have come from a variety of organisations, a variety of communities and for a variety of reasons, but they were united by their belief in freedom of speech:
“This is about our freedom to call out the world,” said Connor, aged 19. “The way I see it, the system can’t function anymore. It’s breaking down, it can’t adapt to new realities like climate change and, if we’re going to have any chance to create a future worth living in, we need to be able to change stuff and this bill is designed to stop us from doing that.”
“We’re just protesting for the right to freedom of speech. It’s just such a basic human right. This isn’t just for radical elements, it’s just your right to speech and I think that’s what this is about,” added fellow protestor Tamsin, 19.
Their ideas were echoed by Phil Wilson, one of the event’s organisers and chair of the Chichester District Trades Council. He said: “People’s concern about the bill and what it contains is obviously substantial enough for them to be doing this. Chichester isn’t any different to any other city. We still have concerns and doubts and issues about what the government is doing. Chichester may look as if it’s a true-blue city but, actually, there are other opinions, there are other points of view and that’s what people tend to forget about Chichester.”
Mr Wilson went on to say he was pleasantly surprised by the turnout, that he hoped today’s protests would spawn further action: “For Chichester, at the tail end of a pandemic and the weather the way it was, it’s been really good. And hopefully it’s the beginning of more awareness, of people getting more organised in the face of what’s to come.”