There is a global tide of authoritarianism. We have to fight back
Democracy is under attack. The Tories plan to crack down on all forms of dissent and protest. The evidence is clear:
- Nurse Karen Reissman was given a £10,000 fixed-penalty fine by Manchester police for organising a small, safe, open-air, fully-masked, socially-distanced protest against NHS pay cuts.
- Home Secretary Priti Patel has written to the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services with a view to making the current pandemic rules a permanent feature of British policing so as not to interfere ‘with the rights of others to go about their daily business’.
- A new Police, Sentencing, and Courts Bill has just been published that will allow police to impose conditions on protests to avoid ‘serious disruption’ and increases prison sentences for protestors, with up to six months for non-violent direct action (e.g. Extinction Rebellion protests) or ten years for criminal damage (e.g. BLM action against racist statues).
- John Woodcock has been hired by the Tories to investigate ‘extremism’, including campaigns such as Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter.
- The police have been maintaining a National Domestic Extremism Database for many years.
- The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act allows undercover police and spies to break laws, including around rape and torture, if it is deemed to be ‘in the national interest’.
- Brexit has been used as an excuse to question the Human Rights Act.
- The Tories are planning a bill to make photo IDs mandatory for participation in elections, when around one in four British voters, disproportionately poor and/or BAME, hold neither a driving licence nor a passport.
The Tory crackdown on protest, civil liberties, and democratic rights is part of a global trend towards increasing state repression and militarised policing. It is best represented by authoritarian leaders such as Trump, Xi Jinping, Putin, Modi, Bolsonaro, Duterte, Erdogan, Orban, and others, as well as by open military dictatorships like those in Egypt, Myanmar, and elsewhere. But it extends to more mainstream political regimes, like Macron’s in France, where Islamophobia has been mainstreamed and police repression of yellow-vest and other protests has involved lethal force, and Johnson’s in Britain, where nationalism, racism, and authoritarianism have intensified in the wake of Brexit.
Growing state repression must be seen in the context of: deepening social inequality and deprivation; an escalating ecological crisis; and increasing attacks on Muslims, migrants, and other oppressed communities. Oppression is at the heart of the right-wing culture war and governments have leveraged racism (including anti-Black, anti-Roma, anti-Asian, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic racisms), misogyny, prejudices against transgender and other LGBTQ+ people, as well as accelerating existing state policies against the disabled.
Members of the oppressed have been generally harder hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the disabled especially have been a victim of mass social murder, with DNRs (Do Not Resuscitate orders) given to those with conditions such as learning disabilities. Growing state repression is a response to, and an anticipation of, rising levels of resistance to social and political injustice. Democracy itself is increasingly in question.
Many existing organisations concerned with civil liberties and democratic rights are doing excellent and essential work. But their focus is mainly on monitoring, reporting, lobbying, and general campaigning. Our proposal is for a campaign that brings together a wide range of organisations, both protest movements and civil-liberties campaigns, with the aim of mass mobilisation to resist state repression, defend democratic rights, and give practical solidarity and support to protest movements and minority communities under state attack.
We envisage a campaign which will do the following:
- Unite a wide range of activist groups, protest campaigns, and civil-liberties organisations in a joint struggle to defend democracy.
- Provide full solidarity and support to any progressive activists or movements facing state repression.
- Mobilise mass forces to challenge and confront attempts by the state to deny or restrict civil liberties, democratic rights, progressive protest, and popular resistance.