3.4.2021 : Photographing A Protest For The Right To Protest.

It’s been a while since I photographed a protest. Some of that’s part of the price of living in a small town. Much of it has been the restrictions on travel, gathering and everything else. But even the smallest town isn’t an island, and the nationwide protests against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill arrived earlier today.

People met at a clock tower in the town centre.

We heard the advice to wear masks and socially distance.

The parade walked a circuit down the high street,

Along the promenade,

And into a park where people sat on the grass and listened to speeches from a few of the local councillors and politicians. We heard all about how this bill would limit the right to protest, the freedoms of particular ethnic groups, how boundaries would be set on democracy.

The police were there – maybe a half dozen PCs and PCSOs who stopped traffic and performed marshalling duties. That gave an interesting flavour to some of the speeches – thanking the police for their restraint today, while holding up recent policing in London and Bristol as reasons for not giving them any further powers. You’ve seen the news. You don’t need me to repeat it.

I’ve said before and I’ll say again, that when I’m working I don’t have political opinions. Some of that’s down to a desire to work impartially, and much of it’s due to my general cynicism regarding any political party or movement. But I’ve also written about my experience of covering protest – about the colour, the excitement, the spontaneity. I’ve written about how glad I am to live in a country where all of this can happen, and I’d be a hypocrite if I said I didn’t have a personal interest in a piece of legislation which will impose limits on those freedoms.

I did wonder if there’d be an attempt to curtail this protest – I’m sure the rules against gathering kept plenty of people away, although whether protests are permitted under covid legislation doesn’t seem all that clear. Some cities or forces allow them, other don’t. It seems to be a different rule, or a different interpretation for every event. In this case, it all passed off without an issue – peacefull, socially distanced, masked, a minimum of disruption to bystanders. Not quite the excitement level I’ve had while covering larger outings, but I’m glad it happened. Who knows, perhaps this was the last chance I’ll get to photograph a protest. Perhaps we’ll come out of lockdown to find that our freedom to protest has been curtailed by the new bill’s vague provisions. I hope not.

All images are my own work, and I retain all rights to them.

AJG 3.4.2021

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