Protest in Eastbourne: why we’re taking to the streets

People (with face coverings) and banners line up across a road
Making the case for peaceful protest. Under government legislation this could be outlawed. Photo credit: John Hesse

You can tell when protests have worked: they provoke a response from the Government, which is putting forward legislation that would make any future such activity illegal. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 – aka the Police Bill – is a direct response by government to highly successful and effective protests of recent years, especially those by Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter.

The Police Bill aims to deter people from organising protests, with transgressors potentially landing in prison with long sentences. The police will be given powers to impose any restrictions on any protest they choose. Noise, impact, nuisance: all will become illegal. 

So this May Day, country-wide #KillTheBill protests were held on International Workers’ Solidarity Day, a day that from its inception was dedicated to workers’ struggle for decent pay and conditions, and for peace throughout the world. 

Once seen as a true-blue Tory town, Eastbourne held a #KillTheBill event to signal public objections at the authoritarian and racist measures that will be introduced if the Police Bill becomes law. As an Eastbourne Unite Community union and Trades Council member, I was proud to help organise it. 

Activist Keith Crane said: “This is an emergency. We have a Prime Minister riding high in the polls who would prefer to see ‘bodies piling up in their thousands’ than to interfere with his mates’ profits, a Prime Minister who together with Home Secretary Priti Patel wants to extinguish our right to protest.”

One of the organisers referred to the Bill as: “The Tories’ authoritarian response to the Black Lives Matter Movement and to Extinction Rebellion. Instead of addressing the climate and environmental emergency or recognising the need to confront endemic racism, they want to outlaw the protests that forced these issues into public discourse.”

Rain fails to dampen protesters’ spirits

Miah Jumbo was one of the many speakers, poets, and musicians at the rally, held on Eastbourne’s Wish Tower slopes with a fantastic view over the pier. 

He said: “The whole point of demonstrations is that they are noisy, that they are a nuisance, and they are a great source of irritation. And just to list some of the impact protests can have, they include: the abolition of slavery, anti-war, pro-choice, LGBTQ rights, workers unions, miners’ rights, environmental issues, and that’s just a few. 

“Because if we are not careful, we are just a step away from living in a world where only rich white men can vote and voice their opinions; and lobby this and get a contract; and lobby that and take, take, take, take, take until nothing’s left.”

A protester on the march holds up a banner which reads Protest while you can!
Protest while you can! A protester makes her point at the Eastbourne demonstration. Photo credit: John Hesse

And with the climate emergency upon us, there may very well be nothing left. Dulcie, an eight-year-old Climate Justice Youth striker at the rally has been a climate activist since she was six. She represents all our futures. In her first public speech, she spoke about the importance of protest and drew courage from her role model Greta Thunberg, who said: “No-one is too small to make a difference”.

Later, a full statement was read out from Friends, Families and Travellers, a leading national charity that works on behalf of all Gypsies, Roma, and Travellers regardless of ethnicity, culture or background.

“The criminalisation of trespass and the draconian police powers this will come with are a direct and indiscriminate attack on a traditional way of life that has existed for centuries. This legislation is a direct assault on Gypsy and Traveller communities who already must deal with eviction after eviction, year upon year – make no mistake, this Bill entrenches the hostile environment for nomadic communities.”

The serious topic of the Police Bill was peppered with pleasures from local poets and musicians. Steve the Crowman, and Tassmin reading their own material and Jean Obungu reading Maya Angelou’s poem, Still I Rise. By this time, the rain was incessant and we were wet through, but the stalwarts were treated to a warm-up bopping with Belle Ciao played by local band Lackadaisy

A dramatically messaged drone video of the event was produced by @GregDraven, ending with a quotation from John F. Kennedy: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” 

Check out the video here.

Organise and win

Eastbourne is a Tory/Lib Dem voting town but my view is that tactical voting provides a seemingly endless string of yellow and blue MPs. But those are not the only views in town. This protest demonstrates not only a public outcry at the damage this bill will do to our democracy, but also unity in our diversity and a strength in our solidarity that should not be underestimated.

We drew strength from the working-class hero, union man and songwriter Joe Hill, whose words continue to be prophetic: “There is Power in a Union.”

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