Throughout the latter half of the 20th century we have seen an acceleration in the introduction of measures to reduce the scope(1) of public space and the individuals right(2) to protest there. In England and Wales the critical time period is even shorter than that, within a generation (from 1974 to 2000) systematic introduction of restrictions have curtailed freedom of movement within the public realm; Terror laws(3),granting police previously unseen powers of probation, detention and prohibition have become symptomatic of a society governing through fear and public control mechanisms as opposed to striving for a sense of ideology.
If the public realm is to return to being a truly democratic space, allowing all; regardless of social, political or economic standing to effect societal change; then as a global community we must redress the balance of public power. We must also consider what role the architecture of our built urban environment has to play in spacial equality and the morality of public space.
Protest embodies a large range of activities extending from those acts deemed legal; such as withdrawal of labour, demonstrating and picketing; through civil disobedience, acts of sabotage and rioting, to incitement to and actions carried out by non government combatants; often classified as terrorists of freedom fighters (depending on your political point of view).
Forms of protest which upholds the principle that the public’s ability to affect change within society is fundamental to democracy; are the concern of this article. By its very nature this includes actions which range from the legal to the illegal, but does not include all forms of protest. To that end acts by non government combatants are not covered as they have the intention to overthrow the system of governance as opposed to changing mechanisms within it. Virtual forms of protest (such as technological disruption, flash mobs, and virtual campaigns; such as those run by Obama) are not the focus of this work. Although they have their relevance they do not explicitly court the public realm as facilitate their particular modus operandi.
Protest, including acts which are classified as legal, illegal importance of both legal and illegal protest. Let us first start with the controversial illegal act of civil disorder or riot. It is fair to say that these are often in response to an activity which a groundswell of individuals feel is unjust. Whether they are ultimately vindicated as correct in these assertions, if their protests leads to a change in this action or otherwise this is the reasoning for the action.
It is important to outline that actions that were once considered civil disorder or riots are often condemned as wan-ten acts of civil decent. As an a front to our sensibilities as opposed to a necessary cog in the wheel of democratic representation.
(1)This includes to the range and ease to access the mechanisms of process. This includes, mechanisms to reduce the ability for union members to strike, the introduction of terror laws, and the introduction of strike laws introduced after the 1978/9 strikes by the newly formed conservative government
(2)This is not a restriction in human rights but laws put in place to restricts rights such as those enforced to control unions and their actions
(3)Particularly Section 44 (The Terrorism Act 2000 (c.11) where the police are not required” reasonable suspicion” that an offence has been committed, to search an individual.
This article was written in 2011 and as such is written in the context of the social and political conditions of the time