Around 200 activists packed into a meeting in London on Thursday of last week called by the Defend the Right to Protest group.
The diverse gathering was a response to recent attempts by police to criminalise dissent.
Student fees protesters, anti‑royal street theatre groups, trade unionists and others came to the meeting.
They described how the state is responding to anger with the government by trying to intimidate its opponents.
Steve is a UK Uncut activist who was arrested while occupying the Fortnum & Mason shop in central London. He told the meeting that the police were acting like a “private security firm” that exists only to protect corporate interests.
“They are using arrests as a way of rounding up protesters, sometimes before they have done any protesting,” he said.
Alfie Meadows, the protester who needed life-saving brain surgery after being hit by police on the 9 December student demonstration, was at the meeting.
He had intended to speak about how he now faces a charge of violent disorder, but his legal team said that this might harm his defence.
His lawyer told the meeting that she is being inundated with cases where the police have broken the law to stop protests.
Camilla is part of a street theatre group arrested in the run‑up to the royal wedding. She said, “I was detained with a guillotine and a life-sized dummy of Prince Andrew.
“It took 20 officers to stop me and cart me off to a police cell. I then spent 25 hours in detention.”
John McDonnell MP got a rapturous round of applause as he described the government’s fears of protest and how the cops have been “given a free hand” to disrupt the opposition.
Journalist Laurie Penny told the meeting the clampdown was part of a “concerted attack on the right to protest”. She said “the best way to defend the right to protest is by protesting.”
Everyone at the meeting agreed that the right response to the crackdown was to support all those who are being targeted—and to carry on campaigning, despite the attempt to intimidate.
“The police are using a form of collective punishment against us,” said Jim Wolfreys from the executive of the lecturers’ UCU union. “Our first act must be a commitment to defend everyone under attack.”
Fortnum & Mason solidarity protest
Some 50 supporters of the Fortnum & Mason anti-cuts protesters held a solidarity protest outside Westminster court on Monday.
The picket, called by the Defend the Right to Protest campaign, brought together students, anti-cuts activists and trade unionists.
Speakers included a representative from the Defend Bryan Simpson Campaign, Alfie Meadows’ solicitor Sarah McSherry and UCU union president Alan Whitaker.
Mark Bergfeld of the NUS executive told the crowd, “Instead of arresting anti-cuts protesters and students, the police should arrest bankers, tax evaders, the queen and the rich.”
The hearing of the Fortnum & Mason occupiers was postponed by legal wrangling about how to conduct hearings for so many defendants and how to pick test cases.
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