We are deeply troubled to see Quakers seeking advice about whether they can meet for worship in public places without fear of arrest.
Late on Monday night, the Metropolitan Police issued the following condition under Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986,
“Any assembly linked to the Extinction Rebellion ‘Autumn Uprising’…must now cease their protest(s) within London (Metropolitan Police Service, and City of London areas) by 21:00hrs [on Monday] 14th October 2019.”
Social media was alive with police dismantling tents and making arrests, including the MEP Ellie Chowns, who tweeted shortly before being arrested,
“In a democracy we have a right to peaceful protest.”
Right to worship
The day after the night before, Quakers are seeking advice about whether they can meet for worship. One tweet from a Quaker to Netpol (The Network for Police Monitoring) asked the following,
“We were planning our usual worship in Trafalgar Square today and are now nervous of arrest. Any advice much appreciated.”
Netpol’s response was,
“We are in the completely ludicrous and extremely alarming new position that an act of worship in Trafalgar Square would probably go ahead without incident as long as nobody has anything with them that includes XR’s branding.”
Netpol furthered clarified that the freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs is protected by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Whilst warning that the ‘state can limit this, in theory, only if their actions are lawful, necessary and proportionate to protect public order’. Netpol also recommend that everyone engaged in public protest has access to a good solicitor in case they need to challenge this right in the courts.
“For a number of reasons it is very unlikely that the police have issued a lawful order.”
So it seems a good time to remember that draconian & disproportionate state responses to nonviolent protest can backfire & lead to movements garnering more support. Social movement actors and theorists describe this as the ‘backfire’ effect. And whilst there are no magic formulas, there’s some useful guidance about ‘backfire’ to help think about options and to take into account what ‘the other side’ is likely to do, including this guide from the ICNC.
Many of us will have seen the advice and constructive criticism about Extinction Rebellion. Most notably, critiques have focused on: strategy, controversial approaches (such as ‘love bombing’ the police) and a lack of honouring, listening to and involving climate justice analysis and voices. But overnight the actions of the Metropolitan Police have led to many of those who have previously shared strong criticisms of XR, express equally strong solidarity. Solidarity with those on the ground and their right to peacefully protest. And many are also voicing concern that such curtailment to protest has wide and deep consequences for all.
Amidst increasingly repressive policing, it’s been heartening to see that the October Rebellion has seen an opening up of spaces and voices from the Global Justice Rebellion, XR Disabled Rebels, @RainbowRebels, @XRLiberation and more. Alongside the actions of new blocs like @XRPeaceUK who are connecting climate change and militarism. And diverse faith groups, including Quakers, have created some beautiful interfaith spaces.
If social media is anything to go by, people’s spirits remain undiminished. And we can perhaps take heart that a disproportionate policing response may have the unintended consequence of increasing support for peaceful protest.
In the meantime, we continue to hold in the light all those that wish to exercise their right to worship and their right to peacefully protest.