When demonstrations and protests were at their most potent in the sixties and post-sixties decades in the last century, people believed that their voice had power – that if enough joined the rallying cry for a given political cause, change would come as a direct outcome of their opposition or civil disobedience. In oppressive regimes, those that chose the path of civil disobedience often paid a high price. They did so, knowing that there was a punitive risk factored into any action they took. Yet they did so all the same, and inspired others to swell their ranks; to push their vision and to continue exerting pressure to force change.
In the post-war era, the flower-power baby boom generation - reacting against the fall-out of the Second World War, of Vietnam, of nuclear proliferation, etc, used protest as power. The peace/anti-nuclear movement, green movement and feminist movement arose as a consequence of this burgeoning desire for change. Yet while they were empowered, and their influence filtered gradually into society, little changed fundamentally on the global playing field. Governments continued to hustle for positioning on the global chessboard, conflicts continued to be ‘resolved’ by conflict, and at its height, the Cold War generated so much paranoia that the world was often teetering on the edge of destruction. When the Cold War ended, many hoped that a new era would dawn in which the freedom of speech, which we were said to enjoy in the west, would become less a privilege, and more a facilitator for global co-operation.
Instead, the paranoia that had once been the domain of the Cold War era began to infest the political landscape in the largely stable US and UK economies, whose power centres are the multinational corporations that wield a powerful influence on global economy. Striking out at the religious fervour of the Islamist, the growth of a similarly fundamentalist approach has been seen to creep in to the usually phlegmatic UK, led by a man so under the thrall of his mentor Bush, and so vilified by many in his country for the poor choices he has made that he has become increasingly isolated politically. Blair – the man who promised his nation that he would fix everything - has simply declared war on the individual, promising us nothing more than a nanny state in which we are to be diapered so that we cannot soil his pristine vision.
His vision has not only exacerbated an already volatile theologically-based conflict; it has led us closer and closer to a state which would have once been considered the domain of countries behind the iron curtain. Characterised by excessive policing, criminalisation of protest, repression of free speech, farcical judicial reviews and hundreds of new laws designed to flagrantly denounce the principles of democratic thinking for which this country was once looked to, the UK is becoming increasingly Orwellian in its vision.
Those who have in the past opposed the system using occupation as protest (a time-honoured traditional approach of activists across the political spectrum from environmentalists, peace activists to human rights campaigners) have done so with alacrity, yet the 7th March, 2007 sentencing of three animal rights campaigners to a total exceeding 7 years in prison has highlighted the alarming trend for severe sentencing of animal rights campaigners, the severity of which is unequal to the offence committed. In this case, those sentenced had been demonstrating against companies associated with Huntingdon Life Sciences and had staged a noisy office occupation. There was no violence or criminal damage. It appears the tactics of heavy policing and heavy sentencing of animal rights activists are being used exclusively against this particular movement, which opposes corporate crime involving the killing of millions of animals per annum in pointless experiments.
So far, so astonishing. Even more astonishing is that the perpetrators of many violent crimes, which go unreported by the media, receive derisory sentences by comparison to the likes of Mark and Suzanne Taylor and Teresa Portwine, the activists convicted to a total of more than 7 years for their part in a noisy demonstration; sentences that in no way reflect the severity of their crimes. Deliberate bodily harm, arson, drug trafficking, rape, murder, manslaughter – many of those who commit these crimes get sentenced for 2 – 3 years. Here are some recent examples:
A 16-year-old who knifed and killed a schoolboy was given a 3-year jail sentence .
A 22-year-old man who killed a pensioner who challenged him for urinating in the street was given a 2-year sentence .
Several men who have murdered their wives have walked free with suspended sentences after the judges have essentially said the defendant’s wives would have tried the patience of a saint .
It is vital that the actions of people like Taylor and his co-defendants are put into context. Regardless of where one’s sympathies lie on the issue of animal rights, viewed from a broader perspective, the sentences meted out were hugely disproportionate to the act committed. Because animal rights campaigners challenge the system, and their protests – both those of a legal and illegal nature – target the corporations that wield so much power, they are considered to be a threat to the status quo. Perversely, those who commit violent crimes against the individual are not a threat to the status quo! This excessive sentencing is an insult to anyone who believes in democracy, and marks the continuing rise of an alarming trend in the draconian measures being used to stifle free speech in this country.
At SPEAK Political as part of our remit we will be fighting for the rights of people to speak out against something they object to and for the individuals right to protest. At SPEAK Political we believe in the rights of the individual not the rights of big business to make as much money as they can regardless of the cost to the earth and all those individuals that inhabit this earth, be they human or non human animals.
For more information about SPEAK Political go to: http://www.speakpolitical.org/