"Defend the Right to Protest" march

Hastings May 1st 2021

There was a large and noisy turnout for the May Day - "Defend the Right to Protest" March in Hastings town centre.

Demonstration approaching Hastings town centre.
Photo: Alan Roberts.

The Hastings and Rye Palestine Solidarity Campaign joined a diverse coalition including Hastings and District Trades Council, Hastings Stand Up To Racism , The Refugee Buddy Project: Hastings, Rother & Wealden, Hastings Against War and Hastings Supports Refugees Group, all united in protest against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

The Bill, returning to Parliament in June, will give police powers to ban protests if the 'noise is seriously disruptive,' or if it 'causes serious annoyance.' And anyone convicted of the new offence of 'Public Nuisance' could be jailed for up to 10 years.

Over 40 similar demonstrations took place up and down the country with tens of thousands protesting the new Bill.

Hastings and Rye PSC Chair Katy Colley at Cornwallis Gardens.
Photo: Alan Roberts.
At Cornwallis Gardens, before the Hastings march, the crowd was addressed by a variety of speakers, including Hastings and Rye Palestine Solidarity Campaign Chair Katy Colley who said: 'We at Hastings and Rye Palestine Solidarity Campaign have already had a taste of what it looks like to take away our freedom of speech. Our activities to raise awareness about the Palestine struggle have come under vicious attack from the pro-Israeli lobby, but this has never been so fierce or concerted as it has in the past three years, attacking our meetings, stalls, attempting to shut down our events by scaring off our venues.

'For one meeting we had to move the venue three times, redirecting people as they arrived. All under the spurious claim of antisemitism.

'But it is not antisemitic to speak of a dispossessed people, it is not antisemitic to point out human rights abuses and it is not antisemitic to call out a country for breaking the law. The real reason they want to shut is down is they don't want you to know the truth. We have never given in to this kind of bullying and we won't start now.

'But what if this law goes through and those who want to stop us have the law on their side? Then the police could decide that our protest or vigil or meeting was too noisy, or disruptive or made people feel 'uneasy.' They'd have the power to shut us down and arrest us. This lays the foundation for an authoritarian police state - a place where waving a flag or attending a protest can land you in jail and, potentially, a 10-year sentence for public nuisance. 10 years.... It's a slippery slope.

'When we hand power to shut down free speech and freedom of assembly to the Home Secretary or the police, when we leave it up to the discretion of individuals to decide what constitutes a 'noisy' or disruptive protest, or causes 'unease', then we're in real trouble. And all hard fought civil rights become meaningless.

'That's why we have to stick together, we may be many diverse groups here with different causes but we're united by one thing - the need to defend our right to protest.'

The midday march took place through Hastings town centre with the crowd blowing whistles, chanting, banging tambourines and making as much noise as possible.