Coaches with anti-war protestors travelling to RAF Fairford were searched and turned back to London in March 2003 Police surveillance Unlifting samba sounds at demo outside RAF Northwood in January 2003

Campaigners unite to stand up for the public's freedom to protest
- a report of Oct 23rd national Freedom To Protest conference

On October 23rd,  230 people from over 80 local and national organisations took part in a historic Freedom To Protest conference in North London. The conference was organised by and for campaigns and groups affected by recent repressive laws and measures being increasingly used by the government and companies to try to suppress public protest and dissent. Participants pledged to help develop and support effective strategies for standing up for the public's freedom to protest against injustice and oppression.

There was a very wide and diverse range of local and national organisations supporting and taking part, including:  Aldermaston Womens Peace camp; Birmingham Guatanamo Campaign; Campaign Against Criminalising Communities; Campaign Against the Arms Trade; Campaign to Close Campsfield; Cardiff World Development Movement; Corporate Watch; Friends of the Earth; Gate Gourmet strikers; Genetic Engineering Network; Haringey Against ID Cards; Hunt Saboteurs Association; Legal Defence and Monitoring Group; London Rising Tide; McLibel Support Campaign; Newham Monitoring Project; Parliament Sq Peace Campaign and Brian Haw Supporters; Peace News; Rhythms of Resistance; Schnews; School Students Against the War; Torbay & District
Trades Union Council; Trident Ploughshares; Undercurrents; and the Veggies Catering Campaign. Full list of supporting organisations here.

Those present shared their experiences and views in order to promote mutual aid & co-ordination between organisations, and to inspire and empower each other. At the end, participants sent out some positive and determined messages:

- Wherever there is injustice or oppression, there is protest and resistance
- Repression will never succeed in silencing public dissent and protest
- Any oppressive laws can be rendered unworkable through increased protest, non-co-operation and defiance

In depth discussions

The conference revealed that there are a whole range of measures increasingly being used by police and companies to try to intimidate and undermine public protest and dissent, including: protests being banned; ASBOs against protestors; injunctions; 'anti-stalking' legislation; frequent stops & searches; police encircling and detaining protestors for hours on end; harassment from police 'intelligence' teams; road blocks to stop protests; new threats from the government’s Serious Organised Crime and Police Act; and even 'anti-terrorism' laws.

The event was seen as a timely opportunity for galvanizing a much-needed real fight back throughout the country over the coming months and years, focusing on defending and extending everyone's freedom to leaflet, picket, assemble, strike and march against injustice and oppression. Such rights and freedoms have not been handed down by the powers-that-be, but won through struggles over the last 100 years or more.

The conference began with a series of inspirational presentations by campaigns and struggles which had successfully stood up to attempts by the authorities to suppress them. The session was chaired by one of the McLibel defendants, and included activists from the Gate Gourmet strikers, Parliament Sq peace protestors, school walkouts by School Students Against the War, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty protests, 20 yrs of anti-racist campaigning by Newham Monitoring Project, anti-arms trade protests, and the 4-year long anti-apartheid non-stop picket of the S. African embassy in early 90's.

During the conference a range of practical tactics and strategies that have worked in the past, or that could be effective in the future, were identified, discussed and encouraged. [See workshop details below]. As well as a whole range of experiences being shared by the diverse activists, organisations and campaigns present, participants contributed well-known examples from UK history, and indeed from throughout the world, of campaigns and movements successfully refusing to be intimidated by legal threats. All kinds of totalitarian laws, measures and systems have been imposed on people and eventually defied and defeated. The message was that oppressive laws can be made unworkable by determination and solidarity among those affected, by mass defiance,
and by turning the tables on those who would try to silence and suppress dissent.

At the end of the conference, participants agreed to support the following:

- the continuing protests in Parliament Square in defiance of new laws banning 'unauthorised' protest near Parliament
- an annual Freedom To Protest day of action on December 10th (International Human Rights Day)
- regional Freedom To Protest events, solidarity networks and conferences
- a possible follow up conference in 2006
- widespread use of the 'Freedom To Protest' logo on campaigns' leaflets 
- the expansion of the Freedom To Protest email lists and website

Download the workshop briefing papers - very useful information!

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The rest is up to you, and everyone....