Yet, the government doesn’t like to be challenged. This is precisely why it’s trying to stop people taking direct action. The Public Order Bill contains chilling new criminal punishments for protesting: for example, if you lock or glue yourself to another person as part of a protest (like the Stansted 15 did when they laid down on a runway to stop a deportation flight taking off), you could be sentenced to up to 51 weeks prison.
This is why the “condone or condemn” debate on tactics is dangerous. It plays into the hands of a government keen to position people taking action on social injustice as the public enemy. This distracts us from the fact that the real public enemy right now is the government itself. Debating the Public Order Bill in parliament, Minister for Policing Jeremy Quin called climate protesters a “selfish minority”. I’d argue there’s no more selfish minority in the UK than the 276 politicians who voted for laws that block a population of 67 million people from taking action on the most important issues of our lifetime.
Protest is legal and vital and a human right. As the crises around us intensify, direct action is increasingly becoming a necessity. While there may be new legal risks that challenge us to be more creative, we cannot be deterred from doing what needs to be done. Thankfully, legal support from Green & Black Cross and Black Protest Legal Support is available for people planning to take direct action.
Just Stop Oil appear unstoppable: they say only the death sentence would deter them from taking action. Since the soup-throwing, their sustained campaign of resistance against the UK government issuing new oil and gas licences has since included blocking the Dartford crossing and covering a King Charles waxwork in cake.
Instead of criticising and condemning people taking direct action, we should celebrate their courage. Choosing to risk criminal punishment in order to fight for a better world is, by anyone’s measure, a phenomenally selfless act.