When is a pizza box a pillow? Or an umbrella a ‘structure’? In Parliament Square Occupy Democracy protesters have spent their seventh night sleeping on the ground on top of piles of newspapers. According to the 2011 Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, the local authority for the City of Westminster has the power to confiscate items that count as sleeping equipment or a structure, so mattresses and tents are forbidden.
But protesters say the police are getting creative with their interpretation of the bylaw, confiscating backpacks and pizza boxes, claiming that they count as sleeping equipment. Umbrellas have similarly been confiscated because they count as a structure. Some have been told that sleeping bags are allowed to keep them warm while they’re awake, but not when they’re asleep.
Occupy Democracy protesters have been camping out in Parliament Square since 17 October and they plan to leave on Sunday. Organisers say they are campaigning for a more representative democracy. “Parliament is supposed to represent the interests of the people, but it appears to us that they do not represent us. Rather, they represent the interests of big business and the wealthy,” says John Sinha, one of the organisers.
Last Sunday evening a group of protesters were forcibly removed from a sheet of tarpaulin laid out on the square, which was deemed by the police to count as sleeping equipment. The removals were live streamed on Bambuser and #tarpaulinrevolution began trending on Twitter. Matilda Wnek, who was there that night, says that police outnumbered protesters three to one and were accompanied by ten police vans. Her and other protesters accuse police of using unnecessarily violent tactics on a peaceful protest.
On Tuesday around 30 people were arrested for breaking the 2011 zct, including the Green Party’s Jenny Jones, who was later de-arrested. That afternoon the Greater London Authority erected fencing around the square with the stated purpose of doing maintenance work. The GLA’s heritage wardens, who are employed by private security company AOS to guard the square, told protesters that the space needs to be kept clear for the grass to grow back.
“They’ve basically privatised the space,” says Wnek. “They keep saying the grass needs to regrow as if it trumps our right to protest.” Wnek stresses that Parliament Square has historically been maintained as a space for the public to protest on.
A spokesperson for the Greater London Authority said: “The fencing is in place to uphold the bylaws affecting Parliament Square and the PRSR Act. The protesters refused to comply with instructions to keep off the grass and enable workmen to get on with vital repairs and maintenance that are needed as a result of their actions.”
The bylaw, which came into effect in March 2012, states that while people may congregate in Parliament Square at all hours and sleep, they may not operate “any amplified noise equipment”, erect “any tent or any other structure that is designed, or adapted, (solely or mainly) for the purpose of facilitating sleeping or staying in a place for any period,” or have “any sleeping equipment with a view to its use (whether or not by the person placing it or keeping it in place) for the purpose of sleeping overnight in that area.”
Paul Ridge, a partner at Bindmans who is representing the protesters, says they are looking at challenging the lawfulness of the act, pointing to the UN general assembly’s report in June 2013 which raised concerns about the restrictions placed on protest in Parliament Square.
“The law is just being used to clear the ground. The police officer or heritage warden will make a decision to clear the area and then the prosecution doesn’t materialise, so there is no judicial scrutiny.”
“If they had wanted to stop people from sleeping [in Parliament Square], the act could have said that,” he says. “As it is, if I’m dozing on a sunny day and I fall asleep with my head on my bag, can the police take my bag? The police took somebody’s coat from them, saying it was sleeping equipment. That can’t be right.”
A spokesperson from the Metropolitan Police said that it was ultimately up to the courts to decide whether or not the act has been breached. A statement read: “Our role is to facilitate peaceful protest whilst balancing the needs of London communities and minimising any disruption. We will not take sides, but we seek to apply the law fairly and proportionately.”
Wnek was arrested on Tuesday and has been charged with breaching the bylaw. “One of the things that surprised us about the way the police have been treating us is that we’ve been on loads of other protests in Parliament Square [since the introduction of the bylaw] which have been able to use amplification, which have been able to have banners without written permission from the GLA and have had things like tarpaulin to sit on.”
Claudia Grigg Edo, a 22-year-old English literature student at Cambridge University, was also arrested on Tuesday. “[The protest] was about being close to the seat of power. We’re all in agreement that that bylaw infringes our right to protest, but it wasn’t a police baiting campaign. We are a group of people who think there is a lot wrong with democracy as it stands and that we’d like to be represented a better.”
The above was originally published by The Guardian.
From Occupy Democracy:
The nine-day pro-democracy occupation in Parliament Square ended peacefully last night with a joyful closing ceremoy as the organisers intended. The occupation was organised to draw attention to our democratic crisis and the need for urgent, radical reform so that democracy starts working for the 99%.
For a number of strategic reasons it was decided to carry out a time-limited occupation. Strict implementation of new restrictions on the right to protest saw occupiers who resolved to maintain a constant presence in the Square including overnight in the cold and the rain were denied anything that might enable a relatively warm, comfortable night’s sleep – including sleeping bags, cardboard and umbrellas.
Lobby of MPs today at 2pm
At 2pm today (Monday 24 October) #occupydemocracy called for supporters of democratic reform to join them, as they plan to go into Parliament to lobby and lay out their provisional demands, as agreed last night during the final General Assembly of the occupation at which around 100 occupiers were present.
Occupier George Barda said:
“This action is largely symbolic since we know that – barring a few honourable exceptions – MPs make decisions on behalf of vested interests. There is an alternative but it will only happen when people realise their power and come together to push for change.”
Demands agreed which put people, planet and democracy itself ahead of profit
Provisional demands under three headings – People Before Profit, Environment Before Profit and Democracy Before Profit – were agreed. These included proposals to reform democracy so that it works for the 99% rather than corporations, banks and a tiny wealthy elite, such as:
- Hold a citizen-led Constitutional Convention for real democracy
- Reform the media to allow a more diverse and representative range of voices
- Bring in proportional representation so that everyone’s vote counts
- End the “revolving door” and secondement betweeen corporations and government
- MPs barred from holding second jobs
If democracy was sufficiently reformed, we believe that popular policies such as the following would be implemented that put People and the Environment before Profit :
- End privatisation of the NHS
- Abolish Tuition Fees
- Close down Tax Havens
- Terminate discussion on secret and undemocratic trade deals (TTIP CETA & TISA)
- Living Wage for All
- Ban Fracking & Invest in Renewable Energy
- Implement a Green New Deal to create One Million Climate Jobs
Plans afoot to re-occupy Parliament Square over a weekend in November
Protesters also agreed to re-occupy Parliament Square over a weekend in November in order to build their campaign for real democracy. The date of this occupation will be announced in due course.
Occupiers to support the launch of the Energy Bill of Rights
Occupiers will support the launch event for Fuel Poverty Action’s Energy Bill of Rights today at 4.45pm in Parliament. The Energy Bill of Rights Is designed to give people inspiration and confidence to stand up against the rip-off Big Six energy companies who are leaving us to freeze and to join the movement for a clean, affordable and renewable energy system owned by us. As millions of people worry about how they will heat their homes this winter, the Energy Bill of Rights will support people to take action together to demand their rights .
The above was originally published by Occupy Democracy.
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