Why we must reclaim the right to campaign
18 November 2010
Last week BBC London news reported that a small protest outside a library in Shepherd’s Bush was prevented by Westfield Shopping Centre security, for no better reason than the fact that particular strip of publicly accessible pavement happened to be owned privately.
Sadly, this story is all too familiar.
Recently released video footage shows of a group of campaigners at the Birmingham Bullring shopping centre attempting to collect petitions. Private security intervened just 38 seconds after the petitioning began.
The right to protest has stealthily been curtailed as once-public areas have been bought by private companies. Birmingham’s Bullring is a case in point. This is a historic city centre market place. However, now that it is owned privately, the current law of trespass allows the owners to discriminate between different viewpoints expressed on their property, and to prohibit any activity that does not make a profit.
The area in front of the Churchill Square shopping centre in Brighton is another example of this. Despite being an iconic open gathering point for demonstrators for generations, World Development Movement members have experienced intimidation from security staff when attempting to campaign there.
And it isn’t just shopping centre walk ways or pavements near to shopping centres. When, earlier this year, campaigners from ActionAid tried to set up a stall outside an ASDA store in an out-of-town shopping centre to inform customers about the human rights of people in the supply chain, they were even removed from the car park by security staff. In the only location they were allowed to campaign, only one person walked past.
There is, however, something that can be done. The coalition government has announced a piece of civil liberties legislation called the Freedom Bill, which they claim, amongst other things, will restore the right to protest.
World Development Movement has joined with ActionAid, People and Planet, Jubilee Debt Campaign and Bond to support a new petition calling for a legal right to protest in public areas which happen to be owned by a private company, such as the walkways of shopping centres.
As private security has prevented the collection of signatures from shoppers themselves, the petition is hosted at http://www.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/right-to-campaign-in-public#petition instead.