By Annie Dabb
On Saturday 20th of March, Spring officially arrived. But, while the first auspices of new life have been coming into view, sadly, a new government is not one of them.
The continued reign of the Conservatives is made worse by the recent debate about making the ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill’ official law. If passed, police would be able to set a start and finish time on protests, subject those caught vandalising memorials or statues to up to 10 years in prison, and even fine individuals holding placards up to £2,500.
Unsurprisingly, and rather amusingly, the proposed government bill has incited numerous protests of retaliation throughout the UK.
So, while my morning was indeed spent wandering lonely as a cloud through hosts of golden daffodils, to quote Wordsworth, my afternoon saw not blossoms, but rather protesters who seemed to stretch in a never-ending line through the streets of Manchester. Certainly the company was less jocund and more pissed off, but nevertheless, my heart did with pleasure fill, as we screamed in unison: “kill the bill”.
Apparently unrelatedly, the bill was initially conceived following the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests in 2020 and the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston. But yeah, sure, the UK government isn’t racist.
Where to begin with the number of things wrong with the fact that a dead slave trader’s statue seemingly evokes more emotion in the police force than living rapists, with only the 1.7% of the latter being prosecuted? Although I possess the lowly opinion of Colston to assume that he was probably guilty of that too.
This hypocrisy says nothing more to me than a pathetic attempt by Priti Patel and the Home Office to try and sweep the problems women and other disadvantaged groups face under the rug. Let’s face it, given Patel’s history of alleged bullying, it’s hardly surprising that she would support a police force which persists despite 57% of its members having experienced bullying amongst themselves at some point. It is a statistic which gives new depth to the crowd’s shouts of “join us you cowards”.
Since when did our right to protest become something which was up for debate? We seem to have regressed as a society in which our very desire to protect ourselves, be it against strangers on the street or from our very legal systems which fail to service justice, can be policed and reduced. With this blatant breaching of our human rights, every day seems more like ‘1984’, Orwell’s misogyny included.
It’s all very well saying “educate your sons”, but it’s the fully grown adults who reside over jurisprudence and the law courts who are the real problem. Who failed to teach them that it’s not ok to allow the frequent non-convicted perpetration of sexual assault and misogyny to continue? It doesn’t matter that these violated and oppressed women may be the mothers, sisters, partners, or daughters of whoever, because we as a society ought to embrace our responsibility of protecting ourselves and each other, regardless of who we are to each other. As far as anyone can stand and point the finger at others for allowing this to happen, are we ourselves not somewhat guilty if we don’t stand up and say “no”? Say actually, “we’ve had enough”?
Because it’s not fair. And how much are Wordsworth’s words really worth if we don’t take a minute to actually reflect on the horrendous injustice of modern day society? It’s unfair that we have to send a text when we get home because assault or harassment proves to be a very legitimate concern. It’s unfair that we have to limit where we can go, or when, the darkness posing a multitude of potential threats. It’s unfair that rarely are we given the voice to express this injustice, and that even when we do, it feels like screaming into an empty abyss. No one listens until a woman like Sarah Everard shows up dead, and even then only because Wayne Couzens, the man who killed her, is supposed to be a symbolic upholder of the law.
The protest was organised by ‘Sisters Uncut’, a feminist direct action group combatting domestic violence. Many individuals were invited up to speak and each painful and downright outrageous experience shared was met with support and solidarity.
To study and discuss feminism is one thing, but I remember few times when, as a woman, I have felt as empowered as I did on Saturday. The feeling of witnessing woman after woman revel in the spotlight of using their voice, a right disguised as a privilege for too long, and which the new proposed bill is now trying to take away from us, genuinely evoked in me a sort of catharsis. It was a relief to finally scream in solidarity against all the frustration we feel on a daily basis because of how we’re gendered and confined by a patriarchal society. It’s true you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone, but it’s even harder to realise what you should have, when nobody tells you in the first place that your voice deserves to be heard.
So we made ourselves heard. One woman directed her angry tirade towards the policeman, demanding to know why “it took you three hours to get to my house when I was in danger, yet it took you six minutes to get here today.” Another woman stood up to talk about her sexual assault that had happened literally the night before.
I can’t believe this is still happening.
A woman told us how she’d brought up the topic of austerity to the middle class white professors of her social work university degree, and had received virtually no support or information to help her try and combat it. She’d then been forced to drop out due to financial reasons. Austerity does work in not-so-mysterious ways, doesn’t it? I know nothing about that woman, but the passion with which she spoke of the social work care system suggests that she was probably right when she said she “would have been a fucking good social worker”, and the crowd agreed.
Another woman from Syria asked why she’d come to the UK for a better life and more opportunities “only to be faced with this shit”. Her joke about being deported just for using her voice at the protest was met with laughter, but it was bittersweet. With a compassion they didn’t deserve, she also rightly expressed that the problem wasn’t the individual policemen (well, not all of them, but SCAB doesn’t have quite the same ring to it), but rather the system in place, which is the real enforcer of oppression.
Behind me in the crowd were women bashing pots and pans together in a cacophony of support for the oppressed. It was a semiotic repurposing of the very tools of oppression (sorry Nigella) of which I’m sure even Martha Rosler would have approved.
The protest itself was held in Stephen’s Square, across the tram tracks from Manchester’s Emmeline Pankhurst statue. I won’t lie, she’s not my go-to feminist icon. I tend to feel a bit of hostility towards feminists who think only upper-class women should have rights (call me ungrateful, I dare you). But, on Saturday, she was surrounded by bouquets of flowers as a gesture of alliance with, and support for, victims of gender-based violence. Thus it seemed only fitting to “make more noise than anybody else…to make yourself more obtrusive than anybody else… to fill all the papers more than anybody else”. Following her advice, we did what we could. She did give 40% of women the vote, I suppose.
Those who say it’s not all men are right, but 97% is damn sure close enough to all women. And it’s 97% more than it should be. Saturday’s protest reinstalled my confidence in women of this generation, that perhaps we will be the makers of our own emancipation after all.
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