Practical Ways to Protest the Parliament Shutdown

"If Boris won't play by the rules, we don't play by the rules. If they shut down Parliament, we shut down the streets."
August 30, 2019, 1:08pm
westminster protest
Photo: Luis Kramer

Within hours of the Queen approving Boris Johnson's request to prorogue Parliament, thousands of protesters had taken to streets across the UK to register their anger. There are more demonstrations planned up and down the country over the next few days that you can get involved in – but what, exactly, is the best way to get your voice heard? A march? Civil disobedience? Egging the House of Commons?

We asked six seasoned protesters for their thoughts.

Eddie Casilla, editor at Libcom.org, a resource for discontented workers with a free online archive of working class history and communist / anarchist literature

Whatever kind of protests people are doing, there are three key things they need to have in mind.

Firstly, show solidarity with each other and with other struggles. The struggles against the hostile environment, migrant detention and climate change are all just as important as each other. The people who have set up the hostile environment [and] are denying EU citizens the right to stay in the UK – and [who] are actively accelerating climate change – are the same people who have just prorogued Parliament.

Secondly, direct action is the only way people will get noticed and be able to make a difference, as Extinction Rebellion showed when they blocked streets and bridges. The Hong Kong protesters are showing this now too. Thirdly, struggles need to be self-organised, [because] there are loads of wannabe politicians who will try to take control of protests to use them for their own ends.

The most effective forms of protest are often illegal: if you block a street or an airport you can get arrested, because the government doesn't want protests to work, exactly because of situations like this – they want to force through what they want, and don't care what you think. One of the reasons the police exists is to stop protests from being effective and minimise the amount of disruption you can cause. They don't exist to facilitate your protests; they exist to repress you.

Make sure you wear a mask on protests, because the police will film and photograph you and add you to a database. If you're going to do anything illegal, leave your smartphone at home, because the location data can be used to prove you were at a location when something happened. If you have a smartphone on you, the police will download everything off it while you're in a cell and use it as evidence against you and potentially your friends, [so] don't let this happen. If you or anybody else is doing something illegal, definitely don't livestream it, take photographs or record videos. People have been jailed for things which happened at protests which were filmed.

If you're going on a protest, read the Earth First Public Order Guide to get an idea of how the police will deal with crowds and what you can do in response; police tactics have changed a bit since it was written, but it's still an excellent resource. And if you think you or anybody you know might get arrested, read, "No comment, the defendant's guide to arrest," which is an essential guide to what you're likely to experience if you're picked up.

A spokesperson for Momentum, a grassroots organisation supporting the Labour Party

Get on the streets, be disruptive and make your voice heard. From Extinction Rebellion to the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, street movements are having a huge impact on electoral politics. Already, snap polling shows that most of the public don't agree with Boris Johnson suspending Parliament, but we need everyone who doesn't agree to get out of their homes, meet each other and plan collectively what to do next. This is how movements are born, by getting off the sofa and out onto the streets.

This is the most comprehensive map of anti-prorogation protests taking place across the UK we've found, and you can join the big London protest on Saturday here.

Johnny Lucas from Our Future Our Choice, a pro-EU advocacy group for young people

The most important thing any young person can do is register to vote, and then in the event of a general election, make sure you turn out. You probably know about the dismal stats on both – but the way to make politicians take our concerns seriously is to show up when it matters. Another vital tactic is to write to your MP. MPs get letters all the time, but predominantly from older people. This means that when they hear from young people, whose votes they rely on more heavily in future elections, they take notice.

Demonstrations are taking place all over the country. Young people should show up and talk to people, especially people they wouldn't normally engage with. Building a strong activist network is invaluable for organising events, transport, media appearances and messaging, because pooled resources really go a long way.

Oh, speaking of which, join Our Future Our Choice! We're one of the largest youth movements in the UK and have thousands of activists all over the country. We welcome young people from every party and none, and we'll help however we can to make your voices heard.

Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson from For Our Future's Sake, a youth and student-led movement campaigning for a People's Vote on any form of Brexit

It's been empowering to see so many young people and students standing up for democracy and protesting all across the country against the unbelievably undemocratic move by our new Prime Minister to suspend Parliament. For Our Future's Sake will have activists present at many of the protests and campaign days over the next few days, and we'll continue to throw all our weight behind campaigning for and securing a People's Vote.

There are multiple ways people can show their support – by signing the People's Vote petition, and making sure you join us at one of our protests. But this is just the start of what is going to be a dramatic few weeks for our country. Every person who believes in democracy and doesn't want a No Deal forced on us by a small elite group of Conservative men should join us today to make sure their voice is heard.

Michael Chessum of Another Europe Is Possible, an alliance of left wingers and progressives fighting for an alternative to Tory Brexit

It's important to realise that this is a movement by you. It's a movement inspired by the actions of young people, to a great extent. The work that climate strikes and school walkouts have done in raising the political temperature and people's willingness to actually do civil disobedience has had a real impact.

What do we do in the streets over the next few weeks could well change the course of history. We need to try to make the political weather, because if we don't, our future is going to be a world built by Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg and old, white, posh men in suits who all went to the same school. They're trying to construct a Brexit Britain in which the rights of everyone, young and old, will go through the floor, and in which migrants and workers will be subject to yet more exploitation and repression.

We have to do whatever we can to stick spanners in the gears of the machine. So we all need to show up at protests, talk to organisers and try to get involved in the organising and the coordination of these events. Be one of the people who doesn't just attend demonstrations, but also plans them and who connects demonstrations to the political world. It's so vital to be able to connect those protests to a political campaign that actively undermines the power of the right-wing establishment.

Ben Beach from The World Transformed, a four-day politics, arts and music festival running alongside the Labour Party Conference

This is an incredibly dangerous moment, and it's incumbent on everyone who wants to protect the limited freedoms that we have to get into the streets and do something. Parliament is a significant part of the political establishment in this country, but an even greater part is the 64 million people who actually make the country run. If they refuse to comply, the country doesn't work.

So really, we need to become ungovernable. If Boris won't play by the rules, we don't play by the rules. If they shut down Parliament, we shut down the streets. That's the way people have to view this, because power is ultimately in logistics, and we need to blockade everything. We need to take to the roads, the bridges, the railway stations, the traffic intersections and the motorways. We need to make sure that not a single thing can move in this country without our say-so.

The first step is for people to act on their own initiative. Boris demonstrates the dangers of waiting for so-called "leaders" to tell you what is a good or bad idea. So get together with your friends and people in your community, go down to the protest tomorrow and make sure you do something. We don't need people to wait; we need everyone to work together and to act on their own agency.

@mrnicklevine