What Is Civil Disobedience — And Why Are Governments Cracking Down?

The definition of civil disobedience is simple: it is the act of breaking the law — albeit in a peaceful way — in order to peacefully protest. For example, protesters might decide to block off a busy road without legal permission to be there. Inevitably, many of these protesters will be arrested for misdemeanors after breaking the law. But by breaking the law in full view of cameras all over the world, the hope is that they get their point across by doing so. 

A new policing bill in the UK has been attacked for threatening the right to peacefully protest by making civil disobedience — already against the law — more difficult.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill seeks to “strengthen police powers to tackle non-violent protests that have a significant disruptive effect on the public or an access to Parliament.”

Maximum sentencing guidelines for memorial vandalism have been increased from three months to ten years incarceration in order to deter this type of behavior. 

Opponents point to overreach in the new bill. Authorities are now allowed to break up or restrict the right to protest based on noise. In other words, if the police say you’re too loud, then they can lawfully disperse the crowd. 

More than 150 organizations have penned a letter urging lawmakers to rethink the aggressive bill, describing it as “an attack on some of the most fundamental rights of citizens.” Ironically, “Kill the Bill” protests have broken out in response to its passage. A petition calling for the immediate repeal of the bill has garnered over 200,000 signatures.

Labour MP David Lammy said, “by giving police the powers to use these powers some of the time, it takes away our freedom all of the time.”

The Home Office fought back against opposition, suggesting that “the majority of protests in England and Wales are lawful and will be unaffected by these changes.”

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