Protest and order

At the fracking site at Barton Moss the protest continues. Monday’s Manchester Evening News has an article saying that policing the protest had already cost the Police £300,000 (around £50,000 a week) even before they executed search warrants to raid the camp. The raid was apparently a response to a potentially dangerous flare fired at a police helicopter. Nobody else seems to have seen it though.

Flare or no flare, this is a lot of government money being spent on policing the protest. For what purpose? So far there have been 42 arrests. Laura Bannister, one of the protestors, writes:

All protests have been peaceful, with no damage to property and no threat of violence. I was arrested for walking down a road too slowly. Most of the other arrests have been for similarly minor matters. Yesterday at my preliminary hearing, two police officers were even sent to eavesdrop on us in the court waiting room. This is a waste of all of our taxes. Although the police seem to find this hard to believe, protesters have jobs and pay taxes too.
It is hard not to conclude that the excessive police presence and pointless arrests are aimed at intimidating protesters rather than enforcing the law.

Until we have a political system that actually responds to our concerns, protest is the only tool we have to defend ordinary people’s interests.

The interplay between governments, police and protestors is as old as history. All governments claim to be acting in the interests of the people, and probably genuinely think they are; after all, we all judge our actions by our motives, not by the outcomes. Most governments claim to permit dissent but in practice do not want their own policies successfully opposed.

The police are paid to do a job. Like all professions they have characteristic attitudes to their jobs, ‘agency philosophies’. Individuals within each profession learn its agency philosophy and gradually let it soak into their bones until they find it odd that anyone should see the world differently. In the case of the police, part of the agency philosophy is to prioritise the need to keep order: it is, after all, their job. However, two extra features creep in with it.

One is to suppress consideration of which order is to be kept: in effect, they accept uncritically the prevailing government’s view. Police forces rarely support revolutions. In this particular issue the order question is specific: is the order to be kept one which permits one site after another to be taken over by the fracking industry, indefinitely (or at least until another energy-producing technology takes over from it), or is it to be a frack-free order? This question is not one to be answered by the police. But who does answer it? The Government? Or society as a whole, including its campaiging protestors? From the point of view of the police, they are being paid by the Government.

The other extra feature is that, once the Government’s preferred order is believed to be the order to be kept, dissent easily comes to seem a threat to order rather than a healthy process within it.

We do not need to believe that the Government positively encourage the police to go over the top at the fracking protest. They do not need to. The police know how their bread is buttered, and act accordingly.

Unlike the police, the protestors are not paid to protest. There is only one reason to join this protest: the conviction that fracking is wrong. Of course protestors talk to each other, share ideas and to some extent develop their own agency philosophy; but there is no pay for protesting, no career in it, no reward other than the sense that one is doing the right thing.

A healthy society not only permits protest but listens to the protestors. A society which spends huge sums on suppressing protest, as though the issue at stake can be swept under the carpet, will not find solutions to its problems.

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