Two days after Iran's December 7th Student Day demonstrations were met with the expected police violence, thousands of students in Britain were busy protesting government proposals to triple university tuition fees. It got ugly quick.
Philosophy major Alfie Meadows was bashed in the head and later required emergency brain surgery. Another individual was clubbed and dragged from his wheelchair across the pavement by fully armed and armored police.
That protestor was Jody McIntyre, a journalist, blogger, activist, and poet from London. As he described the scene at Parliament Square the day after:
"When we reached the front, the batons began to fly. One came landing straight onto my left shoulder, sending a sharp, shooting pain down my arm. Others were taking blows to the head. Children, women, men, all being brutalised by the police. Then the horses came, horses that could easily kill people, but we would not budge. We held our ground.
McIntyre wasn't through being battered around, however. In subsequent interviews broadcast live on BBC News, he was belittled and interrupted repeatedly. Over and over, anchor Ben Brown insinuated that he, an unarmed 20 year-old with cerebral palsy sitting in a wheelchair pushed by his brother, had somehow provoked the police into attacking him (prompting thousands of complaints against the BBC). In another appearance, the male co-host refused to shut up and let him finish his statements. (Videos of both clips at the end of this page).
Suddenly, four policemen grabbed my shoulders and pulled me out of my wheelchair. My friends and younger brother struggled to pull me back, but were beaten away with batons. The police carried me away. Around five minutes later, my younger brother was also forced through, the wheelchair still in his hands."
In a column for The Independent later that month, McIntyre criticized the rationalizing of Britain's domestic — and foreign — transgressions, particularly in light of its professed democratic values.
Do we need a “democratic right” to protest?
The Independent - by Jody McIntyre - December 20, 2010
Since the student demonstrations erupted last month, over government plans to slash EMA and increase tuition fees to £9000 per year, there has been a lot of debate over our “democratic right” to protest. But what does the term actually mean?
Personally, I find the concept of requesting permission to hold a demonstration from our police and/or government, the same government we are supposed to be demonstrating against, to be a strange one.
“Dear Mr. Cameron; we oppose your ideological cuts, which will result in a million people losing their jobs, and we oppose your education reforms, which will create a two-tier education system in which only the rich will be able to afford to go to University. Your coalition government is on the brink of collapse, and we would like to quicken the process. What do you reckon?”
“Sure thing! I’ll just advise Her Majesty’s Metropolitan Police to guide you for a brisk stroll down Whitehall. Hopefully see you in Parliament Square around 2ish?”
Of course, demonstrations within the vicinity of the Houses of Parliament without prior permission are actually illegal under British law. And this is the point; our government have no interest in a “democratic right to protest”; what they are interested in is allowing ineffectual protests to take place, to create an illusion of freedom of speech. Up until now, this approach seems to have been fairly successful.
But people have had enough of marching from A to B. Students are not coming out for the fun of it, or simply to cause trouble, they are coming out because they refuse to accept the government’s proposals. They refuse to accept a rise in tuition fees from a Cabinet containing no fewer than sixteen millionaires, all of whom got a University education for free. Why don’t we make every Member of Parliament voting for the rise in fees retrospectively pay £9000 for every year they went to University?
As always, hypocrisy is at the heart of the issue. When the Iranian government brutally suppressed demonstrations in Tehran, their reaction was rightly condemned, but when our government suppresses demonstrations, people search for a justification. Months after the Gaza demonstrations last January, the police arrested 119 people; many were arrested in dawn raids, with entire families handcuffed, and people dragged from their beds as they slept. Is that normal in a “democratic” society?
And what about our role in “democracy promotion” abroad? When the Iranian people democratically elected Mohammad Mossadegh in 1951, he lasted only two years before being overthrown in a coup backed by the CIA and it’s widely thought our own MI6. Mossadegh’s crime? His intentions to nationalise the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, now known as BP.
Were the British government ever interested in the “democratic right to protest” of the Chagossian people; an entire population removed from their homes by Britain, in order to make way for an American military base. Nevertheless, the Chagossians did protest, by taking their case to the British High Court in 2006. The High Court ruled to allow the Chagossians to return to their homes, only for the Privy Council to overturn the decision.
The British government have no interest in so-called “democratic rights”, and they never have done. The sooner we realise that, the better.