Chants of Kill the Bill have echoed through Bristol’s streets for seven weeks now as thousands of protesters voice their opposition to the government’s proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill.
But the unity of dissent against the PCSC Bill hides a diversity of motivations, and as the weeks have worn on protesters have had to grapple with the identity of their fledgling movement.
Whilst they have done so mostly without infighting, low attendance at more recent demonstrations indicates a failure to retain the public imagination captured in March and early April.
The views and opinions of protesters have been gathered over the last eight weeks by activists on the streets documenting the protests as they unfolded.
The Bristol Activist has had exclusive access to the results of these street surveys, which show the concerns protesters have for the Kill The Bill movement, as well as what they want to see it become in the future.
Since its inception, Kill The Bill has been organised in a decentralised manner; adverts for the next protest appear on social media with seemingly no origin.
In its early days, this decentralization, and the wide-reaching consequences of the Bill itself, made Kill The Bill protests accessible and appealing to a diverse crowd of nurses, teachers, social workers and youth workers.
Yet increasingly the lack of structure is giving some cause for concern, with one protester making reference to the “Tyranny of Structurelessness”, whereby seeming disorganisation actually hides latent power structures.
In the case of Kill The Bill, there is a fear that the protests are being dominated by those who shout the loudest. In particular, some protesters have called for marches to be more democratic, with routes and stopping points determined by consensus.
Even at the most basic level of organizing, Kill The Bill has issues, with people reporting struggling to find information on when and where protests are happening, and frustrations about protests starting later than advertised.
Image has also been picked out as a weakness of the movement, both for protesters and the public, with the prevalence of alcohol consumption highlighted as a concern, especially for families wishing to join the protests.
Others are put off by the presence of protesters in black bloc, with reports of people arriving at a demonstration, seeing the black bloc and then leaving because they feel they don’t belong.
The reputation that the Bristol protests now have for confrontations with police is another barrier to entry for many. The idea of being chased through Castle Park by police dogs is of limited appeal to the average citizen, however concerned they might be about the PCSC Bill.
So where to go next? Protester feedback centres on three key areas for improvement.
As a priority, the protests need greater organization, according to several protesters surveyed, starting with well-advertised dates, times and locations.
At the protests themselves, pre-arranged speeches both before and after the marches were a popular idea, as they could provide clear messaging, for the benefit of protesters and passers-by alike, on what the PCSC Bill is and why resistance to it is needed, and would give people a reason to stick around until the end.
Some protesters expressed a desire to see greater participation from established protest groups to help with this.
One protester suggested a statement of unity from concerned groups, and another advocated for an agreed set of principles under which to act. A third suggested a once a month all-movement march in which all activist and civil society organizations in Bristol mobilized their supporters to march against the Bill.
A second theme for future consideration is the need for wider strategy. For instance, how could the Kill The Bill movement connect with other public concerns? Some protesters spoke around the benefits of a pro-democracy march or similar to bring people together and celebrate the rights people already have and those that would be taken away by the PCSC Bill.
Another question posed was what happens if the movement succeeds? How to go beyond Kill The Bill and make something positive out of it. At present, the loose movement has no demands, but with greater organization this may be possible.
Above all, protester feedback shows that Kill The Bill needs to become much more appealing and inclusive. Protest needs to be sexy to draw a crowd, especially now as summer arrives and many people are having to decide between spending Saturday at a protest or visiting friends and family.
People need to believe that by coming to a protest they will get a positive experience. The threat of being chased by police dogs is enough to put most people off attending at all.
There also needs to be a belief that the movement can win, or at least make a difference, otherwise retaining protesters from one week to the next will be an uphill struggle.
After two months of protests up and down the nation, and many more already planned, there is no doubt that Kill The Bill has widespread public support.
Whether the Kill The Bill movement as it presently exists can pull together to mobilize this energy remains to be seen.
Read all of TBA’s Kill The Bill coverage here.