Two hundred people marched through Bristol and blocked the M32 as Kill The Bill returned to Bristol with a bang yesterday (July 3).
The protest comes just two days before the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill enters Parliament for a third reading, having been passed through committee stage over the last few weeks.
If passed, the PCSC Bill will have ‘a chilling effect on our right to protest, and result in the disproportionate criminalisation of peaceful activity’ according to the Good Law Project, as well as criminalizing the way of life of GRT communities, and placing harsher sentences on damaging statues than on rape.
Saturday’s protest was a return to form for Bristol’s Kill The Bill campaign, which in May had suffered from falling attendance, lack of public support, and an inability to retain protester engagement.
After gathering at College Green from 14:00, the march began through St Augustine’s Parade and onto Rupert Street.
Joining the march on Saturday was Luke, who has lived in Bristol for over 20 years.
Carrying the same blue placard he recently waved outside Bristol Crown Court as seven people charged over the March 21 riot attended hearings, Luke explained that he took to the streets on Saturday because ‘I want to defend democracy.’
Luke’s protest career began in January 2019 as the Brexit Bill went for its first “meaningful vote” and found that protesting suited him.
Frustrated by a lack of engagement from his local MP, Luke found that protest was a last resort to ensure his voice was heard.
‘It’s important that we come out here, because if I’m not gonna represent myself, who the heck is gonna do it?
‘So literally I have to come out and I have to wave this placard and say “I am representing myself”.’
That sentiment is shared by many of those protesting the PCSC Bill. None of the protests in Bristol have had an explicit organiser, but have rather grown spontaneously via flyers shared on social media. Many of those attending Kill The Bill protests are there to represent themselves because they feel that no one else will.
Whilst the Bill can evoke strong emotions from its critics, at times Luke maintains a measured and thoughtful manner as he explains his opposition.
‘Even the Conservative Party says that protesting is an important part of democracy, and yet this Bill allows them to shut down any protest for being “a nuisance”.
‘Basically, this Bill allows them to shut down democracy for any reason they want.’
Saturday’s march meandered around the city centre with only the merest shadow of a police presence. Avon & Somerset police perhaps underestimated how many people would show up, or perhaps they were pre-occupied with stewarding football fans on the day of another England victory in the Euros.
The absence of police was telling as the march approached the M32 from Bond Street. Whereas previous marches have been curtaileded by a pre-emptive closure of the M32 by police, on Saturday, protesters strolled onto the motorway unimpeded.
Pausing beneath the Riverside Park footbridge, protesters spread across all six lanes of the motorway, bringing traffic to a standstill.
After around 15 minutes on the motorway, the march set off again back towards Cabot Circus, where protesters sheltered from a brief rain shower, before winding their way to Bridewell Police station to sit in the road.
Here, demonstrators took turns on a microphone to speak about why they opposed the Bill.
People spoke about how the PCSC Bill affects sex workers, LGBTQI+ people, and the GRT community, and drew parallels between the current state of policing in the UK with the situation in Hong Kong.
At one point, the microphone was taken by Luke who drew applause by quoting the words of Arnold Schwarzanegger, who, speaking about the Capitol riots on January 6, compared democracy to steel.
Steel is tempered by repeated heating, hammering, and cooling, and ‘“every time you put steel through this hell it gets stronger. Democracy is like steel: put it through hell and it’ll get stronger”.’
Amongst protesters there was a general feeling of resignation that the PCSC Bill will pass through Parliament. Should that happen there is no doubt that protest will continue, likely louder and more disruptive than ever.