22 October 2023
Demonstrations do not require approval
Over the past few years, I have read many newspaper articles about "illegal demonstrations", that is, the authorities declaring an assembly of people illegal, often ahead of time. Usually, the articles then go on about a large police presence and the arrest and fining of protesters. Even though the articles state very matter-of-factly that the demonstration is illegal, this claim is actually incorrect. In many countries, the government has no authority to ban demonstrations, since the constitution enshrines the right to freedom of peaceful assembly as a fundamental human right. As a consequence, what the (local) authorities claim ought to be ignored: They are violating constitutional rights and are overstepping their boundaries by declaring peaceful demonstrations illegal. In fact, their duty is the exact opposite of what they are doing: They are supposed to create conditions under which the assembly can take place safely and peacefully and to facilitate the exercise of everyone's freedoms.
While the courts are a bit more adamant in upholding the right of peaceful assembly, there are never any consequences for those who took the decision to wrongfully deprive people of their right to come together. Even if a protester wins a court case, the public will bear the cost, rather than the guilty decision maker. There is a complete lack of accountability. Regularly, the judges rule that everything that happened was in accordance with the law, a ruling that can only be explained with ignorance of the law or selfish desire not to rock the boat too much, to retain their position and status.
While it is true that demonstrations have a potential to become violent, the reasons to suppress them are almost always political, yet thinly veiled as security concerns. Indeed, we often see that demonstrations only escalate after the protesters were cornered and provoked by the police, often with weapons like batons, rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas - the latter weapon being rightfully banned in warfare. It seems quite ironic that the supposed remedy is the cause of the security concerns, but only if you do not know that this is a deliberate strategy to make make protests seem dangerous and further suppress them. An additional strategy to achieve the same thing is to undermine the demonstration with agent provocateurs, that is, fake protesters who are deliberately trying to derail the protest and make it violent. Depending on the subject matter, there are very powerful interests working against the protesters and these interests don't even shy away from getting people hurt and undermining the constitution. The newspapers are beholden to the same powers, often receiving money from particular interest groups and the government to the point where they cannot survive without it. With the language they use, the so-called journalists perpetuate the mistaken belief that we need government approval to peacefully assemble. Therefore, they actively facilitate and contribute to the hostile and authoritarian behavior of governments by acting as a propaganda vehicle and ignoring their journalistic duties.
You don't have to be Martin Luther King to figure this stuff out. Just participate in one single "illegal" demonstration and witness for yourself the lies of the media, police aggression and generally how government employees make your life miserable as soon as you dare to protest about anything of substance. It's really obvious, they neither hide it, nor are they ashamed of it.
There is no political solution to such constitutional violations. The laws are in place, but they don't work. The courts are in place, but they don't work. Instead of a separation of powers with checks and balances, we can witness first-hand how legislative, executive and judicial branches and the media work together like the horsemen of the apocalypse. The only solution to this problem is cultural, that the people at large do not put up with abuse, turn their attention away from propaganda media and challenge authority. A freedom is only honored and preserved when it is actively exercised. Hence, it is not only the right but the duty of citizens to peacefully demonstrate for causes they care about, especially if the demonstration is unlawfully declared "illegal". Repeat after me: "We do not need permission to protest!"
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