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The Kill the Bill protests should be a wake-up call

As the government tries to restrict our right to protest, we must remember what protest is and why it's important – in Sheffield and everywhere.

Kill the bill march sat 17th april 2021
John Kennedy

There is power in a collective. The police understand this very well. It’s why everywhere they go, they strut.

They know there’s plenty of other cops who’ll stand by them when they harass minorities, infiltrate peoples' lives or attack protestors unprovoked, and a government and right-wing media that’ll spin anything they do to make their victims look like the aggressors. The police are allowed to use violence on us, but if we fight back, we’re ‘rioters’, ‘extremists’ or – if you’re black – ‘thugs’.

Cop shows have convinced us that the police are brave heroes fighting against the scum of the Earth, when in reality they fail to solve the majority of crimes and use tactics like 'stop and search' disproportionately on minorities. And yet, they turn out in force whenever there’s a protest or a strike. The reality is, that’s what they’re really for.

If you’re unaware, Kill the Bill is a movement against a new bill that will allow the police to break up any protest they decide is ‘disruptive’.

It's a response to recent Black Lives Matter and climate protests from a government that wants to be seen to be on the right side of environmentalism and race issues and finds it very inconvenient when activists come out in force to point out that they're not. It’s just another part of a broader drive to bring culture wars into British politics.

On Saturday I joined the Kill the Bill march in Sheffield, because I’ve never seen a single protest that was effective without being disruptive. Most of the other people there were students, along with British leftwing and anarchist groups, anti-racist protestors and Extinction Rebellion (XR).

As a rule, I’m nervous around others. I’ve spent the past year in almost complete isolation, to the point where I’ve forgotten how to talk to people. But by the end of this protest, I was chanting as loud as anyone else, holding my sign as high. Being a part of a collective transforms you.

The chant is the key. That’s what turns a protest from just a group of people into a force.

We gathered on Devonshire Green, where I sat next to some students joking about how they were all going to die here. Then a man stepped forward and started a chant.

I joined in without even realising. Softly at first, but each time a little louder. My voice joined a hundred others and, bit by bit, I stopped being a single voice altogether and became part of a chorus, something bigger than myself. It makes you confident, fills you up with energy, and that’s what marches like this thrive on.

We marched through the city centre, chanting and singing. It was peaceful, everyone was wearing a mask, and whenever we passed by someone busking or begging, everyone stopped to give them money.

And yes, it was disruptive. We were marching along the tram lines so buses and trams had to stop while we passed. But that’s the point – to force people to confront what’s going on. Many people like to pretend that protests are an unnecessary disturbance, that everything’s fine. It’s easy for some to believe that when they feel the issue doesn’t affect them.

We finally dispersed in front of the Town Hall and I walked home with the sign slung over my shoulder. People stopped me to ask about what we were doing. I told them and gave them a flier for the Students Before Profit rally someone had handed me (2pm on 25 April in Weston Park, by the duck pond).

I never normally talk to people on the street, but for the first time in my life I felt part of something bigger than myself, part of something powerful. I felt like we really could change something.

That’s why they want to take it away – and that’s why we can’t let them.

Learn more

The next Kill the Bill march is on 1 May, 1pm on Devonshire Green.

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