Saturday, July 28, 2007

It could be worse

Last week I finished reading a book I would recommend to others: From the Palmer Raids to the PATRIOT Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America by Christopher Finan. While reading it, I kept thinking about our current plight of "free speech zones," blocking and criminalization of dissent, and police misconduct and thinking to myself "It could be worse. In fact, it has been worse." The fact that it's not worse than it is, is largely due to that history of protest, lawsuit, and defiance.

But could it get worse? Damn straight it could. And for some in the UK it might, and soon. This lengthy quote is from The Independent (UK) for Friday.
Five million people in peaceful environmental organisations such as the National Trust and the RSPB [Royal Society for the Protection of Birds] have become the subject of an extraordinary legal attempt to limit their right to protest.

In legal documents seen by The Independent, the British Airports Authority has begun moves that would allow police to arrest members of 15 environmental groups to prevent them taking part in demonstrations against airport expansion. ...

Next week, in response to a demonstration due to be held outside Heathrow airport, BAA will go to the High Court to seek judicial approval for an anti-environmentalist injunction, the terms of which are so wide they have provoked astonishment among the green movement. Any one of five million people in groups such as the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England could be arrested for travelling on the London Underground or possessing a kite.

Anyone failing to give 24 hours' notice of a protest could be arrested for travelling on sections of the motorway or from standing on platforms 6 and 7 at Paddington station to catch the Heathrow Express. ...

BAA insisted it had a duty to protect the travelling public from disruption during the holiday season and was not seeking to prevent legal protest. As part of the second annual Camp for Climate Action, up to 5,000 protesters were to pitch tents for a week at or near Heathrow from 14 August in protest at plans for a third runway that would increase flights by 50 per cent. A day of peaceful direct action, such as occupying an airline office, was planned but organisers have promised not to compromise safety or inconvenience passengers.
Of course, just what constitutes a "legal protest" is left rather vague while the restrictions are clear, a rather standard method of intimidating protest: Declaring loudly you can't do this that or the other while making it equally clear there could be other ways to get in legal trouble about which you won't be told until you do it.
The protesters would be allowed to gather at three protest points on the outskirts of the airport providing they did not exceed an as yet unspecified number, and gave their names, car registration plates and advance notice. They would not be allowed to use any megaphones, klaxons or sirens or go within 100 metres of any airport operation. [Emphasis added.]
Injunctions served Monday on four protest leaders representing groups ranging from the No Third Runway Action Group to Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth - totaling more than five million members - would ban all members of all the groups
from setting up a camp at or in the vicinity of Heathrow and from carrying items including spades, saws, ropes, cables, aerosol cans, balloons, whistles and loudhailers [i.e., bullhorns].
In short, if the injunction gets approved, they can't demonstrate except in some small, ineffective way officials deign to allow and they can be arrested not even for demonstrating but just for being on their way to a demonstration. So yes, indeed, it could be worse.

By the way, the protests are against the plans to expand Heathrow with a third runway and increased use of the other two, raising the limit on flights per year from 480,000 to 800,000. Towns concerned about noise and villagers who would see their homes demolished by the expansion have joined with environmentalists concerned about the global warming implications of the plans to expand airports across the country.
The Government argues airport expansion is necessary to ensure continued economic growth. According to a study by Oxford Economic Forecasting last month, the planned airport expansion will increase GDP by £13bn by 2030, outweighing "climate change costs".
It would be interesting to know just how that outfit calculated "climate change costs" and just what was included within it. And whether or not the "costs" to other nations of greenhouse gases produced in or by the UK were taken into account. And if Oxford Economic Forecasting or the BAA ever asked themselves what is the logical or ethical foundation for making the future of the climate just another market commodity to be balanced against the potential for someone's economic benefit.

Actually, never mind on that last one. I expect I already know the answer.

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