Like everyone, I’m shocked and horrified by the tragic events unfolding in Japan. I have a deeply ingrained fear of earthquakes having grown up on the San Andreas fault, but the triple whammy of an unimaginably massive earthquake, a devastating tsunami and a nuclear nightmare is beyond anything even I have ever imagined.
The news that 60,000 people participated in a peaceful anti-nuclear demonstration in Germany on Saturday was the only bright spot in an otherwise dismal weekend. It filled me with hope — an important reaffirmation that the spirit of peaceful protest, which was the keystone of the anti-nuclear movement of the 1980s is alive and well. And even better, there were no pre-emptive mass arrests.
This isn’t something I take for granted these days. Just last week, I participated in a high-level workshop in Copenhagen involving activists, human rights lawyers, police and government representatives exploring the question of whether in our post-911 world, tolerance for public dissent has narrowed.
My presentation focused on the tcktcktck campaign’s experience in the run-up to the 100,000-person climate march in Copenhagen on December 12, 2009 where nearly 1,000 people were arrested, most of whom merely for exercising their right to participate in a peaceful march. Police in cities all over the world use the practice of “kettling” — cordoning off and arresting large groups of demonstrators — as a means of removing a handful of violent (or even potentially-violent) individuals.
The Copenhagen City Court ruled in December 2010 that these mass arrests were illegal, citing their violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, but the case is under appeal.
One speaker pointed out that since the September 11 attacks, there has been an increased focus on prevention. It began with terrorism but there has been a chain reaction extending from organized crime all the way down to more petty criminal activities, apparently including window-breaking at mass demonstrations. But others pointed out that any clampdown on peaceful channels of protest only leads to frustration, increasing rather than diminishing the likelihood of violence.
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