Over at Al Jazeera America, Willie Osterweil points to a slew of laws being passed around the world that, in one way or another, severely curtail or prohibit public demonstrations — the bedrock of every true democracy. Among the culprits just over the past three years are Canada (namely Quebec), Spain, Turkey, France, Australia, Egypt, Ukraine, Russia, and the United States. (The list is by no means exhaustive.)
While each country’s approach is slightly different as far as parameters, penalties, and other finer legal details, they all have in common the potential to severely frustrate, if not preempt, the fundamental right to peaceful public assembly (enshrined in almost every democratic country’s constitution and in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
As to why this has become something of a trend in recent years, Osterweil posits this explanation:
The appearance of anti-protest laws in so many countries reveals a general trend in the way governments envision the future. As the state’s utter failure to assist those most hurt by the ongoing economic crisis becomes impossible to ignore, and as even the recovery from crisis proves to be hollow for most people, protests and riots are spreading worldwide with no sign of slowing down. The politicians and the governments have made their choice: stability and continuity, by any means necessary.
These new laws suggest that the ruling elites are preparing themselves for protracted conflict. Rather than genuflect before the idols of democratic freedoms — or, God forbid, actually attempt to alleviate such widespread social problems as inequality, racist violence and ecological collapse — governments are giving themselves new weapons to crush those who demand change. But once non-violent marches are punished just as harshly as rioting, will protesters stick to passive demonstration? Or will they take the streets with more radical ideas about what’s required to win justice?
It makes sense that as social movements of all kinds take on a more globalized context — consider the examples of labor and indigenous rights — so too will the efforts to suppress them.