Every time someone is sentenced for a form of public protest that is disruptive of the perfectly legitimate and peacable activities of others, or, equally, whenever some space that has been occupied by protesting occupiers is cleared by the police, you can be sure you will hear a voice or three from somewhere complaining that this is a move to delegitimize protest. Step forward Nina Power at the Groaniad today. She's responding to the six-month sentence on Trenton Oldfield for having disrupted this year's Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race. The sentence, Power says, is 'clearly designed to deter others from protesting'. Not, you will note, to deter them from disrupting the Boat Race or other harmless public events, or from causing a public nuisance (an offence which she mentions). No, it's the deterrence of protest just as such. Power indeed refers to Oldfield's own argument concerning 'the criminalisation of protest'. She isn't restrained from this by her own later reference in the same piece to 'the public sector workers who will march in their thousands tomorrow against austerity'. Yes, they're marching today, neither deterred nor criminalized; because, as I've argued before, this is all soft-headed stuff. They will be marching in protest, and the right to protest is intact.
What is perhaps interesting about opinion pieces like this one from Nina Power is the model of legitimate protest it by implication endorses. If Trenton Oldfield may, at his own whim, disrupt the Boat Race, may anyone disrupt anything they take a fancy to disrupting? The FA Cup final, the Lord's Test, a concert at the Royal Festival Hall, a meeting of Amnesty International supporters, the quiet of a public library, whatever? Anyone who wants to can interfere with the activities of others, making it difficult or impossible to continue with them? It's plainly not a viable model of harmonious civic coexistence, though such complaints as here voiced by Power are based on the pretence that it is.