Is This “Civil”?

Naturally, not everyone was happy about Saturday’s coronation. Some arrests of protesters were made, and there were quickly assertions in response that the police were “unfair” in detaining anyone. As one defending the protests was also quoted by the BBC:

“We should all be very worried about the impact this will have on our right to make our voices heard on the issues that matter to us.”

We have also been hearing that “suppressing” their “voices” was almost “totalitarian.”

There were about 60 reported arrests in total (and only 4 have so far led to charges). They seemed to have been at least in part due to police looking to enforce what has been recently made an offense in attempting to stop the likes of chaining oneself to a fence or gluing oneself to a road or to a painting in an art gallery, etc.; and it is possible police may have not been familiar enough with the new law and/or did not interpret it properly. There are also broader debates about that law itself, especially claims that criminalizing such behavior is endangering the “right” to “peacefully protest.”

This is a blog post. It does not pretend to be an exhaustive inquiry. Just putting on my old poli sci lecturer cap briefly for a moment.

Is “peaceful protest” really synonymous with behaviors that are disruptive? The concept of “peaceful protest” is closely related to “civil disobedience,” which is rooted in a willingness (even eagerness) to risk arrest in order to seek to highlight injustice and foster change mostly because you have no other non-violent outlet truly to make your political voice heard. In 1960, a group of Black Americans, for example, then with no political representation worthy of the expression, took turns sitting for months at a whites-only lunch counter in North Carolina to make the point that they were merely customers like everyone else seeking service… and in doing that *behaved* as other customers did. They did NOT rush in and glue themselves to the counter and/or shout at the staff and others – which while in the immediate sense non-violent are plainly disruptive and aggressive *behaviors* that would have given police ample cause to have arrested them – because such behaviors are not, well, “civil.”

Fast forward to 2023 and across an ocean.

Every British citizen age 18 or older has a vote and may use it. None are without a “voice.” They all have representation in the national government through their elected member of parliament (MP).

If they want a republic, they may write to that democratically-elected MP and make it plain they want the monarchy abolished. However, currently it appears most of that MP’s other constituents (perhaps nearly all, depending on the constituency) do not support abolishing the hereditary symbolic monarch as British chief of state, and many even like the institution quite a lot. Such a reality places the letter writer in the definite voting minority, which makes it highly unlikely the MP will be too receptive to the letter writer’s wish.

Failing there, that letter writer along with others of similar mind may choose instead to utilize their own “republican” (and hopefully from their perspective eventually major) political party and seek to win over the hearts and minds of the bulk of the population content (as “voiced” through their elected MPs) now with the monarchy (the monarchy exists by now only because most voters either like it or are indifferent). When that “republican” party wins a parliamentary majority, it would form a Government and could abolish the monarchy. Obviously, given the state of public opinion currently, trying to do that will also require a massive campaigning effort and may never achieve its goal.

[Photo by Element5 Digital on]

It is lots easier to turn up and uncivilly seek to create a minor ruckus.

…Or worse?

Unfortunately, as we all also know it takes only one especially “passionate” person with an unseen firearm to in an instant move a “ruckus” into something deadly, and that is why peaceful protesters maintaining a respectful decorum and visible civility are vital as the means to communicate to all the rest of us of their peaceful intentions. Not applauding, turning your back on the public figure, lowering one’s head, and remaining silent as he passes feet away behind you in the street is maybe a reasonable example of a “peaceful” protest. On the other hand, straining to see him, shouting about your dislike for him, and shaking a fist his way when he is just feet away, might well (unsurprisingly, really, if we think about it) lead you to be grabbed by (nervous?) police if only as a precaution.

Because we can never fully know who is just making noise and who is a physical danger. No one out here is a mind-reader. For instance, one John Wilkes Booth, who as a celebrity was granted easy access to Ford’s Theatre and might well have been admitted to President Lincoln’s box by the police guard (had the guard been outside) because of that fame, was “peaceful” and no obvious threat to the president’s life… until he squeezed the trigger.


    • Being arrested was the best thing that could have happened, yet it probably did not help their cause because, to be honest, they are not trying to make a reasoned appeal. They are just heckling and stamping their feet. A serious organization needs to win over the mass of the public to a major governing change, and what they did at the coronation isn’t going to do so.


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