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Comment: Protesting is part of being Mancunian – but respect others

Tony Lloyd

This opinion piece by Tony Lloyd appeared in the Manchester Evening News on on Tuesday 5 August 2014.

No matter what our views are on the Middle East, the only human reaction to what we see nightly on our television screens from Gaza is one of horror.

The news that an aid worker with links to Manchester has died in the conflict brings this even closer to home.

We will all be shocked that someone who went out to the Middle East to make life better for people there has himself become a victim and our sympathies are with his family.

It is inevitable that people here in Greater Manchester want to make their voices heard about what is happening in Gaza.

I strongly believe in the right to protest. Protest, whether it is about a local, national or international issue, has the potential to bring about change and is a fundamental right for each and every one of us in our free and open society.

Protest about international issues, such as the current conflict, sends out distinct messages both at home and abroad. At home, protest demonstrates to government that the public care about something – and expect their elected representatives to take action.

Abroad, it sends a message of empathy and solidarity.

Over the past few weeks we have seen a number of protests in Greater Manchester about the conflict in Gaza.

Most of these have been focused in Manchester city centre, on King Street and Market Street. At the weekend, the protest on King Street spilled over on to Deansgate, blocking the city’s main thoroughfare for a time.

Protest is part of Manchester’s DNA.

 We have never been afraid to stand up and be counted, from the Suffragette and anti-slavery movements in the 19th Century, to the more recent marches against war abroad and unfairness at home.

Protest is a golden thread that runs through the fabric of Manchester. It is part of what it means to be Mancunian and, as a proud Mancunian, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But if protest is to be effective, it must be done in the appropriate way.

We live in a free, open, democratic and tolerant country.

You do not need to break the law in our country to take a stand against injustice. Protest should be lawful, and it should be peaceful.

 And it should be respectful.

When protest sets individual against individual and community against community it oversteps a boundary. There can be no role for either anti-Semitism or Islamophobia in our society.

Protest should also recognise the rights of other people, whether they disagree or are not involved, such as those who are just using the city centre or those who work in its businesses. I have spoken to shop workers on King Street who feel intimidated by the two sides protesting in what many consider to be an aggressive and divisive way.

This cannot be right.

Protest should never be about creating division and fear – that goes against our city’s values and is counter-productive.

So make your point, exercise your right to demonstrate, send that message out. But be lawful, be peaceful and protest with respect. That’s the most effective way of making sure your voice is heard.

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