Index on Censorship magazine celebrated the launch of its winter 2017 magazine at the Bishopsgate Institute in London with an evening exploring the legacies of iconic protests from 1918 and 1968 to the modern day and reflecting on how today, more than ever, our right to protest is under threat.
Speakers for the evening included human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, Bishopsgate Institute special collections and archives manager Stefan Dickers and artist Patrick Bullock.
Tatchell discussed the importance of protest for any democracy and the significant anniversaries of protests in 2018 throughout his speech. “This year is a very special year, a very historic year, I think that those protests remind us that protest is vital to democracy,” he said. “It is a litmus test of democracy, it is a litmus of a healthy democracy. Democracies that don’t have protest, there is a problem, in fact, you might even say they aren’t true democracies.”
“With 1968 came the birth of the women’s liberation movement, the mass protests in Czechoslovakia against Russian occupation, and, of course, the huge protests against the American war in Vietnam,” Tatchell added. “Those protests all remind us that protest is vital to democracy.”
This year also marks the centenary of the right to vote for women in Britain. Dickers showcased artefacts the Bishopsgate Institute’s collection of protest memorabilia, including sashes worn by the Suffragettes and tea sets women were given upon leaving prison for activities related to their activism.
Attendees included actor Simon Callow, who stressed the importance of protest and freedom of expression: in an interview at the event with Index on Censorship. “There are all sorts of things that people find inconvenient and uncomfortable to themselves, that they don’t wish to hear, but that’s not the point,” he said. “The point is that if some people feel very strongly that certain things are wrong, then they must be allowed to say something.”
Eastenders actress Ann Mitchell, who also attended the event, said: “There is no question in my opinion, that the darkness in the world at the moment must be protested against. All the advantages we have won as women, as ethnic minorities, are being destroyed, they are being wiped out. Unless we hear voices of protests for that, that will continue.”
The night concluded with a performance by protest choir Raised Voices.