Public show of support for, or opposition to, a particular political or social issue, typically by a group of people holding a rally, displaying placards, and making speeches. They usually seek some change in official policy by drawing attention to their cause with a media-worthy event.
Demonstrations can be static or take the form of elementary street theatre or processions. A specialized type of demonstration is the picket, in which striking or dismissed workers try to dissuade others from using or working in the premises of the employer.
In England, the Peasants' Revolt 1381 began as a demonstration against the poll tax. A later instance of violent suppression of demonstrators was the Peterloo massacre 1819. The hunger marches organized in the 1920s and 1930s were a reaction to the Depression.
Official response to demonstrations was first codified by the Public Order Act 1936. This was provoked by the Cable Street riot of that year, when an anti-Jewish march through E London by Oswald Mosley and 2,500 of his Blackshirts gave rise to violent clashes. Later demonstrations include the nonstop anti-apartheid presence in front of South Africa House in London April 1986-Feb 1990; the women's peace camp at Greenham Common; the picketing of the News International complex in Wapping, E London, by print workers 1986; and the anti-poll-tax demonstrations in Trafalgar Square, London, March 1990.
The Public Order Act 1986 gave police extensive new powers to restrict demonstrations and pickets. It requires those organizing a demonstration to give seven days' notice to the police and gives the police the power to say where demonstrators should stand, how long they can stay, and in what numbers, if they believe the protest could cause ‘serious disruption to the life of the community’ (traffic and shoppers) even though no disorder is anticipated.
Penalties for disobeying a police officer's instruction are three months' imprisonment for organizers and a heavy fine for followers. Police power to ban processions that they believe might result in serious public disorder has been used with increasing frequency in recent years (11 banning orders 1970-80 and 75 orders 1981-85).
During the 1990s resort to ‘direct actions’ through demonstrations has spread to include environmentalists, for example protesting against housing developments, rubbish dumps, new road-building, notably the Newbury bypass, and extension of Manchester airport; and animal welfar groups, protesting against fox-hunting and grouse-shooting. In March 1998 an estimated 280,000 attended a Countryside March on London in protest against the new Labour government's policies affecting rural areas. Unusuallly, the majority of these demonstrators were drawn from the conservative middle-class.
We're sorry this article wasn't helpful. Tell us how we can improve.