The power of protest: People who fought for our rights in 2021

·3-min read
Protesting against the new policing bill (Angela Christofilou)
Protesting against the new policing bill (Angela Christofilou)

While most of last year’s protests took place online because of the pandemic, in the summer of 2020, people took to the streets to protest against police brutality and systemic racism. Following in these footsteps, 2021 has seen many powerful protests in the capital, with thousands marching and using their voices to stand up for their rights, raising awareness over growing social and environmental crimes and injustices, and protesting against all forms of discrimination.

Protest is a human right, a right to assembly and freedom of expression. And this year we marched to protect this right after it came under threat with the new Police Courts Sentencing and Crime Bill.

Most of the rights and freedoms we enjoy today would not be possible without past protests and demonstrations (Angela Christofilou)
Most of the rights and freedoms we enjoy today would not be possible without past protests and demonstrations (Angela Christofilou)

The bill has progressed to the House of Lords, where it is currently being debated. Among the list of new amendments are proposals to expand stop and search police powers for protests, banning protests that are deemed “too noisy” and banning protesters from attaching themselves to an object or to land; those found guilty face up to 51 weeks imprisonment.

Protest in London in May against the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill (Angela Christofilou)
Protest in London in May against the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill (Angela Christofilou)

The bill first came to wider attention after the heavy-handed policing of a peaceful vigil in memory of Sarah Everard, who was kidnapped and murdered in Clapham by a police officer. Months after her murder, another woman, Sabina Nessa, was killed as she walked to a bar near her flat in Kidbrooke, southeast London.

Protests and marches took place all over the UK, including ones organised by feminist groups such as Sisters Uncut, The 97 March, Reclaim the Night, among others, which campaigned throughout the year against gender-based violence and police brutality.

Protests were sparked across the UK against gender-based violence after the murder of Sarah Everard (Angela Christofilou)
Protests were sparked across the UK against gender-based violence after the murder of Sarah Everard (Angela Christofilou)
The 97 March protesters gather in London to protest against misogyny, male violence and street harassment (Angela Christofilou)
The 97 March protesters gather in London to protest against misogyny, male violence and street harassment (Angela Christofilou)
Thousands join the ‘Reclaim the Night’ in London to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on 25 November (Angela Christofilou)
Thousands join the ‘Reclaim the Night’ in London to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on 25 November (Angela Christofilou)
Women mobilised across the country to protest after the murder of Sarah Everard (Angela Christofilou)
Women mobilised across the country to protest after the murder of Sarah Everard (Angela Christofilou)

Climate change protests also returned to the streets this year, leading up to the biggest protest during the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, which called on governments to take immediate action on the climate crisis. NHS staff and nurses also demonstrated for more action, holding placards such as “Climate crisis is also a Health crisis” in addition to protesting for pay justice and patient safety.

Thousands gathered in London, as well as Glasgow, to demand urgent climate action during Cop26 (Angela Christofilou)
Thousands gathered in London, as well as Glasgow, to demand urgent climate action during Cop26 (Angela Christofilou)
Protesters in Trafalgar Square on 6 November to demand action from world leaders to combat the climate crisis (Angela Christofilou)
Protesters in Trafalgar Square on 6 November to demand action from world leaders to combat the climate crisis (Angela Christofilou)
Nurses march to Downing Street in protest at an ‘underwhelming’ pay deal on the 73rd anniversary of the founding of the NHS (Angela Christofilou)
Nurses march to Downing Street in protest at an ‘underwhelming’ pay deal on the 73rd anniversary of the founding of the NHS (Angela Christofilou)
Action took place across the UK to demand patient safety and an end to the privatisation of the NHS (Angela Christofilou)
Action took place across the UK to demand patient safety and an end to the privatisation of the NHS (Angela Christofilou)

In June, London welcomed back Trans Pride, a day to celebrate the trans community, to highlight injustices and discrimination against trans people and to remember those lost due to transphobia. In East London, the second Queer Night Pride also took place in the summer, in response to hate crimes against the queer community.

A protester holds a placard at London Trans Pride in June (Angela Christofilou)
A protester holds a placard at London Trans Pride in June (Angela Christofilou)
Trans Pride in London is a day to celebrate trans lives and protest against transphobia, discrimination and hate crimes against the trans community (Angela Christofilou)
Trans Pride in London is a day to celebrate trans lives and protest against transphobia, discrimination and hate crimes against the trans community (Angela Christofilou)
The second Queer Night Pride took place in East London on 29 August. Protesters marched up Kingsland Road in response to hate crimes against the queer community (Angela Christofilou)
The second Queer Night Pride took place in East London on 29 August. Protesters marched up Kingsland Road in response to hate crimes against the queer community (Angela Christofilou)
Protesters at the second Queer Night Pride marching to Gillett Square in East London (Angela Christofilou)
Protesters at the second Queer Night Pride marching to Gillett Square in East London (Angela Christofilou)

Many powerful protests were organised to stand in solidarity with the people of other countries including Palestine, where people were calling for an urgent resolution to the violence in Gaza. On 28 August, people took to the streets of London, standing for peace and human rights in Afghanistan, and in solidarity against the Taliban takeover.

Thousands came together in London, joining international protests against the Taliban takeover (Angela Christofilou)
Thousands came together in London, joining international protests against the Taliban takeover (Angela Christofilou)
People show solidarity with Afghan people living under Taliban rule (Angela Christofilou)
People show solidarity with Afghan people living under Taliban rule (Angela Christofilou)

We have achieved so much with protest as a society; some of the freedoms we enjoy today are a result of years of resistance and direct action. The images featured here are a selection of photos of some of the powerful moments of these actions that I was able to capture this year in the capital.

The climate crisis is not just about the environment: it’s a health and humanitarian crisis (Angela Christofilou)
The climate crisis is not just about the environment: it’s a health and humanitarian crisis (Angela Christofilou)
March against police brutality, the new PCSC bill, and male violence against women, London 2021 (Angela Christofilou)
March against police brutality, the new PCSC bill, and male violence against women, London 2021 (Angela Christofilou)
A protester holds a placard at the ‘Reclaim the Night’ march in London this year demanding an end to male violence (Angela Christofilou)
A protester holds a placard at the ‘Reclaim the Night’ march in London this year demanding an end to male violence (Angela Christofilou)

I have been documenting protests in London for six years and building an archive of photography, which is being held at the Bishopsgate Institute, with the hope that this body of work may inform and inspire future generations to fight for positive change. I have been thinking about how the new police and crime bill may also affect photography and our ability to document history on the streets as it happens, freely. Will we be able to capture, document and share powerful images such as these, that raise awareness of injustices, the same way we have done until now and if so, at what cost?

Photographs can inform and inspire future generations to fight for positive change (Angela Christofilou)
Photographs can inform and inspire future generations to fight for positive change (Angela Christofilou)

For more of Angela Christofilou’s work you can visit her website here

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