National community union ACORN, who help people fight for a better quality of life, held a country wide day of action against the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts (PCSC) Bill. ACORN members gathered on Saturday at Emmeline Pankhurst’s statue in St Peters Square, and marched along to Andy Burnham’s office on Oxford Road to demand his vocal opposition to the bill. The protest finished in All Saints Park.
ACORN used their platform to not only make a noise in the city centre about the controversial PCSC BIll but to give their members a chance to speak about why protest is important to them. ACORN member, Yulia Trot started the march with a passionate speech about how the PCSC Bill was “dangerous and undemocratic” and the negative effects it will have on our society. She spoke about how our everyday lives have been positively changed with previous protests, listing the: “five-day working weeks, the rights of the workplace, votes for women” and raising the fact that protest had created greater equality for the LGBTQ community.
Twenty-Five branches of ACORN across the country took part in “kill the bill” rallies on Saturday 8 May. In Manchester, which has its own ACORN branch, campaigners stood lined up in front of Burnham’s office while chanting “this is what democracy looks like.” They carried with them a paper chain that had the full PCSC Bill printed on it. They then ripped up the paper chain bill, showing exactly what they thought of it.
“This bill is an attack on our democratic right to protest and it’s an attack on our communities. We ask Andy [Burnham] to come and oppose it with everything he’s got…”, said Rosie Coan, ACORN member.
The ACORN members that marched on Saturday worked together as a team in an organised way. Making sure the litter created by tearing up the chain was picked up and they were polite and friendly to passers-by. The march was entirely peaceful.
If passed, the PCSC bill will grant police the power to criminalise “noisy” or “annoying” protest. The bill has been described by human rights group Liberty as “a concerted attack on the right to protest”. Liberty also states that the bill criminalises the way of life of Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities, measures that are “discriminatory, potentially unlawful, and not even wanted by the police”, as reported on previously by The Meteor.
Labour MP for Salford and Eccles, Rebecca Long-Bailey, who was billed as a speaker at the ACORN demonstration ,was unable to attend Saturday’s march and issued a statement:
“The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (PCSC) is one of the most pernicious pieces of legislation I have seen in my lifetime. It will have a chilling effect on democracy and represents a slide into authoritarianism I never thought I would ever see in the UK. It must be stopped…I pledge to do everything in my power to oppose the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill.”
Association of Community Organisations for Reform Now, is the expanded version of the ACORN acronym. The community organisations website states their, “idea is simple but ambitious – to build a national community organisation along the lines of a trade union: organising our communities and fighting for a better quality of life.”
ACORN is doing everything within its power to oppose the PCSC bill. The organisation relies on protest and direct action to pursue its aims and with the curbs on freedom of expression and assembly inherent in the bill, they fear their ability to help their members will be severely curtailed.
“We’ll be disruptive and always be annoying and loud. This is how we will win.” Trot said to the cheering crowd.
Starting as a small community-based organisation in Bristol fighting slum housing in 2014, ACORN have since then grown nationally and now have over 5000 members. The Manchester branch of ACORN opened in 2017 and is going strong with 800 members.
New ACORN member Liz Clay said, “I think that a level of direct action is always necessary. I’m of the more left-leaning side of the Labour party but I’m struggling with that at the moment.”
In recent months ACORN have had some real success stories with its campaigns. They were active in the campaign to get Greater Manchester buses back under public control. Another recent victory for ACORN was the “Fight Against Fuel Poverty” campaign at Park Hill flats in Sheffield. The Grade II social housing complex was taken over and regenerated by Urban Splash in 2007. With ACORN’s help, tenants campaigned for fairer prices on their heating bills. A protest took place in lockdown with the occupiers banging drums, pans and washing baskets on their balcony’s. Within a few days, Urban Splash agreed to lower the heating prices to a more reasonable level.
It’s not all about campaigning for ACORN. They try and get to the heart of the community’s problems. “A lot of what we do is door knocking and asking people what their issues are” said ACORN member Xav Cohen. By doing this the team found a street in Levenshulme that was being used as a racetrack by the local boy racers. A quiet suburban family street with a Special Education School at one end, the residents felt at a loss. ACORN has bought them together to help them organise and deal with their concerns.
Protests or direct actions are a big part of what ACORN do. When an action has been scheduled the team contact local members to see if they are interested and available to join the march. They then set up a WhatsApp group to keep the members up to date on any changes or concerns. They use the communication to share photos or any other issues that were raised on the day. Helen Stott, ACORN member, said:
“If I have a problem, and I need ACORN then I know they’ll have my back because I’ve had other people’s back. We need to make sure there are enough people to come along to actions.”