So is protesting still worth it these days?

Anti war demonstrators make their way down Piccadilly in central London on their way to the rally in

Anti war demonstrators make their way down Piccadilly in central London on their way to the rally in Hyde Park. - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

To those who have been on strike and attended marches, protests are the only way to get things done - but to others, they are merely disruptive and ineffective. So in a time of polarised views, is protesting worth it?

Incinerator protest in The Walks, King's Lynn.

Incinerator protest in The Walks, King's Lynn. - Credit: IAN BURT

'I learned early that crying out in protest could accomplish things.'

Those famous words from human rights activist Malcolm X still resonate with so many people more than 50 years after his death.

Protests have traditionally been used as a tool by the common, working man to rise up against things they disagree with and it's a fundamental right protected by law.

It has certainly played an integral part of my life.

Anti war protest starting in Chapelfield Gardens and making it's way down St Stephens Street, Norwic

Anti war protest starting in Chapelfield Gardens and making it's way down St Stephens Street, Norwich. <Copy: Steve Downes> <Picture: James Bass>


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As an ethnic minority woman in the white collar profession, I wouldn't be here had it not been for the fight for women's suffrage and for marches against racism during the civil rights movement in the US, when the likes of Enoch Powell stirred hatred towards immigrants in the UK.

Changes in the law have seen women's and ethnic minority rights protected. Some would even argue we now live in a country priding itself in equality.

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So it begs the question - are protests still important today and to what end?

Internationally thousands in Poland opposing the abortion ban and thousands in Romania against changes to anti-corruption legislation have lead to their governments backtracking on their proposals. Protests also spearheaded the Arab Spring in 2010.

Places - B Education - Schools Burston strike school is covered with inscriptions listing those

Places - B Education - Schools Burston strike school is covered with inscriptions listing those who contributed to the school. Dated November 1961 Photograph C3265 B Colton.

Norfolk also has a proud history of protests, with the Burston School Strike in the early 20th century dubbed the longest strike in British history.

In February 2003, millions of people took to the streets all over the world opposing the invasion of Iraq but it did not deter then prime minister Tony Blair.

One of those millions was Julie Bremner, who was chairman of Norwich Stop the War Coalition (StWC) at the time.

She and others arranged 19 coaches from Norwich to join the mass demonstration in London.

Dennis Cross from Diss has spent most of his life collecting postcards depicting scenes from the tow

Dennis Cross from Diss has spent most of his life collecting postcards depicting scenes from the town and surrounding villages. Postcard shows the children from Burston School in their new school during the strike. - Credit: courtesy of Dennis Cross

'People say the march was ignored, but protests are like ripples in a pond formed by a stone, their impact goes beyond the initial splash,' she said.

'Due to the ongoing coverage and scrutiny of actions in Iraq, such as torture and murder, it has meant governments have been less likely to commit ground troops to action, thus saving many lives.'

William Alderson, founding organiser of the StWC group in King's Lynn and Wisbech, believes it defined politics ever since.

He said the concerns of the war felt by millions of people turned out to be true and now the government are forced to listen to public opinion.

'The demonstration exposed the hypocrisy of people who say they support democracy, like Tony Blair who is now saying the population should rise up against Brexit,' he said. 'It has defined people's understanding of how politics works. Without protests there's no visible opposition - if you don't stand up then where is the evidence of what people believe in?'

More recently, protests that have taken place in Norfolk against President Trump's policies have been criticised, with some arguing it will not lead to any outcome.

UEA senior lecturer in Public Protest Law, Dr Michael Hamilton, believes there needs to be a more nuanced understanding of what a successful protest means and how we measure it.

'Tangible outcomes are hard to measure,' he said.

'I'd say on one level it doesn't matter whether the protest is successful. What matters is that people have the right to protest.

'Freedom of assembly does more than get an end result. Regardless of whether the protest may or may not make a difference it sends a message and provides visible presence.

'It tells others there is something more to be considered, that things can be different and can be better.'

To their supporters, protests aren't just about waving placards and chanting. They are part of a movement under the umbrella of activism alongside boycotts, letters to authorities and strikes.

Despite standards of living improving significantly over the decades, we are still dealing with hate crime, unequal pay between men and women, a huge divide between the rich and the poor and refugees fleeing conflict - and many campaigners believe protesting is vital.

'Protest is the lifeblood of a vibrant democracy,' Dr Hamilton added.

Protests in Norfolk - Burston School strike and the King's Lynn incinerator:

The Burston School strike lasted from 1914 to 1939, making it the longest running strike in British history.

Teachers Anne and Tom Higdon were outraged by the poor conditions of the school but were sacked by the school authorities after a dispute.

A school strike followed which was picked up by the wider Labour Movement. The Higdons continued to teach 66 of their 72 former pupils and their own school was built.

Now, the school stands as a museum and a rally is held every year in September in commemoration of the strike.

Secretary to the Burston Strike School Trustees, Shaun Jeffery, said: 'In the face of injustice and exploitation, where people feel that there is restricted democratic accountability and that they are ignored when using more 'passive' means, people turn to protest to realise change.

'And they will continue to do so because protesting can bring about the realisation that they seek; or in other words victory.'

Campaigners who fought against the proposed plans of a waste incinerator at Saddlebow, King's Lynn, celebrated victory after the plans were eventually scrapped in 2014.

Opposition from West Norfolk council, MPs and residents, who were concerned with the detrimental impact the incinerator could cause to health and the environment, led to Norfolk County Council backtracking on the plans.

Secretary of North West Norfolk Constituency Labour Party Jo Rust believes the continued efforts of residents who fought against the plans since 2011 was fundamental in that outcome.

'You cant allow elected officials to do what you're against,' she said.

'If you are in opposition to them then nobody can say you weren't against it.

'I would never have a defeatist attitude, we all have the power to influence change and we can inspire somebody else to do something positive to produce an outcome.'

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