Thursday 14 April 2011

Defining freedom

Charlotte blogged yesterday about the lively discussion in Aladdins Cafe around preserving our civil liberties. She too picked up on the comment, which really struck a chord with me - "most young people don't know what their civil liberties are". And it is so true, I actually had no idea.

So how am I supposed to protect my civil liberties if I don't know what they are? Older generations have witnessed the slow erosion of civil liberties and are, therefore, much more aware of what they have lost, but I just have this nagging feeling that something is wrong and that it didn't used to be like this. I am always a bit wary of harking back to a golden age and I am sure there have been many increases in civil liberties, especially for the historically repressed - women, other ethnicities, those with disabilities, those of other sexual orientations and many more. It isn't perfect now-a-days by any means, but we have moved on from slavery and burning witches.

So I decided that I had better find out what my civil liberties were before I had lost them. Quite a few of them were mentioned in our discussion on Tuesday, but we also decided that it would be a good idea to try and compile a comprehensive list, so I thought I would make a start. I have decided to split them into positive rights to have something and negative rights to have freedom from something, because they have quite different connotations. I am sure I have missed lots out, but this is what I have come up with, with a little help from the internet. Do be aware that they are not all 'official' civil liberties though. Please feel free to point out mistakes and suggest more.

The Right to:
  • Life
  • Liberty and security - subject only to lawful arrest
  • Habeus Corpus -the right to not be held without charge
  • A fair trial
  • Defend one's self
  • Privacy - including your correspondence, personal data and movements
  • Transparency in government and business
  • Freedom of expression (including speech)
  • Freedom of association - to meet together and pursue your common
  • Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
  • Due process - the government etc must abide by the rule of law (American)
  • Petition - the right to appeal/complain to government without fear of retribution
  • Retrospectivity - you cannot be charged for something if it was not recognised as a crime when you committed it
  • Education
  • Vote
  • Elections
  • Free movement - restricted since the enclosures act
  • Live on your own land
  • Choice/ responsibility for own actions - limited by the libel culture and health and safety regulations
  • Healthy air, food and environment
  • Access to nature
The right to freedom from:
  • Torture
  • Slavery and forced labour
  • Discrimination
  • Want
  • Fear
Contested rights:
  • property rights
  • reproductive rights
  • civil marriage
  • to keep and bear arms
Now comes the more disturbing part of working out which of your civil liberties are currently being infringed. Don't worry I'm not going to write a comprehensive list of this, you can think about it yourselves. But there are many insidious ways in which our civil liberties are being infringed without us really realising, for example the heavy handed police control of protests is often an infringement of the right to petition - particularly affecting the 'without fear' part.

Charlotte rightly said that we need to unlearn our indoctrinated obedience to all of the infringements of civil liberties that society has drummed into us. However, as a good middle class girl I have always found this a difficult thing to do. But, hey, if it's not going to hurt anyone (so is morally justifiable) I am sure I can manage a little bit of trespass (after all my Grandma maintains that all field boundaries should be rights of way!) and I can definitely speak out and show my solidarity with those who are putting themselves on the line for the rest of us.

So now I feel that I have a more definite idea of what freedom actually is, I feel ready to become a freedom fighter. Who is going to join me?


  1. Count me in.

  2. Well said, Kerry! So often we have no idea of what we've "got till it's gone" as Joni Mitchell sang all those years ago. Libraries, buses, civil liberties, rainforests, oil!

    And I think it's difficult to imagine these things not being there (particularly when we're not really aware they are in the first place).

    Hence the value of your post.

    Sounds like I missed a great evening at Aladdin's. Thank goodness for the blog!

  3. Great piece Kerry! And ace list.

    As for kettling there was some good news today as it was declared illegal by the High Court in the way it was used in the G20 climate change protests:

  4. Thats great, an important success for civil liberties!

    I want to spread this list far and wide, so everyone knows what they need to fight for.

  5. count me in too!

  6. A much more contentious right is that to use chemical substances to alter your mental or physical processes or endurance - especially as for it to be allowed requires balancing rights and responsibilities..

    I'm 39 but still consider myself young - I agree its true people born since the late 80s/90s don't know what civil liberties are, as Kerry mentions, that many arrived in the 80s/90s and are today taken for granted.

    Even in teenage years I remember how media became less censored. This was more an Achilles heel of Thatcho's govt, a libertarian streak permitted "freedom of expression provided it made a quid or two", there was still then a culture of paying cash for creative content which kept the "yoof media" and "music industry" paying taxes, also a lot of fashion stuff was I think still made here in Blighty rather than manufacture outsourced overseas!

    There's a bigger, bleaker picture though, young folk now have difficulty balancing their *individual* freedoms with *others*' civil liberties.

    For instance they are quite happy to do a "bit of trespass" to hold a rave on someone elses farm, they are less happy to negotiate a sensible closedown time with the rest of the community, or clear up properly afterwards (70% of the trash isn't good enough!)

    Also views of the activities of ethnic minorities with different cultural/faith group values, or at another extreme the LGBT community (or anisn't as "right on" as they once were barely 10-20 years ago, even in seemingly more cosmopolitan areas like Norwich or London. Womens rights are also on the slide, with young teenage females being at particular risk from domestic violence.

    young men in particular are perfectly prepared to fight for what they believe in, the emphasis being on *fight!* EDL (and extremist ISlam) are making strong inroads capturing the hearts and minds of youths in their area, and using the right to protest to create unpleasant stand offs in many towns (as close as Luton) which cost thousands of scarce taxpayers money to deal with.

    I've only lived in Ipswich 5 years and heard enough proveable horror stories to fill a true crime book, not from right wing media but my own peers.

    ITs good that a constabulary 80-140 miles away is discouraged from false imprisonment of peaceful protestors - however problems closer to home might arise - what about a young idealistic girl in somewhere like Fakenham who finds over the years she is prevented from attending a demo in London by her controlling boyfriend (who didn't even come across as a meathead knuckledragger) as he's a bit para from doing too much drugs?

    What about the lads for whom a bit of "direct action" is smashing up a ethnic owned business as they disagree with immigration?

    These issues are way harder to deal with than even the blunt instrument of the constabulary and the bumbling bureaucracies of the UK especially when in London they are under constant media scrutiny..

  7. This is another interesting aspect of civil liberties - freedom of information