The Peace Plinths
The Peace Plinths were built by peace campaigner, Maria Gallastegui in response to SOCPA (the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005), and as a call for peace after years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan and looming conflict with Iran. SOCPA enforced controversial restrictions on protests in the vicinity of Parliament, including banning demonstrations that were not authorised by the police.
Additional legislation passed in 2011 led to the removal of the Peace Plinths from Parliament Square earlier this year. On 3 May, after a high court battle to overturn the legislation, the police seized the remaining Peace Plinth – an action that got considerable media attention.
Maria began protesting 24/7 opposite the Houses of Parliament with her campaign Peace Strike in 2006. Although SOCPA was intended to remove or severely inhibit long-term protest around Parliament, notably Brian Haw’s protest which began in 2001 against sanctions and war on Iraq, the legislation actually permitted protestors to remain if they got police authorisation and complied with the conditions put in place by the police.
Maria’s response to the SOCPA restrictions was one of a number of peaceful and creative challenges on the streets of Westminster that would lead to the discrediting of the law. She built the first Peace Plinth, ‘The Westminster Cabinet’ to fit within the dimensions that SOCPA stipulated was the maximum area any protest could take up – 3 x 3 x 1 metre. ‘The Westminster Cabinet’ refers to its door, a replica of 10 Downing Street. Since 2006, Maria has delivered an estimated 3000 petitions to the door of the real No.10. Using the SOCPA legislation, she was also able to get permission to stage demonstrations directly outside, reclaiming the space for public use since its closure in the 1980s. She undertook hundreds of one-person protests opposite the door of No. 10 during Cabinet meetings.
‘The Tardis Peace Box’ was then built, with reclaimed wood from the streets of Westminster, its door replicating the door of Doctor Who’s Tardis police box. The box was used by Maria as a base from which to campaign within the city’s centre. Its Tardis qualities continue inside with the small space containing seating, much storage and a kitchen area.
Working with Art Below, Maria used the plinths to provide a powerful platform from which to exhibit art with the message of ending war in the heart of London’s political centre. Located opposite Parliament, one of the busiest parts of London and the centre of elected power in the UK, those attending numerous state events, including the Royal Wedding, would have encountered them. The protests that took place around the plinths were recorded, and often assisted, by Maria, from the massive Tamil demonstrations of the summer of 2009 to Democracy Village which struck up opposite Parliament in 2010.
In February 2011 the artist Schoony, whose sculpture ‘Boy Soldier’ was shown on the Peace Plinth, said, “My nephew is aged seven in this art piece; the age of some of our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq as they would have been 10 years ago. It is a future I do not want for my nephew.”
In 2011, the controversial SOCPA legislation banning unauthorised protest in the vicinity of Parliament was finally repealed and a new law was put in its place – the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act. PRASRA prohibits any kind of equipment in the area around Parliament that can sustain long-term protest, as well as any kind of amplification equipment that demonstrations use and need.
In December 2011, Maria obtained an injunction against the removal of the Peace Plinths under the new law. On 3 May, after a 2 day high court battle to overturn the legislation, the police immediately reacted by removing the remaining Peace Plinth – an action that got considerable media attention. One plinth had already been removed voluntarily and been exhibited in Los Angeles.
Maria and her lawyers go to the Court of Appeal later this year to continue to challenge the new restrictions on protest and, if necessary, will contest them in the European Court of Human Rights
Police set to evict last Parliament Square peace protester, Evening Standard
Final Parliament Square war protester’s tent is removed by police after six-year vigil as High Court lifts injunction, Daily Mail
Police remove iconic ‘Peace Box’ from Parliament Square – London, Demotix
Parliament Square being cleared for state opening, Indymedia