LETTER: How to protest in a democratic society

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Sir: Both Jim Thomas and Clive Lord (Letters, 2 January) miss the point about Special Branch's surveillance of green protest groups. Protest in a democracy is a means to influence opinion, ultimately through the ballot box. Within electoral cycles , decision making is on behalf of a democratic majority, whether the rest of us like it or not. The nature of protest escalates when it physically obstructs decisions democratically made. Protest is about one group imposing its will on the rest, whether or nota majority is represented.

In such circumstances, when protest turns to obstruction it is a matter that should worry all of us, not just Special Branch. It is from such roots that the violence of intolerance has always grown as minorities feel oppressed. But, in democracies, minorities have to depend upon the persuasion of argument or accept they remain minorities. It may be a weakness of democracy but the alternatives are dictatorship or anarchic protest, both of which are fascist in tendency.

The green revolution is, happily, slowly winning the argument. If the pace is not quick enough or the case not strong enough, the broad banner of international environmental concern will not be helped by obstructive physical intervention. And there certainly remain ways for both minority and majority opinion to move decision-making minds between elections through the legitimate protest of persuasion based on informed opinion.

Yours sincerely, MERVYN BENFORD Shutford, Oxfordshire 2 January

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