The past few years has seen an intense upswing in protest movements across the world.

The escalating climate crisis has brought about the growth of groups like Extinction Rebellion, while the harrowing murders of George Floyd and Sarah Everard sparked renewed demands for police accountability, racial justice and gender equality.

The UK government has responded with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – legislation that will place hard limits on where, when, and how people in England and Wales can make their voices heard, introducing prison terms for “locking on” and strict banning orders that could see protestors stopped from associating with certain friends.

As the Bill nears its final stages, here are four iconic Welsh protests that may not have been possible had these laws been in place.

Cardiff train and bus accessibility protests, 1995

As recently as 1990, public transport was so inaccessible to physically disabled people that they had to provide several days’ notice if they wanted to ride a train. Buses presented similarly extreme challenges.

Attempts to get even the most basic legal protections for disabled people were repeatedly blocked – fourteen times between the 1980s and mid-nineties – and in 1994, the then-Minister for Disabled People under John Major, Sir Nicholas Scott, was forced to resign after he was found to have authorised “wrecking amendments” to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill.

A year previously, frustrated with the more conservative, incremental approach taken by established disability organisations like Radar (now called Disability Rights UK), activists formed the Disabled Persons Direct Action Network (DAN).

With slogans like “P*ss on Pity” and “Rights not Charity”, DAN members were clear that their disabilities weren’t the problem – inadequately designed laws, facilities and services were.

 

Demanding all public transport be made fully accessible within 15 years, they began staging a series of protests around the UK, and in March 1995, DAN members handcuffed themselves to trains at Cardiff’s Queen Street station and lay down in front of buses.

In one video taken at the protest, a police officer tells an activist: “You caused an obstruction – other people were delayed, other people were inconvenienced.”

“I’m inconvenienced every day of my life,” she responds defiantly.

Protest rights may be restricted under new UK legislation (Photo source: Huw Evans Agency)Trains were disrupted at Cardiff Queen Street Station (Source: Matt Buck)

That same year, the Disability Discrimination Act was passed. The Act was criticised for its limited scope, and further legal protections relating to housing and employment came in 1999 and 2005, followed by the Equality Act 2010.

Disabled people still face significant challenges on public transport, however. A 2018 survey found that a quarter of disabled people don’t use services because of negative attitudes from other passengers, and just under half faced regular difficulties when travelling by train.

Greenham Common Peace Camp, 1981-2000

Following the elections of Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan in 1979 and 1980 – along with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan - Cold War tensions reached heights not seen since the sixties.

Hoping to economically exhaust the Soviet Union by goading it into an escalating race for military superiority, the US President poured money into increasing his country’s nuclear weapons stock.

Protest rights may be restricted under new UK legislation (Photo source: Huw Evans Agency)A disused missile silo at RAF Greenham Common, 2006 (Source: User Donna, Flickr)

In 1980, RAF Greenham Common was selected as one of two British bases to be used for US nuclear cruise missiles. That same year saw the publication of Protect and Survive, a UK government pamphlet advising the public on how best to protect themselves during a nuclear attack.

Startled by these developments, a group of Welsh women formed Women for Life on Earth, an anti-war campaign group, and in 1981, they decided to walk – some pushing prams - 120 miles from Cardiff to Greenham Common to voice their opposition.

When the walk failed to attract attention to their demands – the removal of the missiles and a televised debate on nuclear weapons – they chained themselves to the airbase fence.

Protest rights may be restricted under new UK legislation (Photo source: Huw Evans Agency)Entrance to Greenham Common Peace Camp, 1984 (Source: Christine McIntosh)

As more women joined them, the site became Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp. Protestors occupied the site continuously for years, with blockades of the base and mass demonstrations that attracted crowds of more than 50,000. 

Among the initial group were the Brinkworth sisters of Porth, in the Rhondda Valleys.

Protest rights may be restricted under new UK legislation (Photo source: Huw Evans Agency)Embracing the base protest, Greenham Common December 1982 (Source: Ceridwen)

The three stayed at the camp, off-and-on, for years. In 1982, frustrated with their lack of progress, and faced with increasingly frequent raids by the police, one sister, Sue, joined with others to storm the base. They barricaded themselves in a small police checkpoint building, causing hours of disruption.

The Brinkworth sisters went to prison for their cause eight times between them.

The nuclear missiles at Greenham Common were finally removed in 1991, but the camp remained in place until 2000. The area is now public parkland.

 

Carmarthen Bunker Protest, 1986

While the Greenham Common Peace Camp was in its fifth year, Carmarthen made its own stand against the Cold War.

After agreeing to station US nuclear missiles in Britain, Margaret Thatcher had begun encouraging local authorities to construct bunkers, offering to cover 75 percent of the costs with central government grants.

Carmarthen District Council took Thatcher up on this offer, and began constructing a bunker on Spilman Street, in the centre of town.

Protest rights may be restricted under new UK legislation (Photo source: Huw Evans Agency)This bunker in Brackla, Bridgend, served as the regional control centre for Wales (Source: User Evo GT, Flickr)

When the council allegedly started work without first obtaining planning permission, 17 anti-war campaigners occupied the construction site. They were subsequently landed with a court-ordered injunction banning them from returning, and the site was surrounded by tall, spiked metal fencing and heavy security.

READ MORE: Arrests made after 14-hour 'Free Palestine' protest on roof of Wrexham factory

Nevertheless, in 1986 a protest by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament drew around 7,000 people.

“It was an amazing scene,” Alun Lenny, a former BBC journalist, told WalesOnline in 2017.

“Thousands of people formed a human chain down Spilman Street, down Castle Hill, along Station Road and up The Parade. The bunker was surrounded.”

In the end, the district council got its way. The bunker – thought to have cost about £400,000 – was built but never used, and now sits derelict beneath a council staff car park.

 

Llangyndeyrn reservoir protest, 1963

The words Cofiwch Dryweryn (“Remember Tryweryn”), referring to the mid-sixties flooding of Capel Celyn village by Liverpool City Council, have become synonymous with the Welsh independence movement.

Protest rights may be restricted under new UK legislation (Photo source: Huw Evans Agency)Cofiwch Dryweryn wall, Ceredigion, which has become synonymous with the Welsh independence movement (Source: Peter Brown)

Less known is the story of Llangyndeyrn, a small community in Carmarthenshire that narrowly avoided the same fate.

Residents discovered that the Swansea Water Corporation intended to create a new reservoir by flooding their village in a 1960 newspaper article. About one thousand acres of land would be flooded - affecting forty farmers and destroying homes and chapels.

Plans to oppose the move began immediately, but when formal challenges in court failed, residents took matters into their own hands.

When surveyors, accompanied by bailiffs, arrived in 1963, they were met with barricades.

Protest rights may be restricted under new UK legislation (Photo source: Huw Evans Agency)A monument commemorating the community's successful campaign to save their village (Source: Nigel Davies)

One protestor, Arwyn Richards, told the BBC in 2013: “"There were tractors and combine harvesters and chains and fences to stop them, and if they'd have made it past them then they'd still have had to get through 100 or so of us.”

The campaigners had a “mole” on Swansea Council, who tipped them off about planned visits by their officers, and the local parish church would ring its bells to warn of their arrival.

Mr Richards said campaigners had drawn up a “rota” of people prepared to go to prison, but ultimately nobody was arrested during the week-long standoff.

Eventually the Swansea Water Corporation found an alternative site at Llyn Brianne, not far from Builth Wells. Though the site was less cost effective – requiring more engineering for a smaller capacity – it housed just one derelict farmhouse.

Protest rights may be restricted under new UK legislation (Photo source: Huw Evans Agency)Llyn Brianne Reservoir, 2019 (Source: James Emmans)

Another campaigner, Huw Williams of Panteg Farm, told S4C of the ordeal: “I would have lost my livelihood – I had nothing to lose by taking part in the campaign.

“Personally, I would have lost fifty years of happiness.”

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