shaved_ape (shaved_ape) wrote,

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Taking Liberties

The British Library launched a major new (free!) exhibition today on the subject of Britain's fight for civil liberties. Given the steadily increasing erosion of our civil rights in the past 20 years and Gordon Brown's pledge to increase detention without trial to 42 days it could hardly have come at a better time.
The exhibition includes all kinds of specific documents relating to our rights as citizens going back hundreds of years. The Magna Carta is displayed, as is documents from the English Civil War, the 1832 Reform Act, documents from the Suffragettes, The Chartists, The struggle for an independent Ireland, modern trade union struggles and much more besides. Sound and video recordings are also used to good effect and there is the now obligatory interactive element. Its a genuinely impressive collection of stuff and I think the main message you get from the event is how long and hard the fight has been to get us the rights we enjoy today. Every positive change that has been won in the past 900 years has been won in the face of opposition from the people in control of our society. This has frequently been bloody and almost always involved illegal activity and it just illustrates ho important it is that we should defend what we have.
Just prior to viewing the exhibition I went to a presentation the Library had also organised. Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty (the civil right campaign group) spoke at a meeting on "Are our rights and freedoms under threat?" I was surprised at how well she put her case - often with a sharp sense of humour and like myself, she could not quite bring herself to get over the fact that the discussion was being chaired by Joan Bakewell the former newsreader! The message from the meeting was very much echoed by the exhibition - that our civil rights are too important to be left to the politicians. Personally I wouldnt trust the current political leaders to walk my dog (even if I had one!) never mind defend our civil rights.
Tags: museums/collections
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