Huffpost Arts
Shami Chakrabarti Headshot

Celebrating 80 Years of Liberty's Ongoing Fight for Fairness and Freedom

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

I know we don't look it but, on 24 February of this year, Liberty turns 80 years old. That's eight decades of holding the powerful to account as the UK's leading human rights organisation. Of course, a lot has changed over such a long time, right? Everything's different now, isn't it? Well, yes and yet, not quite.

Britain 80 years ago was gripped by recession and social unrest. In 1932, the hunger-marchers headed for Parliament with their petition of one million signatures. Around 100,000 people gathered to meet them in Hyde Park, London, but the petition was blocked as thousands of police were mobilised against the protesters. Onlookers watched as police agent provocateurs, masquerading as workers, tried to incite violence amongst the peaceful.

Young journalist Ronald Kidd was part of the crowd that day, and witnessed the bloodshed first-hand. That's why, 80 years ago today, he and a handful of prominent thinkers - HG Wells, AA Milne, Vera Brittain and Clement Atlee among them - formed the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL), now known as Liberty. They vowed to protect not only the right to peaceful protest but "the whole spirit of British freedom".

As the saying goes - the more things change, the more they stay the same. Today, Britain is again dealing with economic hardship. Protesters have taken to the streets over legal aid cuts and against police violence. And undercover officers have infiltrated peaceful protest groups and even grieving families like the Lawrences.

That's why Liberty, in our 80th year, remains as important as ever. That's why - with the help of our members - we'll continue to keep an eye on the powerful and maintain and build upon the observation Ronald Kidd and company began, all those years ago.

As we prepare for and look forward to this milestone, an exhibition charting our history opens in London this week. Liberty80 - The Anniversary Exhibition is being held at St-Martin-in-the-Fields church, off Trafalgar Square - the very spot that Liberty's founders first met in 1934.

The exhibition celebrates the last eight decades of Liberty's ongoing fight for fairness and freedom, showing battles fought and won for justice and equality - with some striking parallels between 1934 and the present day. Historic items on display range from a copy of the original Manchester Guardian letter announcing NCCL's formation to a whiteboard depicting Labour's backbench rebellion on 42-day pre-charge detention during Liberty's victorious Charge or Release campaign in 2008. There are also pieces from Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing OBE, Dame Vivienne Westwood DBE and photographer Mary McCartney.

This exhibition not only takes us back to our roots, it's also a timely tribute to all we've achieved and the campaigners, writers and artists who've helped us along the way. It's quite the walk down memory lane, and fills us with inspiration and hope for the future as we prepare for the inevitable challenges and threats to our rights and freedoms ahead.

It's open to the public every day until Saturday, 1 March, and it's completely free of charge. So please come along and find out a little bit about where we've been and where we're going. If you like what you see, perhaps you'll join us and play your part in the fight for the liberties of the people. For this is one fight, as our founders recognised, that's never done.

For more information on the Liberty80 exhibition, please visit liberty-human-rights.org.uk

Around the Web

Homepage | Liberty - protecting civil liberties, promoting human rights

Liberty (pressure group) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia