Punks, Toddlers and Aging Activists Against ACTA

By Toni Ellis |

The protest chants filled the air around me as the crowd shivered in the frigid temperatures. Thousands had braved the bitter cold to take to the streets of Berlin to voice their disgust at the ACTA, or Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement, and internet censorship in general.

An estimated 10,000 protesters marched in conditions which dropped to minus 8 degrees Celsius to express their discontent with Germany’s involvement with ACTA treaty as more than 100 similar demonstrations took place across Europe in an international day of action. The protesters around me in Berlin were peaceful and upbeat, although there was a strong sense of unity in the anger felt towards ACTA.

Many in the immense crowd were holding signs putting words to this anger, with slogans like “ACTA la vista, baby!” and “Right to Remix”, as well as a two-metre long banner saying “Gedankenpolizei!” (‘Thought police!’), a reference to George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. Numerous protesters were also seen wearing Guy Fawkes masks, a symbol which has become synonymous with internet activist group Anonymous, one of ACTA’s most outspoken critics.

While the protests was expected to be populated predominately by those in technology-savvy younger age groups, the variety and age range of those on the streets with me was surprising. Across the city, those in the crowds ranged from teenaged punks to families with toddlers in strollers, as well as the odd aging activist, all coming together to voice their opposition to ACTA. This diverse crowd hopefully helped persuade the powers that be that ACTA will not be welcomed in many parts of society.

The international agreement, initiated by Japan and the US, is supposedly aimed at protecting intellectual property but has been slammed by critics across the globe who say it will compromise freedom of speech online, with some accusing the authors of ACTA of negotiating the treaty in secret without adequate parliamentary scrutiny. The European Union and 22 members states signed the treaty in January, although some EU countries have stopped the ratification process.

Amid reports on Friday that Germany was refusing to sign the agreement, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry in Berlin said that the delay was “to give us time to carry out further discussion.” This only provided the organisers of Saturday’s marches with more ammunition in the battle against ACTA. There are hopes that the movement can become big enough to pile political pressure on Germany to keep the fundamental rights and freedoms of its citizen, and netizens, intact.

If Saturday’s crowds were anything to go by, these hopes are not unfounded.