Don’t Just Think It – Do It
Crumbs! Protests are all the rage at the moment aren’t they? In Britain there seems to have been some campaign or other on the go pretty much permanently since the Coalition Government came in, while worldwide the Occupy movement recently erupted in hundreds of cities. I recall a time in the early nineties when protest seemed to have ground to a halt. There might be the occasional placard march and the odd isolated bit of direct action, but nothing you’d really notice. Then the environmentalists started to get creative: Swampy went underground and became a celebrity; Reclaim The Streets reclaimed direct action and turned it into a party. Suddenly going on a protest looked like it might be fun and, importantly, less hierarchical methods of organisation came to the fore. In the age of the mobile phone, protests could be large or small and highly dynamic. Before long, Fathers For Justice were raiding their kids’ dressing-up boxes, lorry drivers were blockading oil refineries and, ultimately, the Countryside Alliance organised Britain’s biggest ever Day Out In London. The concept of protest has become truly widespread.
Now I tend to view this as A Good Thing. I don’t necessarily agree with all the causes mentioned above but I do believe in their right to be expressed. Freedom of speech is a precious privilege that we’re lucky to have and public dissent is a vital form of democratic accountability. I also happen to think it’s good IN ITSELF. Good for the person making the protest, good for anyone who hears or witnesses it, good on its own. Good even if nothing ever changes. This probably sounds woolly but I genuinely believe there is value in expressing truth. Depending on your viewpoint you may say it builds character, or it’s good for the soul, or it stores up karma. You may even say it’s prophetic (yes, you heard; not pathetic).
This would certainly explain why I found the atmosphere at the Occupy London encampment next to St Paul’s Cathedral so wonderfully positive. A flexible collective of perhaps a few hundred, they’ve been there for nearly a week, hunkering down in small tents at night and spending the days in lengthy discussion of everything from macro-economics to portaloos. Some naysayers have decried the group for having a lack of coherent aims or demands but this is always going to be a movement more united in what it’s fighting against than in what it’s fighting for. And so it should be. The aim is to question the status quo, to ask whether the current system is really fair and sustainable. How people respond to that question will vary enormously and so will any changes they make as a result. Judging by the throngs of passers-by looking intently at some of the posters and messages displayed around the area, a lot of people are going to be doing a lot of thinking about their lives. A more focussed protest would have made it harder for this to occur.
So I say hurrah to the St Paul’s campers and their ilk in New York and numerous other locations. Hurrah to everyone who did their best to save the NHS from probable destruction. Hurrah to anyone prepared to stick their head above the parapet and stand against greed, hatred and dehumanising. It’s always worth it. Remember that.