Thursday, 2 April 2009

Riot!

"They were met by derision from City workers, who waved £10 notes from their offices at marchers on the streets below" (Daily Mail, 02/04/09) - why violence in protest only undermines your message. (Can I just say in a completely nonobjective way - what a bunch of smug arsehole bastards. I hope they all bloody well lose their jobs.)

The exclamation mark in the title was completely spurious - there was nothing about yesterday's G20 protests that was lighthearted enough to demand one. On reading today's Guardian, it would appear that not only was the hope that these huge protests could remain peaceful was a naive one, but a dangerous one too. As well as unnecessary violence on the streets, a man believed to be in his fourties collapsed and died as the protests turned to violent semi-riots. (Read the full story here.)


(Picture from guardian.co.uk)

Public emotion has been running high for a while now, and really, who can blame us for being angry? Early pictures of the protests that were being published on the Internet showed fists in the air, defiant placards, and smoke bombs. People with megaphones were shouting for change, and police were standing by with truncheons and shields. It looked like a high-profile music festival, albeit with a slightly more volatile crowd. People were furious, but in an orderly fashion, and most even looked like they were having quite a lot of fun.

Skip to today then, with video footage of the marches later on in the day. People grew tired of singing and dancing. The police started to look a bit more oppressive after 4 hours of protest. People started lashing out.

Normally, I'd be all for a bit of cosmetic violence. Not the real stuff, no blood, broken bones or missiles. Just a bit of a crowd rush or some clashing, after all, you don't want your protest to be completely ignored. Who listens to peace these days? But this time, violence was not the answer. Disillusioned, underpowered people were gathered in the streets to try and get those in power to listen to them, and when it was clear that not only were they being ignored but the protection of the police was turning into something a little more sinister, they didn't back into a corner. Blood started getting in people's eyes.

Things turning ugly only served to show to reactionary middle England (ahem, the Daily Mail) that protesters (or "anarchists" as the paper described them) simply don't know what they're talking about. In another Daily Mail article, descriptions of the protesters' actions show a real disdain for any person acting anti-establishment. The truth is, violence only gets people ignored. The only thing it invoked was retaliation from a fed-up police force. Video content from the Guardian.com shows protesters being beaten back from barricades, some bleeding from head wounds, one man claiming to have had a tooth knocked out. Protesters on the other side of town were being held in the Bank tube station square, to stop yet more people from joining the crowd and causing more chaos.

Eventually a minority of the crowd broke the windows of the Royal bank of Scotland building and ransacked the place, further deteriorating the peaceful message of the protest.

People are feeling betrayed by the banks and by the government. People want change. The tragedy is that protesting like this might feel incredibly empowering at the time, but it really won't change anything. The G20 summit continued unphased by the thousands of people marching for change, and as stories unfold today detailing Michelle Obama's choice of outfit and who sat next to who at the Jamie Oliver banquet, it's becoming all too horribly clear that perhaps even rioting isn't going to get our voices heard. We have to think of another way. But what have we got left to try?

9 comments:

CrumbleMix said...

Global problems need global solutions we are told. But this isnt a meeting of the entire globe. Art from South Africa, the entire African continent is absent. The poorest continent on earth isn't even allowed to be there, they just have to rely on South Africa to represent 900 million people.

Katie said...

I get the feeling that it's completely for show anyway. If they look busy, maybe everyone will think something's being done. At least France and Germany are having a bit of barney with everyone to prod some kind of solution-making into the proceedings.

the_man_in_the_middle said...

The Worlds poorest countries were there in spirit. Gordon Brown has previously mentioned that the recession will hit those people hardest, with hundreds of thousands of people being forced below the poverty line and countless more dying as a result. Hence, $0.1tn funding promised as a result of the event.

As it goes for having 'our voices heard', I don't want to enlist a bunch of smack-head punks and bloody Russel Brand as my voice in economic politics.

$750bn for the IMF. That should see the pound bounce back against the dollar, and my company can start importing from Europe again. Good times! This week has been a historic, monumental success.

Katie said...

"I don't want to enlist a bunch of smack-head punks and bloody Russel Brand as my voice in economic politics."

I'm afraid it's sweeping generalisations like this that get people in trouble. Would smack-head punks care about the demise of society? No, they'd revel in it, punks wanted anarchy and the downfall of society, but had no real thoughts as to rebuilding it. The people on the streets two days ago may have downplayed their good intentions by acting out towards the end, but they were there out of a want to simply feel like they were doing something - which is a usual feeling when you feel like your power has been taken away.

I'm glad you see this as a monumental success. At least some people have the benefit of optimism to se them through the hard times. I'm not an idiot, I realise that a lot was done at the G20 summit, but it still isn't enough. We need restructuring, and we need to know that it isn't just going to happen again. It's an old cliché, but we want actions, not words. Throwing money at a problem is not going to make it go away forever, and our children will not be thanking us for the debts we are leaving.

peterRepeater said...

I agree that violence does undermine and devalue a cause if you're not the government. It's battling, warring; without the military funding.

It's a shame that people get tarnished with the same 'smack-head' brush. I would imagine there were genuinely concerned, well-informed people at the protests and their efforts were shunted by a minority of people who fail to realise that you can do much more damage with the written word than breaking into one branch of RBS.

But those people engaging in violence: it smacks of ignorance, buckling under pressure; people who want to care and genuinely do, but don't know how to articulate it without coming over as thuggish rioters. It's like shouting the loudest because your words aren't strong enough to win the argument- it's just weakness.

What I'd like to see is a sustained and persistent voicing of concern in a way we're afforded in the UK. Throwing things is what you do when your freedom of speech has been eroded and that hasn't happened. We're writing blogs for goodness sake. People should remember that we're actually quite lucky to be able to voice our opinions - even if they largely go unheard - without fear of retribution. This isn't North Korea.

So write letters, bother your local MP, your ombudsman; join others in voicing your concerns, petition, rally; write a blog, reply to a blog; but don't throw stones, it's just not the way to exact change.

the_man_in_the_middle said...

"I don't want to enlist a bunch of smack-head punks and bloody Russel Brand as my voice in economic politics."

Although toungue in cheek, it does carry the point well. We all revel in our freedom of being able to express outrage, but unfortunately, it's the dichotamy of soley articulate and mindless rioters who make the most... noise.

Optimism is a virtue, especially in the non zero-sum world of economics, and I resent the implication that I am an "idiot".

:P

Katie said...

Who said you were an idiot? I said I wasn't....not that you were! I think he doth protest too much ;)

And you're right - it is the noisy violent types who make the most noise, but I think they pretty much get treated like a tantruming toddler. Let them scream and shout and just ignore them, eventually they'll wear themselves out and go to sleep. Nobody is really getting listened to, I just hope that these new plans actually work, because I certainly can't think of a better solution.

JonB said...

"and when it was clear that not only were they being ignored"

I'm sorry but thats a ridiculous thing to say. You are justifying the troublemakers by saying their peaceful protest was ignored????

What on earth do you think would happen? Were they expecting the G20 leaders to all rush out and enter into rational debate with demonstrators?

Katie said...

I wasn't expecting anything like that, no. Nor was I condoning the kind of mindless smashing and thumping that went on a the protests. I was just commentating, of course I believe that peaceful protest is the only way you could ever hopeto get your message accross, but people's feelings were too strong on the issues raised to keep peaceful. It's a shame.

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