Monday, 20 December 2010

On Protest

I'm not sure you'll remember my post about possibly becoming more politically-minded. Well, I did mean what I said, and as such I've been devoting no small amount of time to my political education. It hasn't been easy - I'm still trying to suppress the rage that seems to form as soon as I open a newspaper for long enough to enable the formation of an intelligent, considered and balanced opinion of current affairs. This intelligence, careful consideration and balance went right out of the window on the day of the student protests. The more I read, the more I saw; the more I became a monster. Twitter and news websites combined forces to work me into a righteous anger I've seldom felt before. And so, after work, I trotted down to Trafalgar Square for a look.

When I arrived there were very few people about. A few tourists were taking photos. A group of old ladies wearing sashes bearing the name of a children's charity were taking their positions for an evening of carol singing. It was all...lovely. I thought I'd missed the show, and was about to head back to the station when I saw it, in the distance. A huge crowd moving its way slowly up Whitehall. The chants grew louder. The writing on the placards grew clearer. The hoard of Britain's 'Feedom Fighters' grew closer and closer.

Then, all of a sudden, they were everywhere. Traffic cones flew through the air into the fountains, metal barriers crashed to the floor, the carol singers fled. A silent line of riot police stood unmoving on the steps of the National Gallery. And then a horrible thing happened. They started to pull the lights from the Christmas Tree. I looked on, AGHAST. I could hardly watch - but luckily the lights held their own. They are evidently very well secured. So the masked youths (how old does that make me sound?) tried a different tactic; they started a fire, and threw burning objects into the Christmas tree's branches. At this point I was beside myself and my Christmas Spirit lay crushed, on the floor, like a broken fairy light. In a daze, I turned my back and made my way home. I am so very far from hardcore.

However, apart from the attempted destruction of the Christmas tree (which survived mostly unharmed, by the way!) I'm all for the student protests - I back them, completely. I think. But it has to be one of the oddest moments of my life. The next day, any column inches the papers hadn't devoted to Charles & Camilla, told of the dangerous anarchist groups that managed to infiltrate the students' peaceful protest. I'm sure that's true to an extent - but I think part of the reason it spiralled so spectacularly out-of-control is that for the first time in ages, it's the young who are angry. Most of the protesters I saw were so bloody young. I applaud their engagement, but with all those hormones flying around and so few responsible adults, it was only a matter of time before things got messy. It's probably a sign of my age that my main reaction to what I saw was 'WHERE ARE YOUR PARENTS?!'

But, in a way, that's the point - isn't it? Who should they look up to? How else can they really make themselves heard? Who can they trust to keep their best interests at heart? The politicians they voted for lied to them in a way that's far more obvious than is usually acceptable. Graduates and people already in employment turn away, glad that they were lucky enough to sail the sea of Higher Education in calmer, happier climes. Many this new legislation will affect are still not old enough to vote - silent victims of a government they didn't vote for. It's no wonder they lashed out - it's no wonder they feel abandoned, frustrated and angry.

And part of me thinks it's just the beginning. As high street shops are forced to close their doors on the busiest Saturday of the year by people disgusted by legal tax evasion, I can't help but think there's something different in the air. A winter of discontent it may be - but the past couple haven't exactly been joyous. It's almost as if somebody has woken a monster, it's yawning and grumbling and stretching for the first time after a long hibernation. British people are, perhaps, learning from their continental cousins. Or perhaps they are just rediscovering a forgotten art that fell by the wayside in the boom years. Where's the stiff upper lip? Where's 'Keep Calm and Carry On'? I think maybe they've been left behind, for now. Maybe I'm just being dramatic. Time will tell, I suppose. In the meantime, though, it's refreshing to see someone standing up for themselves.


  1. I can't believe I missed this post. Between work taking over my life, my stupid browser being stupid and my subscriptions tab lying to me, I am missing out on way too much awesome for me to be OK with. Bastard things.

    In my completely irrelevant opinion, I reckon the students are completely in the right. Completely. I'm glad to see people coming out and protesting- never take things lying down, it makes it easier to walk over you! I'm only saddened by all the destruction that's been focussed on and how easily it's subverted the actual goal and mission of the protests. You're right in that "where are their parents?" and of course, who can you/we blame but the parents? Kind of got the kids in the mess they're in now, hey? It's the basic issue of other people making decisions for the youth without even consulting them, without thinking them capable of opinions or thoughts, without ever thinking to ask those who are most affected. So typical.

    While keeping calm and carrying on and the stiff upper lip are so reflective of the stoicism so valued by the British, I also think that stoicism is for when you need to bear the awful because you know the good is just around the corner. You can't be-and shouldn't be-stoic when no good will come of it.

    Is it stupid that I'm so proud and pleased you were hanging about with the protestors... sorry they shattered your Christmas spirit though! Glad the tree's OK! <3

  2. That whole thing about anarchists infiltrating a peaceful protest mirrors what happened in Toronto during the G20 this past summer. Masked "protesters" showed up and burned two cop cars and smashed a bunch of windows. No wonder older people thinks we're all up to no good - these idiots ruin it.

    Makes me think of the Grinch - burning a tree just won't stop Christmas from coming!

  3. @ Risha - don't apologise. I too have been an absentee follower. I promise to be better in the new year.

    It is a shame that the violence clouded the real point of the protests, but as you say, it's good that somebody is protesting.

    And it's not weird that you're proud. I didn't tell anyone I was going, but thought about emailing you on the way. Then I thought that would have been weird.

    @ Allison - you're right - and it didn't. I rescued my Christmas spirit, so I did.

    The thing is, when people think of the G20 protests, they will probably remember the violence, not the perfectly valid reasons for protest behind it. That's a shame.

  4. It always irritates me when I see the 'vigilantes' destroying the purpose of protests.

    I'm not sure what this British one was entirely about, as I'm a little out of loop on the news, but I can understand the issue, and it is basically sounding like the same as what happened in Toronto, as Allison pointed out.

    And the issue reflects on both sides as well. People don't think of the peaceful protestors when they think of what happened, they think of the ones who were out of line. But in the same breath, flip that to the side of criticism on the police, and you have them only remembering the peaceful protestors and the few police officers that stepped out of line.

    I think the biggest problem with protestors such as those is that they don't think it through. Burning a cop car (or a Christmas Tree)and smashing storefront windows is not going to lower taxes, cut rising tuitions or even cause things to change for the good. All it does is cost more money out of the pockets of the very people they are protesting 'for'.

    It leaves a sour taste in the mouths of everyone and doesn't exactly achieve much of anything.

    Anyways... I can't really remember what my point was going to be, so I'll shut up now :D