I stand with those willing to protest for something they believe in. In fact, I really believe it shows bravery to do so. But recent protests by different groups have raised questions in me. What kind of activism is right and what kind is wrong, who chooses and ultimately, what is the point?
Earlier in the year, during the encore of one of my favourite bands, just at that special moment when the lead singer holds onto a note beyond the crowd’s singing, a fan beside me shouted; ‘F**k Brexit!’. It drew a few cheers, but instantly it ruined the moment and spoilt the song for me.
I agree with this shouting fan. I just wished they had not chosen to do it then. One person amongst thousands dictated how the song would be felt and it was compulsory. The interruption was intrusive in a moment of unity and if I had been warned, I would have asked them to choose another time. What’s more, I’m sure it spoilt many other people’s experience, whether in their memories or as recordings on their phones.
Three weeks later I attended the ‘School Strike 4 Climate March’ in Parliament Square and experienced protesters using their feet for attention. Young children blocked roads around central London for hours. Kids sat on Westminster Bridge halting traffic passing both ways. There were teenagers dancing in front of agitated lorry drivers who just wanted to go home. These children had intruded on thousands of people’s lives, for a common message that, unlike the outburst from the anti-Brexit protester, I agreed with. This protest sits more comfortably with me than the interrupted concert. Is it because I was not in one of those cars sat stationary around Parliament Square, and along Parliament Street? Maybe.
Now we have had senior politicians protest with their jobs, creating The Independent Group. The centrist party has quickly amounted 11 MPs equalling the size of The Lib Dems — unbelievably a party that was in government only a few years ago. The Group have sounded various issues, focusing on an anti-Brexit and pro-2nd Referendum agenda. Other factors include, Jeremy Corbyn and his party’s inability to silence anti-Semitism. Whilst, Conservative defectors like Anna Soubry and Sarah Woolaston complain about Theresa May’s pandering to the far-right, occasionally termed ‘Blukip’. The Independent Group has certainly given Westminster a shake-up and these political protests fit nicely alongside my other examples.
So, three very different protests, two on Brexit an one on the environment. (It is worth mentioning that environmental and political issues are often linked and I saw plenty of anti-Brexit slogans on the climate march.) To some extent, all three I have been involved in, and each one, has caught my attention in different ways. There lie the answers to my opening questions. One, they have caught my attention. Two, in different ways.
There is no acceptable way to protest and it is not meant to sit comfortably with you every time. Protests are irregular. Their affect on society is inconsistent and they make no intention to satisfy everyone. Next time it could very well be me in the car, frustrated by protestors in Parliament Square — and I still resent the shouting fan who interrupted the gig. But protest, in whatever form, has had an affect on me and that is what is important. The key is that protests are not meant for you, they are not meant to suit you. There is something bigger going on.
A favourite author of mine, Rebecca Solnit, has for a while talked about hope and protest in her writing. She does not see the benefits of direct action in the today but understands them as a moment with unknown potential. On this she says:
‘You do what you can do; you do your best; what what you do does is not up to you’.
One group’s small action brings attention, this may make people think, and these thoughts may be repeated or they may not. Solnit is saying, and I agree, that the part that matters is not whether the cause is effective, but that someone did something about it in the first place. It is the nucleus and very start point of a protest that really matters, teaching us all the value of principles. As the great Malcom X said:
‘A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything’.
To take a position and act on it is the only agency we have. To merely stand aside is not an option.
So, regarding recent events, this is where I have got to. Through voice, march and resignation, three protests have impacted me in various ways. I was annoyed at the gig, I enjoyed the march and I have been engaged by the political resignations. However, in many ways it does not matter how I think now, protests are building blocks, and it is at a point in the future that we must focus on.