Sunday, April 03, 2011

The Irrelevance of Protests

As I have said in the past mass demonstrations would not be violent if armed police, riot cops and Swat units were not present. But of course then they would be a carnival that resulted in nothing much than another day out in public solidarity. The FT has a satirical look at the recent protests in the UK against the Cameron Austerity measures and attacks on the public sector unions.

The point is well made, however a real difference is not that violence attracts more attention, as the writer implies, but rather what is a more effective form of resistance to state sanctioned measures we oppose.

Union and Civil Society/NGO endorsed marches, end up being a call to vote out the bastards, which neither challenges the system nor the institutional form of politics.

What does work is mass occupations of the legislature, as occurred in Alberta in the nineties during the attacks on medicare, and the recent occupation of the Wisconsin legislature. But they need then to be followed up with the Mass Strike, of workers and citizens. As we have seen in Egypt.




For it does seem a basic rule of modern British democracy that if you are marching against something you’ve already lost. Parading one’s discontent through London is the political equivalent of a fly bashing its head against a window pane. Of course there’s a terrific sense of community on a march – 250,000 flies with the same headache; it’s hugely empowering. But short of handing out placards with slogans such as “Mildly Miffed” or “I’m so angry I walked peacefully through London”, it is hard to imagine what more the protesters could have done to signal their acceptance of defeat.

It’s irresponsible to admit it, but this kind of peaceful protest is pointless. The system has all the shock absorbers necessary to handle a law-abiding demonstration. The next day ministers were already clear they would ignore the entire event, while insisting that they would be happy to discuss the issues with marchers, though sadly not over tea at Fortnum’s as it seems to be attracting the wrong sort these days.

It’s not that I’m advocating violence and disorder, just dispassionately noting that in Britain it is more effective. What last weekend’s thugs grasped is that ministers can’t ignore anarchists daubing the Cenotaph and bringing a bit of havoc to the capital. Once or twice they might be able to turn on the rioters, but not if it keeps happening. There’s nothing like stoking voters’ fears about the rule of law and the fabric of society to get the government’s attention.

You have to think of this in management terms. On key deliverables peaceful marching just doesn’t cut it. It’s all inputs and no outputs. But violent protest can be measured on key performance indicators. How many shops did you smash up? What percentage were banks? Did you manage to scare the Duchess of Cornwall? I’m sorry Dave; you are below target; do you want to nip over the road and vandalise that RBS?”

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