— Originally written Tuesday 31st March 2009 —
So here we are, on the Eve of the (supposed) Revolution. Tomorrow, dubbed April’s Financial Fools’ Day will see the descent of an unestimable number of protestors into the Square Mile, timed to coincide with London’s hosting of the G20 summit. The coverage of the impending disruption has been nothing short of apocalyptic, in London at least. Of all available news sources, there are few – the national Guardian newspaper, the free daily Londonpaper, and Channel 4 TV news – that have actually sought to illuminate the general public as to the rationale behind the protests. The bulk has instead helpfully chosen to characterise all activists as naïve yet over-aggressive hippies protesting for futile and outdated causes.
The multiple messages emerging tomorrow arguably both help and impede their individual successes. Whilst on the one hand, the conflation of a number of issues (climate chaos, financial crimes, war, and borders) can dilute their individual messages; it would be naïve to suggest that they aren’t interlinked, and collectively indicative of broader structural issues. Perhaps the coming together of individuals voicing their various dissents with a system that privileges few and undermines many, would do more to subvert that system than any one single-issue protest.
This is where I believe the most achievable aspiration lies for the protestors tomorrow. Whilst some elements of popular culture (who doesn’t feel moved by scenes from, say, V for Vendetta?) romanticise the revolutionary potential of direct action, few genuinely believe that by taking to the streets tomorrow they will enact immediate change. Many more believe that spoiling a perfect photo opportunity in London for any of the visiting nineteen heads of state, and raising public consciousness of the issues at hand, will embarrass said leaders into a direct response to popular concerns.
It is this consistent contempt for public opinion within the normative representative democratic process that has forced people into taking to more and more radical means by which to exert their rights. Problematically, and contrary to popular opinion, it is not democracy per se that these protestors are mobilising against. In part this is because thanks to the multiple layers of bureaucratic representation, we do not live in a true democracy – that would require an arguably unfeasible referendum on every issue.
The necessity of ‘old school’ protest though, is primarily because what we are subject to is a modern post-globalisation fusion of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. It is monarchical in the sense that unilateral approaches can be resorted to where deemed necessary; aristocratic in the sense that the global system is ruled by a limited group of elite actors (e.g. the UN Security Council); and democratic in the sense that it claims to be representative of the global people. This is what political philosophers Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri term ‘Empire’; the coalition of nation states with international institutions and transnational capital to exact powerful influence over international affairs. This is why all these issues can, and should, be joined in a nexus of dissent.
One issue that’s more pressing on a personal note is the ground reality of such a motley gathering. Undoubtedly there will be a minority looking to perpetrate aimless and random violence against police forces and bankers, and inflict damage on targeted property within the City. The much vilified anarchists have borne the brunt of media coverage for their supposed plans to create absolute mayhem under the guise of peaceful protest. Similarly, London’s Metropolitan Police force have insisted on being challenged by, but comprehensively prepared for the protests, worryingly even going as far as declaring that they are “up for it, and up to it”.
It seems to me that there is a vicious circle whereby the police and the media are manufacturing the conditions for the violent protest they claim to fear. I for one am reconsidering my decision to join the protest tomorrow, purely for my own safety. The result of a fortnight of whipping up general unease is a self-fulfilling prophecy – peaceful protesters like myself are scared off, whilst genuine trouble-makers are drawn in. A sceptic might suggest that this is a desired result; the easiest way to deal with irksome activists would be to delegitimize the entire premise, or even better, get them to do it for you.
As difficult a decision as it is, I am ultimately compelled to join these miscellaneous groups on the streets of the City tomorrow. It says something important about the state of affairs that I struggle to choose which issue is most pressing, and thus which march to join. Also, part of me knows that unless I do everything in my power to assert my voice, I have little or no right to bemoan the political situation. How will I look my grandchildren in the face and answer their questions as to why our generation willingly and knowingly saddled them with a world of climate chaos, exponential debt and global war? In the words of Frank Turner: “So come on let’s be young, let’s be crass enough to care”.