Liam Burns’ recent announcement of yet another nationwide protest in London may not be indicative of a complete detachment from reality, but it does lay bare his failure to see a pretty obvious pattern.
It would be putting it mildly to say that, at the last protest in 2010, things got a little out of hand. 14 people were injured during the occupation of Millbank – a number which could have been higher if the masked moron with the fire extinguisher hadn’t had such lousy aim. Meanwhile, Charlie Gilmour – son of Pink Floyd guitarist David – got a little bit too comfortably numb and decided to swing from the side of the Cenotaph.
As has been stated many times, these hot-headed individuals were in no way representative of the majority; most probably just wanted to march peacefully and make their point. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how small the minority is when their faces are plastered over every news outlet. Everything from the G20 demonstrations to the protests over the shooting of Mark Duggan has been hijacked by violent thugs who only want trouble – in fact the latter caused waves of rioting that affected the entire country – and it’s these kinds of stories that cause protests nowadays to lose their credibility before they’ve even started.
Of course, it isn’t just the activists who draw attention away – members of the police force are just as responsible for the stigma that surrounds these kinds of large-scale public demonstrations. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that if you keep a large number of people locked in a small area for a long period of time, things will eventually turn ugly, yet kettling has been used constantly in protests in London over the last few years. And police officers have proven themselves to be just as violent as the people they are trying to contain; you only need to look at the death of Ian Tomlinson to see that.
This is not to say that protests never work. Examples throughout history show us over and over again that Margaret Mead was right: a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. But this particular form of protest has become too vulnerable, too easy to hijack.
Students are proving themselves perfectly capable of fighting against the government all the time – look at how quickly they’ve rallied themselves around the campaign to keep Richard O’Dwyer from being extradited – in less than a week the online petition has gained over 200,000 signatures. Hopefully we can find more ways to make our voices heard without being dragged into the gutter by a tiny and idiotic minority.