Monday, March 30, 2009

G20: Pointless Protests

I ignored the protests about the G20. My life is too short to get worked up about them one way or another. I’m fairly sure that they will achieve precisely nothing, but that has never stopped a good protest. And, if you really want to find out how they went, it is always best to hear about these things from those actually on the streets during the protest. So, ladies and gents, let’s turn to Penny Red and her account of the protests:
My throat is raw. I'm screaming at the top of my lungs:

One, two, three, four -
Corporate bailouts no more!
Five, six, seven, eight -
Spend it on the welfare state!
Chants in protests aren’t known for being that wise; this one is one of the better ones*. However, it does beg the question of why the money has to be spent at all? Why do we need to spend billions on either corporate bailouts or the welfare state? They’ve both received billions of pounds, to very little effect. Throwing more money at them will achieve nothing, other than higher tax bills.

There's city dust in my eyes, and my legs feel like blocks of wood as we take the final mile down Picadilly towards Hyde Park. A painted banner flaps against my body, proclaiming us Anti-Capitalist Feminists. And I'm still chanting. I'm an animal, a tiny, burning ball of rage and justice, I've got all my sisters with me, it's been four hours since my last latte and I'm running on adrenaline and outrage. Me and thirty-five thousand others.
Anti-Capitalist Feminists? That must be quite a niche group. The sort of group that has about three members on your standard university campus. And each of those three members is the sort of ranting bore you would cross the street to avoid.

But for me the best line is the one about “my last latte”. Fucking hell, there is nothing more communist or feminist then quaffing lattes before going on a protest march. Lenin used to do that, you know. Just before he seized power in Russia, he was in Starbucks having a latte. Those miners in the miner’s strike of the mid-80’s, they were quaffing lattes too. It really is the drink of the working class revolutionaries. Assuming, of course, that you mean Guardian reading Nathan Barley types when you say working class revolutionaries.

And yet the Put People First march is still, somehow, suffused with an air of pessimism. The Troops Out Of Baghdad placards look especially mournful: because yes, we have been here before. The last time I marched down Picadilly in the cold March breeze with thousands upon thousands of angry fellow citizens, we wanted to stop the troops going in to Baghdad, and we were heard, and we were ignored. The samba players are overwhelmed by the thump and screech of a marching band from the end of the world, and the set-piece of the procession is a cheery twenty-foot tall rendering of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Thunderclouds are gathering.
It did thunder on Saturday in London! Wow, that’s not just hyperbole, it is also an accurate representation of the weather on Saturday! Accuracy from the left. Whatever next?

Valid point about the Baghdad thing, though. They didn’t listen back then. And aren’t listening right now. So maybe it is time to shut the fuck up about the Iraq War thing, eh? The countless deaths of hundreds of thousands, the failure to find WMDs, the realisation that this war was completely illegal have all failed to change the minds of those leading the Coalition of the Willing. So a few thousand crusty lefties and would-be hippies isn’t going to be a blind bit of fucking difference, now, is it?

A woman I'm marching with tells me that she doesn't think the G20 will change anything even if it's in their power to do so. Ahead of me, in front of the RMT banners, an old man is explaining to the just-walking little boy holding his hand about the protests in 1981. We've seen all this before. So why are we still here?
Good question. Why are you there? Why waste your time when you don’t think people are going to listen and when previous protests have been ignored?

We're here because we're fed up of being lied to. We're here because we've been royally screwed over, and now we're angry. We're here because even if we don't expect to be listened to, that doesn't mean we'll stop trying to be heard. Not ever.
Being heard is fine; but you can increase your chances of being heard by presenting your message in a palatable way. Truth is, in order to achieve real change in this country you need to get the middle classes on board. And you ain’t ever going to do that with this sort of protest. But more on that later. Take a look at the final paragraph:

On my way home through Green Park, tired beyond words, I pick a bunch of wilting daffodils that glow faintly in my grimy hands in the noonlight. Around the corner, the band are still playing, the people are still screaming, the dull rumble of thirty-five-thousand feet is still ringing down the thoroughfare. Dreamily, I give out the daffs to the rows of police officers standing in front of the Ritz. One of them even takes a lower, and pops it in his lapel.

And we danced all night on hippy moonbeams to the tunes of the Grateful Dead. Or perhaps Toploader instead. Yeah, that would work. Altogether now… one-two-three-four “It’s such a fine and natural sight/Everybody dancing in the noonlight…”

It is easy to sneer. And fun, too. Particularly when the group you are sneering at leave you with so many open fucking goals. See, I knew that this protest would achieve nothing. After all, those protesting couldn’t even agree on what they were protesting about. Capitalism? Iraq War? Feminism? The Welfare State? Any of the above? None of the above? What was the point? What the ruddy fuck did people forsake their lattes for? Unless you can agree on what you want to protest about, you aren’t going to really achieve anything. Protesting about vague, generic left-wing gripes indicates you are against everything that it is fashionable to be against. Which is my first point.

The second point is that protests just aren’t the right medium for getting things done. At best, they act as an inconvenience for the authorities and something for the middle class media to tut at. At worst, they are a forum for bellicose idiots. The only real protests that can potentially have an impact are those that turn violent. But then they tend to be called riots. And they tend to result in the participants getting their heads smashed in by the police, and being arrested for their troubles.

Protests are only worth going on if you have a romanticised vision of Paris in 1968. The truth is that was the exception, not the rule, and with this vague, leftie protests you alienate far more people that you win over. The government resents you for getting in their faces, the middle classes disapprove of you because they don’t get this protesting lark, and the media paints you as dangerous subversives with dangerous views that are going to undermine everything that the middle classes hold dear. Plus your placards generally look shit and your chants are normally wank.

I believe people have the right to protest, I really do. But owing to my position as a pragmatic stakeholder in the real world, I also know that an all-encompassing anti-war, anti-capitalist protest by a rag-bag mix of lefties and hippies is going to achieve about as much as a fart in a hurricane.

*Back in my wayward and misspent youth I attended a march against tuition fees. Yes, I was young and naïve. Even more flawed back then than I am now. And I soon realised that I did not want to be there. Because the chant the protesters came up with – and shouted across Durham – went like this: “One Two Three Cheese! We don’t want no top up fees.” Grammatically nonsensical and referencing cheese for no other reason than to create a crap rhyme. No wonder the protest was ignored by all the targets of the protest.

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At 9:44 pm , Blogger SteveShark said...

Excellent - it explains how the Left got in in 1997 and why they won't get in in 2010.
And that's the palatable Left - not some bunch who can't even agree what they disagree with.
If you look at the rest of that blog, she's also into blueberry muffins before a debate - not even Che was that radical...
Keep it up - love your blog!

At 9:48 pm , Blogger SteveShark said...

BTW - I've just added you to my blogroll.

At 10:15 pm , Blogger The Nameless Libertarian said...

Thanks SteveShark - glad you enjoyed. Penny Red is a latte revolutionary; give her time, and she will graduate to being a champagne socialist...

At 11:10 pm , Blogger RobW said...

You'll notice I'm having another one of my pointless arguments with the lovely Penny.

Funny you pick up on the Lattes line. Actually it's very Lenin. There's a restraunt in Paris called La Closerie des Lilas where he and Trotsky supposedly planned the revolution over coffee. Very funny.

At 8:40 am , Blogger The Nameless Libertarian said...

I'd imagine most arguments are pointless with Penny. She has the solutions to all the world's ills and it is her mission to convince you about how wrong your solutions are.

Lenin was outrageously middle-class for a man leading a revolution, if memory serves. But that grand old daddy of the revolution, Karl Marx, was a much bigger fan of beer than coffee. Beer is a much better drink for the protests and for the revolution; fuck the lattes.


At 11:11 am , Anonymous Iain Dale's Wife said...

Laurie is quite attractive if her picture is anything to go by, though.

Wouldn't mind dancing to the Grateful Dead (a real fucking sweet band) with her. Also would quite like to have her shout at me in the style her posts suggests.


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