Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Violent Protest

One of my lodestones in life is non-violence. This applies particularly when it comes to selecting the methods by which to challenge authority in general or specific policies. It is with some despair then that I watch the pointless flailings of protestors on the streets of London. What a wasted opportunity and how quickly political, social and media traction and capital can be vaporised. Ho hum.

But these particular protesters include the finest minds of the next generation. Surely they can evolve a better strategy...?

For example, a "superglue campaign", perhaps revolving around the slogan “Sticky Students”!

How many people would it take to close main transport arteries? Roads, runways, railways, if people superglued themselves to the roads and rails and aircraft? A few dozen? Each group dressed to a theme for media interest and general entertainment. London could be paralysed by a few dozen people, a few quid’s worth of glue -and without squandering sympathy by resorting to violence. Doh!

You can imagine scantily clad students (again, think of the media interest) who glue themselves across the doorways of important buildings - banks, ministries, police stations, newspaper offices, Harrods, McD's. Stuck in courtrooms, at police station counters...the only limit to this is imagination. All the chaos, none of the opprobrium.

MP's all over the nation spend their weekends holding constituency surgeries and opening fĂȘtes. Students could make appointments, shake their MP's hand...and thanks to the miracle of superglue, 650 MP's could find themselves shackled to students for a few hours, each one persistently arguing their cause to the decidedly captive audience.

Sticky students could appear welded to the benches in the Strangers Gallery or the imposing statues in the main lobby of parliament. Stuck to the sides of police cars and vans. Even individual coppers could find themselves stickied with a student.

The PR would have been rather different if instead of poking Camilla with a stick, a Baywatch-clad student had welded herself across the bonnet of the royal Roller. As a strategy, this has never been tried as before. Most importantly, it is unstoppable. It can continue for as long as necessary. Or the supply of students with nerve runs out.

The present campaign can be dismissed as just another march, just another outbreak of violence. Old strategy, old news. But an outbreak of Sticky Students would be a global first and garner vast attention. It is then up to the merits of the argument to the win the day.

Active Non-violence is an exceptionally powerful tool for change. It requires imagination and personal courage. The present demonstrations would be far more effective and interesting if people could conceive of something a little less brainless than smashing the odd window.

Oh, and this is why we aren't allowed superglue in prison!


  1. Ben, you know I normally agree with you on most things, but I think you've missed a something here. There's a significant (and constantly increasing) amount of evidence that most of the violence perpetrated at these demonstrations was carried out by the police - much of it against school children (and, notably, at least one disabled man*) and probably all of it unprovoked.

    Even where the violence was carried out by protesters, it's likely the anger wouldn't have flared had they not been unnecessarily kettled and prevented from leaving, or even going to the toilet or getting warm, for 7-9 hours on some of the coldest days in decades. Even then, it seems they stayed mostly peaceful until the police decided to up the ante with a little light truncheoning of children and using horses to charge a crowd with nowhere to escape to.

    I am all for imaginative methods of non-violent protest, but lets ensure our basic rights to the more mundane variety are protected first.

    *who apparently menacingly approached the police line... in his wheel chair...pushed by his brother...

  2. For more, I recommend everyone read this excellent on the ground account, and the others she links to from earlier protests. They paint a somewhat different picture to that we have seen in the mainstream media:

  3. So glad your sense of humour seems to be kicking back in!! I think the images inspired by todays blog are some of the funniest in ages, and the great thing is you are absolutely right!! The only thing I would like to add though is the hijacking of essential protests by a minority who don't really give a rats **** about anything in particular. So come on genuine protesters...get the superglue out. Thanks for the laughs Ben.

  4. Funny, yes but as I know Ben is serious about this, I will respond seriously.

    I think Ben misunderstands the nature of the state if he thinks that this type of 'non-violent direct action' which in itself is a good idea - one among a range of good ideas, not the only one! - would not be met with violent reprisals from the police. These would necessitate self-defence, which would be depicted as violence. The PR might be very slightly different but not much. You only have to look at the BBC's attempts to smear Jody McIntyre, who was pulled out of his wheelchair on a recent demo, because Jody dares to be more than a passive victim.

    I think that 'pointless flailings of protestors' is insulting to people who are just coming into political struggle and are finding their way. There's no blueprint for them any more than there is for prison struggles and you can't just write one and then write off everything else.

    Nicki (Prisoners Fightback, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!)

  5. In regards to who started the violence, look at the first protest. 50 000 protesters and a few hundred police not equipped for a riot. It doesn't take much to realise that it was not the police who went looking for a fight. And after that its simply a matter of escalation.

    As for violence as a method of protest, it is utterly stupid in this case. Firstly, a great many students (myself included) immediately became very hostile to the protesters who lead to students being labelled thugs.

    Secondly, MP's have more constituents than just students. Voting for people to receive government subsidy to live off for a few years when those people are then seen to smash property and deface statues of national heros is not going to sit well.

    Thirdly, people will wonder what their money is being spent on when it goes to universities, if it is producing people whose debating skills are sufficiently weak they have to resort to violence to make their points heard.

  6. There is a history of a tiny minority of brainless thugs causing unnecessary violence at political protests; they draw attention to the fact that the protesters don't care about the issues and are only there as a rent a mob. These so called 'protesters' are more often than not plain clothed ( although usually clad in black) police officers, known as agent provocateurs. Cons know how the police work undercover, just as they do to bust criminal industry, they are also politically motivated to undermine people fighting for a cause.

    I agree with Nicki and Wigarse, many of the students were children and have no experience of struggle or street fighting; it is not on their curricula and just as in life, mistakes are bound to be made. It isn't fair to denounce them.

    Ben is right about direct action though. Were it not for the brave actions of the suffragettes, who chained themselves to railings (there was no super glue in those days!), went on hunger strike, and many other actions, women might still not have the vote. One brave suffragette (I have forgotten her name) actually threw herself under the kings horses at a race to highlight the cause for universal suffrage, she also lost her life by doing so.

    It does take some courage and imagination. In my experience people are always coming up with imaginative ways to highlight wrong doings and promote a cause; for example there are two future events coming up, one on the seventh of January called 'international silly walk day' to highlight the enormous amount of money being spent on defense ( rather than a ministry for silly walks ;). Another on the fourteenth called 'dance against the deficit' being held somewhere near the bank of England. The protesting students are the future and many of them care not just about the issue of education but many other things besides.

    I wonder if Ben's superglue idea will catch on? Could be. I know some stories of superglue being used on locks in industrial disputes ...

  7. Anonymous #2 You are kidding right? It was a demonstration, of course the police were out numbered! You surely aren't advocating we only be allowed to protest with one-to-one policing?!

    As for not equipped for a riot, it looks to me as though they went well equipped for violence and looking for a fight: Try to ignore the stupid music, the real kicking starts at around the 1 minute mark - 3 on 1 with his arms immobilized look fair to you?! This middle aged woman certainly looks as though she was threatening the poor ickle policeman with the big truncheon.

    And, of course, lets not forget Jody McIntyre, whose agressive act of being pushed towards police in his wheelchair certainly justified pulling him from it and dragging him across the ground...:

    And if you think charging peaceful people (including children and a pregnant woman) with horses is a good way to keep the peace... well shame on you! No wonder already angry people lose it, anyone would under those circumstances!

    I found those videos, amongst hundreds of others in just 30 seconds on Youtube. Before you come rushing to the defence of the poor boys in blue manning the thin blue line, you might want to do some research into what they are actually doing during these protests.

  8. The first protest was on the 10th of November. None of those video's are from before the 24th of November. So they do not debunk the point.

  9. @ Wigarse,
    Well said, I think anon #2 should be left in the middle of the next protest and see how he likes being taunted, heckled and kettled by the police. I do believe non violence is the key here though, maybe the protesters should simply superglue themselves to the police!

  10. Brilliant idea, Ben.

    The sight of some rock star's kid with his "revolution" flag jumping on the Cenotaph certainly puts me off. Just some rich-kid playing at dissent but really just acquiring stories to bore his friends with in the pub and his kids later in life. Showing a sense of humour to make your point is much preferable to earnest idiocy. Especially if you have to take some lumps from the police to make it.

    And Nicki, I can't help feeling that simply going out to vote regularly would be the best lesson in political struggle that you need. Governments reward their electors. That's why services the middle aged and elderly are more likely to use are being ring-fenced, ie, the NHS, and services for the young are being cut: they can be relied upon to vote; youth can't. You are losing out because you can be safely ignored. No amount of broken windows will change that.

    But then voting isn't as much fun now, is it?

  11. A lot of what gets put down as "violence" is either just high spirits, or is rage at police abuse. Occasionally it's people who have been mistreated over and over and decide in advance to fight back (read Sian Sullivan's "We Are Heartbroken and Furious"). I really don't see how people can be expected to take lying down the kind of systematic human rights violations the police were perpetrating at these protests. Even if an act just makes abuse a bit more costly, it imposes costs on the system. It's not "brainless" and it's certainly not grounds for the kind of demonisation people engage in, including here. Judgementalism is a characteristic of authoritarian morality not emancipatory ethics, and "middle England" need to realise that protests and revolts are not all about them, it's not about looking good to win votes in a popularity contest (these people watch too much reality TV methinks), it's between the resisters and the system.

    If people want to complain about the way a cause gets represented, blame the media. The problem is that the media mis-covers incidents, it plays down police abuse as a cause of unrest, it makes like suddenly "violence" is "never justified" while also condoning police atrocities and war, and it concentrates on particular images picked out to make protesters look bad. For instance, personally I don't see what's wrong with a rock-star's son being there in support of a cause he believes in, and I suspect he just got caught up in the moment. The media pick on this one person out of tens of thousands to create an unrepresentative example of protesters. It's not his fault he's used this way, it's the media's fault.

    PS: it's completely true that shutting down roads and the like is very effective, more now than ever. Police would be inclined to respond viciously, however. In places like Bolivia, Ecuador and Thailand, this tactic (blockading roads, airports etc) is common, but people also prepare to defend their roadblocks from the inevitable police attacks.

  12. @Queenie Whilst you make like the mental image, it does not further your point at all. The first wave of violence was started by the protestors. Nothing Wigarse has shown demonstrates otherwise.

  13. On the issue of non violence; Martin Luther King believed in non violence, Malcolm X also once an extolled non violence; they changed their minds as they participated in struggle and had to develop strategies to combat the onslaught from the state they faced.

    Direct Action, non violence are all strategies employed in struggle, there is room for all; but they are just that, strategies and by definition fluid, subject to change depending on circumstance. No one strategy is set in stone nor counter posed to any other, its the goal that must be achieved, the way to it just depends on what else is going on at the time.

  14. @ Shug, Well that's what the problem is, they promised not to do this to the students before the election, and suprize suprize, broke their promise. You can't blame the students for being angry.

    I regularly protest for animal rights, and once was at the Oxford Lab (google SPEAK for more info) One day an Oxford student asked why we didn't just write to our MP, well we already have, but get fobbed off with empty promises, the thing is, if people didn't protest 100 years ago, we women wouldn't be able to write to our MP.

    Shac (the group who campaign to close down Huntindon Life Scienc) have already done stunts to block Heathrow etc, and have done some very effective things. But you won't always read about it in the mainstream media. Schnews and bite back tell you what's going on, and a lot of it underground now.

  15. @ Anon #2
    And your insistance the police are right does nothing to further yours. Get out in it and see what actually goes on, or do you also insist what we see in the media is the truth?. I still say superglue would work!! maybe you should try it.

  16. The whole point about a non-violent protest is to induce a violent response. If, while singing a rousing verse of "Kumbaya", a group of students sat cross-legged in the middle of the M1 were charged by police on horse back no-one, and I quite literally mean no-one, is going to side with the police. However, if the footage of the police charge can be shown within a context of a riotous mob desecrating a war memorial "the people" will rightly have no sympathy, and, what is more, will rightly reward the politicians, that do not yield to such thuggery, at the ballot box.

    In addition the main reason no-one cares about the animal rights lobby is because the vast majority of people think they are fruitcakes. People who aren't able to backpedal fast enough once a loved one, tragically diagnosed with cancer, is offered a choice between a tried and ape-tested drug and a a brand spanking new-drug that like some ludicrous episode of star-trek has been run through "computer simulations".

  17. The point of protests is to demonstrate on a variety of issues, in this case it is for the right to education, against fees and so on, or it might be against war, or for the right to work etc.

    Many people nowadays have little or no faith in parliamentary politics to deliver anything, and for those that did have faith, they have been let down. The democracy offered by voting once every four or five years is a low and poor level, protests and demonstrations are a democratic right and will continue so long as democracy remains as scant as it currently is.

  18. Anon #2 I didn't address that point because I felt is was less important than the other. I did initially answer it, but I took it out to keep my post concise. Also, I live in Japan so answers from me won't arrive after about 3pm GMT; don't take that to mean I don't have them.

    It is inevitable that there will be a minority that will take advantage of a situation like this to kick off. It is the job of the police to calm and contain that situation so that the rest of us can continue with our right to protest. That is precisely why they are present at demonstrations in the first place - they are there to protect the protesters, not the state!

    I fail to see how the fact that they were un prepared and therefor unable to carry out that role at the first protest in any way justifies the unprovoked violence and incitement to riot that we saw in the subsequent demos!

    Don't get me wrong, I don't necessarily blame the police for being unprepared the first time. Everyone was taken a bit by surprise and those few violent "protesters" have done the cause far more harm than anyone else, but nothing justifies the disproportionate response we have seen since.

    It is also important to bear in mind that the apparent scale of the initial violence has been blown out of all proportion by a media relentlessly focusing on what makes the best story and gets the highest ratings, rather than the truth. In this regard my distance gives me perspective - I can't get much of my news from the usual UK outlets and so I must get it from a wide variety of alternative sources, many of them outside the UK. This gives me a far more balanced overview and a better understanding of the degree of establishment bias in most UK reporting.

    Ultimately, I find it staggering that apologists for the police can justify their appalling behaviour with "but they started it!", as if the fact that some thugs looking to smash some windows more than a month earlier can ever justify charging down an innocent pregnant woman with a horse or dragging a man with cerebral palsy from his wheelchair!

  19. @Sophie J Can you tell me when all men got the vote, Was it before or after 1,000,000 in this country alone were killed and many millions more mained or injured?

    Moving on from this and way past WW2 it wasn't until the 70s that the voting age was reduced to 18 and yet they could still be conscripted.

    Not a good idea to cherry pick parts of history when it can be shown through various statutes that women were well and truly catered for.

    Check out the factory acts of the 1800s

  20. I wasn't making a contribution about suffrage; but how parliamentary politics and democracy in general are still inadequate and therefore why people resort to demonstrating on important issues of the day.

  21. Mind you on the issue of suffrage; it should be extended to include sixteen year olds too; if they are old enough to have families then they should also be allowed to be part of the ( albeit inadequate) political process that we have, so too should prisoners. The women suffragettes obviously didn't agree that their democratic needs actually were being 'catered for'

  22. When does the woman suffragette type ever feel their needs are catered for? In WW1 some of the best were campaining for more men to go and get killed or maimed re White Feather.

  23. @ James Robinson, while i don't want to go off topic here, please do your research before you post here. Drugs are here in spite of animal research, and not because of it, there are plenty of examples where drugs have been withdrawn. If i found out i had cancer i would do the raw food diet, and take apricot kernels, but of course there is no profit for that for big pharma. It is all about MONEY if you look close enough. I went with a friend to a hospital appointment (she has breast cancer) and the consultant said it was her "hunch" that she should go from one drug to another, when i asked if there is anything else she could do, the doctor said there was no scientific research, when i pointed out that she wasn't going on research either, just a hunch, she didn't know what to say. All i can say is that i don't want my life in the hands of the people that have an interest in making money and not my walfare.

  24. Well indeed, there were many people who supported the first world war everywhere including many who should have known better like those fighting for universal suffrage for example.

    Of course there were also those suffragettes who did not support the war, women like Sylvia Pankhurst.

    Major events always mean that people have to choose sides, and then history proves you right or wrong

  25. Don't worry everyone, the police will be having their own protests and demos soon, it didn't matter who got into power, this country is in so much debt, that it's gonna be cut backs all round. Inc the police, who will be replaced by these "hobby bobby" community support people. So any paid police officer who has a mortgage and family.....will just have to do one.

  26. @ Sophie J you don't seem to connect the dots do you. One pacifist amongst millions of men who were killed and never got to vote.

  27. Fascinating discussion! The only thing I can say to Ben is that my daughter's best friend did indeed use superglue, a couple of years ago, to adhere herself to the DTI building! After they managed to prise her off she was duly arrested!

    Also, let's not turn this into a gender war, that doesn't seem relevant to this topic at all. For each man that died in WW1 there was a wife, lover or mother who mourned. Women have had to struggle to bring their children up alone, they made a huge sacrifice too. Many women served as nurses and witnessed horrendous things during wartime, putting themselves at risk to save men.

    Also Sophie J, I will have to do some research but I don't believe Martin Luther King ever abandoned his non-violent stance, before being assassinated. There is such a thing as righteous anger though, and without this nothing would change. It is exremely unjust in my opinion that 6th form students from poorer families will get their EMA cut. This and the increase in fees WILL result in working class young people being disadvantaged educationally. I admire the students for taking a stand, any violence was perpetrated by a very small minority of those taking part in the demos.

  28. Thank you Jules, anonymous seems hell bent on having a row with me about something, he seems to have a chip on his shoulder.

    As you say Jules no woman ever got anything out of having their male loved ones and relatives slaughtered in the first world war. And Sylvia Pankhurst was no pacifist either, she opposed an imperialist war that was WW1 was well known and vocal with her views.

    Anonymous you are inventing an argument with me here, perhaps you would be more honest and just get off your chest what it is that is bothering you? If it is relevant at all to the issues raised. This type of behaviour is known in cyber space as 'hijacking', please stop it.

    The turn Martin Luther king was making away from a non violent strategy and the timing of his assassination was more than coincidence.

    On the last point you made Jules about a small minority who perpetrate violence on demonstrations; this is an argument that comes up every time there is a fracas on a major demonstration, the argument is age old and will not doubt continue ... Tooled up police are politically motivated and the now common practice of kettling protesters is designed to demoralise people into never coming out again on another protest, and it is also extremely dangerous, one young student had to have emergency brain surgery from an injury he sustained by a policeman while attempting to leave a kettled area. These are things that the media don't report or report briefly and move swiftly on to other news such as the outrageous 'attack' on the Royals who were in their limousine and got caught up by protesting students, who so outrageously called them names. ( While this poor lad nearly dies and many other students are hurt. )


    Hear this song by a young student protester concerning the recent events

  30. @ Jules & Sophie J....
    Well said!!

  31. I have to say after spending 20 years inside that the system only respects you by the amount of violence that they think that you're capable of inflicting on them. The more weak they think you are the more they will torture you. I beat my tariff because I had a massive campaign going on and I took them to court at every opportunity to show that they were wrong...Non violence only works if the people you are dealing with have any humanity and shame...

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