Friday, January 21, 2011

The protest thing...

My, some of you are sensitive souls! All I did was suggest that the recent student protests were ‘pointless flailings' and I get savaged by the Left, the feminist contingent, and then most of you vanished into a circular debate about who began the violence - and so missed my point completely.
What is the purpose of protest? Is it to purposelessly voice an inchoate anger at the world? Or is it intended to actually cause a change? If protest is intended to alter the course of policy then the student march failed - hence my comment about pointless flailings. It may have been a success in terms of organisation, in terms of harnessing a voice and raising the issue to the forefront of politics. But in terms of changing the policy they object to, it indisputably failed. Or was the sole purpose of the march to get worked over by the Old Bill and the media? In which case, medals all round.
The essence of non-violent action is to level the playing field between the powerful and the powerless. It is only when the powerful find it expedient that they will deign to open discussions with those they could otherwise ignore. And yet another march is just the type of thing that government can ignore. It was done with the Stop The War coalition demo and it can be done with student loans.
The question, then, is what non-violent tactics would level the disparity of power? And what tactics must be avoided?
Non-violent direct action has two mechanisms of leverage, the practical and the moral, both inseparable. In the practical sphere, non-violent action can cause genuine disruption to such an extent that the pain felt by the powerful is sufficient to bring them to negotiate. My examples of this in terms of 'sticky students' was economic disruption - to bring rail, road and air
travel to a halt. That wouldn't merely be gesture politics, it would cause actual pain to the powerful.
In the moral sphere, the power of non-violent action lies in self-sacrifice, the willingness to demonstrate the belief in the just nature of the cause to the extent that those involved are willing to undergo sacrifice to propagate their goal.
This is why I argue that who began the violence in the protests, police or marchers, is completely irrelevant. In lifting their fists, even in self defence, the marchers lost moral authority. Protestors who allow themselves to be beaten carry a stronger message. This is why non-violent direct action is so difficult a path, why it requires great strength in the individuals involved.
Its effectiveness has been demonstrated countless times, but one illustration will suffice. The Civil Rights marches in the American South reverberated through the body politic, and around the world, because those involved had the strength of purpose to allow themselves to be clubbed by the police without defending themselves.
Each of these activities - the moral and the practical - are played out within the media culture. To ignore this is just silly. We may wish that the world were different, but the reality is that most people's views of an event are shaped through the mainstream media. And some of the protestors played into the hands of a malign media by causing violent actions. Poking the next Queen was just plain stupid in media terms.
The tightness of the cause, the strength of the arguments, are not enough. The message must be propagated through a cynical media. This is why I suggested Baywatch-babes gluing themselves to the royal limo. It would be a picture that the media couldn't resist. Sexist, objectifying women...blah, blah, blah. If you want to influence the images portrayed by the media, you must manipulate that media. And scantily clad women are like catnip to editors. The world shouldn't be like this - but it is. To pretend otherwise, to ignore media predilections, is to play into the hands of a media which will - and did - use any possible image to malign the protestors. Play them at their own game, give them irresistible images. If that means 'betraying the sisterhood', well, sacrifices have to be made. The picture that could be circling the globe is one of Charles grinning as he letches at a bikini babe stuck on his bonnet. Instead, the look of horror on Camilla’s face as their car is attacked is the image cemented into posterity. That's just a raised opportunity.
The media can be manipulated like puppets once their agenda is acknowledged. Rather than finding pics of students raising their fists, why aren't the media presented with rows of students dressed as, say, nuns and monks, being beaten by the police?

Who began the violence is irrelevant, a point that reveals ignorance of the philosophy and methodologies of active non­violent campaigning. Pictures of violent students - acting in self defence or not - are instantly grabbed by the media. They also undermine the moral power of non-violent action. Both the message and the campaign are damaged.
Having a small cadre of students sticking themselves across roads and railways may well be 'elitist', though that term somehow fails to acknowledge that not all people have identical attributes and gifts. Active non-violence is difficult, it is hard on the individuals involved, and only some will have the courage to make that self sacrifice. It may be elitist, but it would work a damn sight more effectively than marching down a street for a few hours.
Protesting is an ancient art. Sometimes it works, often it doesn't. For those involved in the present campaigns to ignore the losses, to fail to adapt to new strategies and ways of thinking, is to embrace failure and disappointment.
If I had any influence over the course of events, I would have organised a march. But one stuffed full of people dressed in innocent costumes - monks, cartoon characters, etc - all wedded to the notion of non-violence. Not one image of a raised fist would be available to the media, all they would have would be pictures of Bugs Bunny and nuns being clubbed by coppers dressed like a stormtroopers. Suck on that, Murdock.
If the actions of the police are problematic, then degrade their abilities. Come on people, this is basic stuff! Rather than bitching about those mean coppers, do your research and impair their abilities. Where are the vans of the TSG based? Where's the depot that holds the row control barriers? Where are the horses based? Which police stations are used to detain those arrested?
Non-violent disruption at these key locations could impair the police ability to deploy their thuggish tactics. Gluing students to entry gates, in custody suits, to TSG vans, even across the routes that the police use to deploy to the demo route...All of these actions would impair the police. Why are they not used? Why are organisers of demos wedded to old fashioned and failed tactics?
I repeat my main criticism of the demo. The student fees issue is a legitimate one to debate. There was the possibility to gain social, media and political traction for that debate. But the actions of some involved squandered all of that capital. And, from my perspective, their failure to embrace non-violent action is to squander a tool of unprecedented effectiveness.
Now, who have I upset this time? Form an orderly queue...


  1. Seems like you are just trying to use a student protest to try and display your expertise at generating chaos - not a particularly clever move for a prisoner wanting release is it?

    Why do you feel the need to display your intelligence at every possible opportunity by running others down. Can't you find a positive outlet?

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  3. This is by far the most sensible stuff I've read about the student protests so far. Non-violence isn't weak and it certainly isn't giving up.

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  5. Possibly an example of non-violent protest you are looking for Ben is Fathers4justice. Alas even then, Jolly Stanesby was jailed for two months for a rooftop protest at the home of Deputy Prime Minister Harriett Harman.

  6. Ben's right, to an extent. And I agree that imaginative non-violent action is the most productive way forward. There were a lot of kids in their school uniform, and some of them were filmed trying to protect a police van from violence.

    And I think the protests - even with the violence - have pushed the issue to the front of public consciousness and raised sympathy for the cause of free education for all, as a public good.

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  8. You are right Jules, if the people in Tunisia can dodge the police, bullets and tanks to topple a dictator like Ben Ali, it gives us hope. We don't have as much to contend with as the Tunisians did and yet they managed.

    Ben, I am sorry for my earlier comments here, please ignore them. You put time and effort into your blog and it is really appreciated. Thinking of you and wishing you well.

  9. Amended comment, respect Sophie!!

    Given that people power in Tunisia has brought down the president and apparently inspired activists in other Arab nations too, this theme is again very topical. I think popular uprisings are going to become much more common as people get more and more frustrated with corrupt politicians and oppressive regimes. Let us hope and pray that non-violence will prevail though; young Tunisians died for their cause.

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  11. It is just like Ben said-Even if a non-violent stand seems stupidly pacifist to the students demonstrating, it potrays the best image to convey the message wanted to the public.

    I remember when we first heard about the demonstrations here in the us. Alot of people who saw the imagery in the news automatically assumed that the whole thing was a farce engineered by the same hooligans who go about tipping over cop cars at every G20 summit. Truth be told, even i couldn't tell the difference.

  12. Once again your post knocks heads together!! Makes us think...I loved the idea of super glue in the original post, it seems to make even more sense now. Non violent protest is an art, and like art it needs its sacrifices.

  13. There are three main areas here broadly, first on media manipulation, second on crowd manipulation at demonstrations and third on violence.

    On media manipulation, people and justice campaigns often do media stunts, sure, but no-one has to play up to the dirty media and its lust for naked women and girls to get attention. There exists an alternative press, one that fights for the dignity of all people and in every aspect.

    On crowd manipulation; demonstrations are often spontaneous, or contain within them spontaneity; so when the students bumped into Charles and Camilla, they were not organised, nor could they be at that time. Yes the media homed in on it, but the mainstream media is not a totality, there were huge numbers on that demonstration, and those peoples views and experience does not count for nothing.

    People have their everyday lives to contend with, they are not professional demonstrators, they go to work, school, university, have family pressures and so on. People will express themselves at demonstrations in ways that they see fit and not in ways that someone say they should be.

    Yes, demonstrations are and can be limited in terms of shifting power, however, they do give people confidence and will always exist as long as there is paucity in the democratic process.

    In Tunisia, the trade unions played a fundamental role in organising the struggle and seeing off the tyrant that was Ben Ali.

    This question of violence comes up time and again. I don't like violence, like most people on the planet. As everyone has already said on the subject, the kitted up state apparatus is intimidating and provocative, but the violence that has to be contended with is the violence after there has been a shift in power, as those deposed seek re-in-statement of their old order, and that I dread, but I would rather die standing than spend my life on my knees.

  14. @Sophie J Really and what alternative press would that be?

    If you really want to get angry think about the soaps continually pumping discord and mayhem, plus the best selling books about sexual erotica and abuse all manufactured for women's pleasure and titillation.

  15. Here are some examples of the Alternative Press:- As long as people stand up and fight back, from the time of the ranters, the levelers from the days of the English revolution right through to the Chartists of the late 1800's to the present day, there exists an alternative press. Today it could be Indy media, Socialist Worker, there was once upon a time the Daily Worker. Sylvia Pankhurst and the group around her which included Haille Sellasie had a brilliant radical newsheet called 'Dreadnought'

  16. @Sophie J All left wing/feminst inspired. Where does it include a "fight for the dignity of all people and in every aspect."?

    What about men? Specifically white hetrosexual males?

  17. Stop addressing me with your daft questions, if you make a contribution here, at least make it relevant to Ben's post, its his blog and you ought respect that.

  18. @Sophie J Stop bringing into your responses poor women victims nonsense then and making claims you can't substantiate.... Indeed it is Ben's blog so why do you use it to further your own agenda?

  19. Stop addressing me with your daft questions, if you make a contribution here, at least make it relevant to Ben's post, its his blog and you ought respect that.

  20. Your comments here anonymous are promoting gender hatred and are not permitted under blogger rules

  21. @Sophie J Oh really well off you trot to the Blogging Police and get the blog taken down. I'm sure they'll be highly amused that a Mz Equality doesn't like some of the comments made in response to her own. LOL

    Or are you hoping that the blog stays and you can pursue your own subtle style of gender hatred?

  22. Fathers4justice are a joke, they gave up at the first sign of trouble, doesn't say much about the men fighting for their kids.

  23. Re:- Fathers4justice but fight for them they did and in innovative ways that got them worldwide media coverage without the use of violence. Even then they were condemned by the pro-feminist lobby and other sycophants as not fit Fathers because they had the cheek to stand up for themselves.

  24. Ben is right, but misses one other aspect of the issue. Whilst media portrayal is important, it is also important to consider the voter. The majority of voters are taxpayers and not students. The protest movement is asking for the taxpayer, through its agent the government, to keep paying out thousands to each university student each year at a time when the country is having to decide how to use its now more limited resources. If the people receiving money come across as intelligent, socially useful and respectful citizens, public opinion will support such payments. If the recipients are seen as thugs smashing other people's property, then public opinion will ask why they are getting public money.

    Media portrayal is important in this, but only as the way in which public perception is molded, which is the root to hurting governments at ballot boxes and therefore changing government policy.

  25. Er, Fathers4justice disbanded at the first sign of trouble, there was a plan to kidnap Leo Blair, and that was the end of that. So dressing up as batman didn't count for much when i came to fighting to see their kids??? IMHO

  26. There was no plan to kidnap Leo Blair or do you believe everything you read in a hostile press?

    With regard to them disbanding here's their website and the offshoot both look like they still very much in existance.

    So tell me Anon why are you so against them, do you like the idea of children being stopped seeing their Fathers and their Grand Parents, Aunties and uncles?

    You see the issue, if you gave it some thought, is much further reaching than you seem to be aware of.

  27. No, i am not against them, if i were not allowed to see my kids i'd tear down the walls of no 10 with my own bare hands.

    I can't comment of them per sey, as each case is different, and maybe some fathers should not see their kids. ( i know of one little boy who is forever waiting on Sundays for daddy to turn up, and he hardley ever does, so in that case, perhaps the mother should just say he can't see him to end the dissapointment she has to deal with.) Of couse i dare say there are plenty of women who are just awkward.

    Just don't hear of them lately, and their stunts are just that, stunts. Don't get them anywhere.

  28. And conversley I can tell you of many cases where the woman is being cruel and yet the courts will do nothing because as they say, it's not in the best interests of the child.

    You say you would tear down walls to see your own children and I assume you mean you would do anything. Would you for example kidnap a leading politician’s child, jut to give them a taste of what it's like to lose contact with your children?

    What about say sat in a pub one night with what you believe is a group of friends and you mention such a scheme not expecting it to be taken seriously and the next day found it plastered across the frontpage of the national media?

    I can tell you now, if you are the Mother you might get away with it but if you are the Father, you “tear down any walls” and you will likely be facing a prison sentence and never see your children again being deemed an unfit parent, even though you were forced into it by an uncaring feminist state.
    No you don’t hear of them but you know who they are don’t you?

    How many other protest organisations do you know whose name just drops off your tongue? Greenpeace, friends of the earth. Perhaps?

    Now consider campaign costs and you’ll surely agree that by a massive margin F4J was more effective. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if they hold some of Guinness Book Of Records for the most effective campaign strategy ever.

    What are they doing now, I have no idea. Maybe they are actually now being listened to or involved in consultation so don’t need to be in the public limelight any more.

  29. I agree with you that there are dead-beat parents of both sexes. And each case is different. I am not saying things are fair in every case.

    But Bens blog today is about protest methods, and i still don't think they are effective as a protest group. I have had a cursory glance at their website, and it doesn't offer that much at all.

  30. I know what Ben's post was about hence mentioning an organisation that didn't deal in violent methods to achieve it's aims.

    Other than that what benchmarks are you using to conclude that they aren't an effective protest group?

  31. ok, has ANY ONE father got to see his kids because of dressing up as batman or any one stunk F4J have done ????

    I have no idea???? You tell me, but that's the bottom line. Have they set out to do what they were formed for, I see they offer advice on their website, but has this translated into seeing kids they could previously not see ???

    I have no axe to grind, nor agenda. just don't think the protests got results, which is just my opinion.

  32. All I can say to that is of course they have on the basis that the issue got highlighted enough in the press that there will be at least one Father who gets to see his children now due to the efforts that F4J made.

    At least they are less likely to get imprisoned for trying to make contact with their children.

    You can also view their wiki page and kind of follow their historical timeline and see what changes and altered perceptions occurred as a result, some unexpected. To coin a phrase catching the Emperor without no clothes. LOL

    So in keeping with the article are you therefore in favour of violent protest as opposed to “peaceful” non-violent type?

  33. I am in favor of what ever WORKS. I just haven't seen any changes in the law because of, or in spite of F4J. In fact, i have just read some poor soul has killed themselves in Luton because he could not see his kids. (R.I.P.) so the law, or F4J has done nothing for him, and now the kids don't have a dad at all. Which is tragic all round.

    The sufferegets used violence, and they got what they wanted, of course, some went to jail, but there is no war without casualties.

    Off the top of my head, 2 enviromental campaigners took on the might of McDonalds, in the courts, and the McLible trial was born, which i would say they won. They have prompted McDonals to change their ways in recycleing, animal welfare etc. But perhaps others would say they didn't win, as McDonals are still running a huge profitable business. Some would say it was just greenwash.

    So, at the end of the day, i am with whatever works, and afraid "peaceful" doesn't always.

  34. No problem with disagreeing with you that at some point violence or the threat of it does work but these McDonalds campaigners are not an example of that.

    With regard the Suffragettes I've never seen any evidence to prove that their tactics got them the vote, other than their involvement in the White Feather Campaign which probably helped to force a few more thousand men to their deaths. Not to mention of course that there were various riots and protests in this era, the Chartists for example that achieved various changes in the laws and statutes.

    In simple terms though what do you think the Suffragettes could achieve in this modern day if they were faced with the same issue as Fathers4justice are dealing with?

    I can 100% guarantee that the use of violence above that of egg throwing (both incidents that I know of just narrowly avoided prison sentences) sitting on the roof of MP’s houses (one received a prison sentence)and paint daubing would not only lead to lose of liberty but absolute lose of any involvement with their children forever and quite possibly a claim by feminists that all Fathers should be corralled by some law that inhibits involvement with their children.

    You imply this man’s life is the responsibility of F4J. How come it isn’t the responsibility of the modern day Suffragettes ie feminists who say they are fighting for equality?

  35. Wondered when that was going to come, the labelling and the insults and the fact you seem to think you hold the moral high ground.

    Oh and by the way you forgot to mention the Daily Mail in your pathetic response.

  36. I am not the same anon that posted 2 above for the record. Was thinking about this at work today, which protests have been effective? And i am afraid not many i can think of. There was stop the war coalition, which of course didn't stop the war. Newbery bypass, which had good tactics, but neverthelss, the bypass was built in the end. There is some campaign or other that wants to stop the arms trade, but hasn't done. The poll tax riots, caused a stir at the time, but was just replaced with council tax. not sure if faslaine peace camp is still there. They did ban fox hunting, but the law is so wishy washy, that it is not enforced. Can anyone think of a something that has got results? because the sufferagets are the only one that i can think of.

  37. "The feminist contingent?" Perhaps Ben could do a deal with us. He either uses childish clich├ęs like that OR he postures as someone who disapproves of the Daily Mail - but he doesn't try to do both at the same time.

  38. You need to look further back in time Anon, the 1800s in particular. The "chartists" for example. Another example if you like is the Labour party itself which was borne out of a "protest group" that decided to gain political power rather than wave banners about. In fact the suffragettes at the time were just another protest group who the feminists of today like to pump up at every opportunity.


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