Is anyone else disturbed by the recent protests in the UK? I am for various reasons, most of which seem to throw up more questions than answers.
Call a violent protester a violent protester
I find it disturbing that the small minority of people who committed acts of violence during the protests have been dubbed ‘anarchists’. Anarchist philosophy does not necessarily espouse violence. On the contrary, it poses an alternative to the perceived violence of government. Certainly anarchist offshoots such as punk and skinhead subcultures have been associated with violence. But we must distinguish anarchist philosophy itself from these movements. Fair enough if these particular protesters were waving anarchist flags of their own, but it’s not helpful when responsible journalists throw the label around indiscriminately without any disclaimer.
So, stop calling violent protesters anarchists and start calling them something else. I don’t know. Be creative. How about British Ninjas (they wear balaclavas, it’s kind of cool).
The end of pacifism?
I tend to come from the pacifist, Ghandi-loving school of thought that thinks violence is not going to give you a credible voice, and that people who throw ammonia-filled lightbulbs at police (who the hell thought of that anyway?) discredit a protest movement and give a bad name to all the other respectable citizens who are trying to get their, you know, mature and sophisticated voices heard. (Kind of like the way violent disgruntled youth appropriating anarchist symbols discredit the whole philosophy of anarchism).
I have never seen the kind of violence that is happening in London at protests in Australia (I’m talking about recent history, because I can’t claim to have attended any protests in the preceding century). Protests as I know them are sort of like a (noisy) walk in the park, after which you feel a bit exhausted, down-trodden and depressed. In 2003, millions of people around the world took to the streets to protest against the war in Iraq, breaking world records for the largest rally. There were an estimated 150,000 protesters here in Melbourne. The march was not only large but civil. Yet lovely Mr Howard and his government politely pretended none of this had ever happened and went ahead anyway. It didn’t matter how many people marched or how civilised they went about doing it. It was never going to change a thing. It seems, dear people, we have lost our power.
This does tends to make one feel a little bit cynical. And there are a couple of ways that could push you. You could just let the cynicism morph into apathy, go back home, turn on the TV and have yourself a nice big bowl of pasta, thank you very much. But if the problem that is getting people’s goat is really affecting enough people, directly, well, people are going to seek other methods of expression. A war happening in a distant country might stir moral upset in some people’s stomachs, but something like that is easy to forget once you’re back in your office chair. Having your pension cut, however – or your fifth child’s benefit cut, or your unemployment benefit cut – that is another kettle of fish entirely (let’s not get into kettling right now). That is something a lot of people can relate to. And if their government continues to ignore them, they’re only going to get more angry. If peaceful protesting achieves nothing … well, the people are going to get a bit less peaceful, aren’t they.
Throw a few molotov cocktails around Hyde Park – well, that’s bound to get the powers-that-be quivering on their ottomans. Maybe there is something to be said for the role of violence after all. It’s not our fault they didn’t listen the first time.
As for the punks and skinheads – wearing scary shit is intimidating, and that kind of has a way of helping you have things your way.
Without meaning to bang on about skinheads too much, I couldn’t fail to mention here Shane Meadows’ triumphant film This Is England. Equally brilliant is his heart-breaking, follow-up 4-part TV serial, This Is England 86. But watch out – it’s heavy stuff.
Long live the welfare state
I think it’s great that the Brits are sticking up for taxes. I’m sorry, did you say taxes? Like, OMG! But seriously, people seem to forget that taxes pay for many privileges and benefits that we have more or less come to expect in our civilised lives. Things like government schools, public health systems that foot the bill of your Dad’s unexpected triple bypass, or treatment for your daughter’s mental breakdown. Maybe a little beer money in your jeans pocket whilst you party away your student years. Or the funding for a local library, so you can educate yourself for free (I would just like to point out that former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating was a self-educated fellow, and such was the extent of his cool that he even had a musical written about him).
Taxes give back to our society in so many crucial ways. They give us a safety net. They make it that little bit harder to end up homeless. So it’s nothing short of criminally unfair that ‘tax’ has become a dirty word. In the same way that Anarchism has, and in the same way that Communism has. When Obama decided to strengthen the US public health system with reforms, everyone started calling him a dirty commie. Because taxing people in order to then give them back a safety net in case they get sick is, er, Communist. Yeah, with a capital C. WTF?
I don’t think people should ever have to pay beyond their means for a sickness that’s unlikely to be their own fault. It’s bizarre that the neo-conservatist obsession with privatisation has gone so far in a country that is supposed to be founded on civil liberties. Surely the right to equal access to health care, education, public transport and so on are part of these basic rights. And it’s the elected government’s job to manage these services. Otherwise what’s the bloody point of having a government.
Britain has a solid history of state welfare, and it’s clearly something that they’re proud to defend. So I say, hats off to the Brits for hanging onto public welfare for their goddamn lives, lest they get thrown back into the dark and dangerous experiment of Thatcherism. I’m not the first person to have commented that the violence curdling underneath everything is a throwback to something we’ve all seen before. Seriously, have the Tories learnt nothing?
An uncertain future
What might this mean for the future of British politics? Labor squandered their credibility and lost the last the last election, but people don’t seem too chuffed with the government(s) they voted in, either. What choices do the people have left, if not these three (unwise) monkeys? Oh fuckit, let’s go with anarchism …
*(I will conveniently ignore for the time being that we went ahead and re-elected that government)