Firstly, apologies for not writing in a while – travelling, third year at uni, interjected with a protest and my 21st have made me rather busy. However, I have finally got around to writing my own account on the 26th March for the Alternative.
After reading people’s own experiences of the demonstration rather than the bullshit reporting of the media I have come to the assessment that there were four main aspects to the day:
- The march of 500,000 people.
- The atom size group of so-called ‘anarchists’.
- UKUncut’s action.
- Trafalgar Square protests.
Whilst I am no ‘hummus muncher’ (to be discussed), the march was nothing but amazing. After entering London, the tube stations were gradually shut as the protester numbers grew and grew. The atmosphere was electric, carnival in style. The divisions the Friday Newsnight programme had tried to construct, was nowhere to be found – protesters were driven by a common goal: to unite against the government. Whilst I missed Ed Miliband speak, I hardly say I am disappointed. There are several problems for Labour with Ed having a luckless ability to inspire.
I was privy to seeing the so-called ‘Black Block’ group of ‘anarchists” splintering from the march with determination as they carried red and black flags. The use and complete apoliticalisation of anarchism, ignoring anarchism’s historical richness, is undermining anarchism as a theoretical body. There is no wonder great intellectual thinkers such as Murray Bookchin ended up leaving the anarchist tradition whilst not actually changing his clearly anarchist inspired ideas. I think more appropriate terms to describe such a group includes ‘nihilism’.
Violence is sometimes warranted (as will be discussed), but egoistical violence with no political goal, which is divorced from historical context, is not. What is important to emphasis however is that those ‘anarchists’ who started violence for violence’s sake are actually a very small number. There were a number of anarchists in the protest who did not do that, and they are the majority of anarchists. Most of the protest was peaceful, I personally saw no violence all day. The media however did not want to communicate the sheer power of half a million protests marching against a government that is not even a year old. I think there is a danger with supporting any action by anti-government movements. There is a danger of supporting actions that are clearly individualised. It is almost a response to an individualised culture of consumer capitalism, a culture that remains unchallenged by such apolitical acts.
Let us also remember that there are allegations of police undercover operations within these groups. See here for an example of evidence that the Black Bloc is clearly being infiltrated by the State to support the State’s aims, supporting neoliberal destruction. Whilst it may be cynical, it is very ironic that Sky was able to put Ed Miliband’s speech directly over the start of the violence. However, there is no doubt that this violence itself was misrepresented, whilst I disagree with their tactics it wasn’t as bad as the media made out and so it’s more a question of whether such actions are politically sound than whether they were out to seriously hurt people.
This was a microscopic aspect of the march. The political direct action took form by UKUncut. There is a notable division forming in relation to whether UKUncut were right or not to stage their own direct action. For me, they have every right to have done their action at the same time as the march, even though I preferred the march itself. Given that the march and the direct action are both successful ways of protests, I am also adverse to the elitist attitude coming from both sides making out that their action was better than the other. Laurie Penny is a prime example here, making out that those who did not take part in the UKUncut action were ‘less involved’ as they eat their hummus. This loses touch of the fact we were all there for the same reason. UKUncut themselves noted that they were not there to ‘steal’ the ‘limelight’; and we should believe them.
The media sadly used the atomistic violence of a very very few people to attempt to taint UKUncut whilst the police utilised it to abuse and wrongfully arrests protesters such as Green Party member Adam Ramsay . Ramsay was arrested after being led on by the police that if he and others left the shop, Fortnum & Mason, they wouldn’t be arrested – they were however ketteled and arrested when leaving the shop. This was wrong, the direct action has been reported from the people who experienced and took part as peaceful, with many contrasting themselves with the rather different tactics of the Black Bloc. Even Fortnum and Mason said that the damage was limited – but these facts are what the media and politicians ignore. Alongside the constant infiltration of police at such protests.
Whilst Laurie Penny’s article tone is slightly elitist (as mentioned above), she has a good account of the peaceful actions that took part at Trafalgar Square, illustrating the problems the protests faced from over handed police tactics. Another good account comes from a member of the Cycling Bloc who also demonstrated the peaceful after party feel of Trafalgar Square and the police’s abuse towards such rightful demonstrations. Importantly, he also reiterates the point I am trying to make that the actions of the very few who were violent was very very small, and that the most direct action that was clearly political in aim was from UKUncut who were wrongly penalised. Furthermore, he argues that the Black Bloc’s actions were not as bad as some made out, but he too questions the wisdom of such actions. Also see here for another good account of the police’s abuse at Trafalgar Square.
There has been an expected moral panic where the government and police are calling for stronger powers that may include SUS of protests wearing hoods etc., which drastically undermines the government’s civil liberty pretence. This is wrong, and the media and political representation of a very few people cannot be used as justification for a wide-ranging reform of police powers.
In sum, a scene from the march I recall can nicely summarise the power of the day of protest alongside the need for a continuation of action and solidarity. The scene consisted of a man telling a young boy, who looked like his son, that this day will stay with him for the rest of his life. That people who were there and those not able to make it, but supported the march, will remember this as a key moment in the fight for political resistance against the onslaught of illogicality by the current government.