I wrote an article for our University newspaper this week. I haven’t really read the paper before, but with my article in this edition, I thought I would.
I hated it.
Literally hated it.
That’s unfair actually, because I had decided I hated it from the moment I looked at the front cover. I didn’t read the articles on media, or art, or anything other than the articles surrounding the student protests. And they annoyed me.
A photo of burning placards from the Student Protest, outside Millbank, accompanied by the title: “What went wrong“.
The problem here is so rudimentary, it’s annoying. It’s a simple title. It follows the lines of other pretty badly put together tabloids. It gets peoples attention. It isn’t being daring. It is attempting to suggest objectivity, through weak bias subjectivity. It suggests immediately that something went wrong. As if that’s the objective truth. When it quite clearly isn’t. You would expect to see “What went wrong” on the front cover of a story covering the explosion of a Space Shuttle in mid-air. Clearly, something went wrong. Asking “what went wrong” in regard to the student protest, is not objective. The paper is supposed to represent us students as part of the Student Union. It certainly does not represent me. I choose to distance myself, and condemn it, for its self righteous, weak journalistic position. I have a problem with journalists as it is. They are too institutionalised. They are the mouthpiece of businessmen. It annoys me to note that the next generation of journalists, aims to be just like the last lot; unquestioning microphones for the horrendously hypocritical middle classes.
The article shows a number of boxes with quotes from students questioned. All of whom, one way or another, back up the viewpoint of the paper. One refers to the students as “anarchists“. The paper here, in not questioning the idea that the protesters were just crazed anarchists, have simply read a couple of tabloids, noticed it gets a reaction and the word “anarchist” even makes TV news, and so decided to run with it. Had they actually used their initiative, they would have investigated the claim that the people who stormed Millbank were anarchists, and found quite the opposite. I was stood at Millbank and I noticed no one shouting anarchic slogans, I saw no Bakunin or Kroptkin tshirts or placards. I saw one young girl with a backpack look scared, but determined to make a stand. I saw a skinny guy with a placard simply saying “Mr Clegg, stand by your pledge” storm the building. In what way were they anarchists? Is it just easy for journalists to get out of doing any actual digging, and simply acquiescing to the status quo, by suggesting anyone who might indulge in direct action, is actually an anarcho-syndicalist who want to abolish government and Nation States, and establish a society built on the co-operation of the Unions in trade agreements? Because that is not what I saw.
The paper doesn’t challenge the idea that they were anarchists. Which is slightly annoying, given that none of them were at Millbank, or asking the students involved what their political beliefs are. I certainly didn’t notice the majority of students saying “Well this contravenes the concept of modern democracy and the right to protest, for I will not stand for it! Damn Anarchists!” What the University Paper has chosen to do (including our Student Union President) is repeat what the tabloids have said, because it’s all they can do, given that they weren’t there. They are not reporting first hand news. They are reporting second hand news that has travelled through the great media filter system, and came out with a nice biased, subjective opinion, which in no way challenges any mainstream belief. They are regurgitating the opinion of the popular media. How brave.
There is, for example, no menton of a letter signed by academics, professors, experts, lecturers and economists give their full support to the direct action at Millbank. The letter with all the signitures can be seenhere. They are absolutely correct when they say:
We also wish to condemn and distance ourselves from the divisive and, in our view, counterproductive statements issued by the UCU and NUS leadership concerning the occupation of the Conservative Party HQ. The real violence in this situation relates not to a smashed window but to the destructive impact of the cuts and privatisation that will follow if tuition fees are increased and if massive reductions in HE funding are
Our Student Union President is quoted a few times in the article in our Student Paper. Which is interesting, because he left about an hour before any rioting actually kicked off. So I am not sure how he has any authority whatsoever. He was that dedicated, he was there for about ten minutes. In that time, I didn’t see him ask anyone around Millbank if they were anarchists, or how they felt in general. He certainly never asked me how I felt about direct action. I am going to hedge my bets and suggest he didn’t ask anyone at the protest, how they felt about direct action. Which renders his opinion that:
“It’s such a shame a minority of protesters engaged in violent action”
…..absolutely useless. If he’d have been there, which I was, he would have seen thousands more heading toward Millbank, but suddenly being blocked by police, and many turning away and running when they saw about five riot vans filled with riot police turn up. He goes on:
“It’s hugely disappointing to see all our hard work undone by a minority.”
One wonders what hard work that is? Peaceful protest, as noted with the Iraq war demonstrations absolutely never works (unless you have a Gandhi figure, and whilst our SU President talks in articles, like he’s the next Gandhi, be assured, he really isn’t). It is the equivalent of writing a strongly worded letter. But with no swearing. Because swearing is naughty, and puts a disappointed look on the faces of those who seem to think they are somehow superior.
Your “hard work” would have achieved nothing. You’d have been lucky to get a front page mention.
Our SU President talks with a paternal like arrogance and self assurance:
“I’m proud of the protesters we took down who took our message and made their point in a peaceful manner.”
I’m 25 in a little over a month. I am not concerned with making an SU President, who is so ridiculously institutionalised (i’d guess in order to pave a way into politics – doesn’t want to say anything controversial), proud of me. I couldn’t care any less. In fact, if he isn’t proud, then i’m proud of myself for upsetting that narrow institutionalised vision of what is decent and correct.
“We, along with NUS condemn the actions taken.”
Two problems. Comments like this make the idea that direct action is a great evil, seem legitimate because an apparent legitimate authoritative voice says so. A bit like when a newspaper of TV news program interview a member of the CBI on economic matters. CBI members have no business talking on economic matters, any more than a Union member. They are not economists. There are not an authority on the situation.
Secondly, the NUS now doesn’t “condemn the actions taken”. The National Union of Students, President Aaaron Porter, did at first condemn the actions. But in the past week, he changed his mind, stating:
“For too long the NUS has perhaps been too cautious and too spineless about being committed to supporting student activism.
Perhaps I spent too long over the last few days doing the same.”
Porter did however refer to Millbank as mindless violence. One wonders where he draws the line. He is now in favour of occupying private property, but not smashing a window. So, breaking (bad) and entering (fine) is his new stance. Well it’s something I suppose. It’s more than our SU President is happy to commit to. He has apparently fully committed himself to ENTIRELY peaceful protest.
Direct Action has a beautiful history, and the thing to note is, it works. Poll tax is the obvious one. Civil Rights is also obvious. But it goes back further. The right of women to vote, turned ugly on many occasions. The American Revolution was a form of direct action. Indian farmers burnt down many fields of GM crops because their futures were at risk from big business in agriculture. People in Latin America rose up against corrupt regimes. In Indonesia too. They would have got nowhere with simply reasoned argument. When the owners of large sums of capital are protected by new terms of property protection, at the expense and exploitation of those without large sums of capital, it doesn’t matter what the issue is; whether it be GM crops, or the right to vote, or tuition fees, it is always going to result in direct action. James Madison referred to the people as a “great beast” that needed taming. The framers of the Constitution worried that if you gave the people without great wealth a say over the democratic process, they would always try to take some of that wealth, and so shouldn’t be given too much of a say, and should be punished if they tried. Hence, the electoral college system. When people are massively disregarded by the political elite of the time, and punished with economic or political violence, then direct action is bound to ensue. It is a product of democracy, not the antithesis of democracy.
The second thing to point out, is that we aren’t exactly living in a democracy. We have no say over the economic sphere. Our politicians are funded by big business. The very same big business who control the economic sphere. We rely on our information from media outlets, all of which are owned by the owners of large sums of capital, and tied to political interests. Of 70 million people, only two parties, of the same people, ever have power. They represent the same Corporate interests. They aren’t labourers, or local farmers, or small shop owners. The media will use those with wealth, as credible sources, regardless of their expertise. Those without wealth are considered unimportant. When the BA Cabin Crew strike ensued, all effort was made to paint the strikers as greedy staff intent on bringing the company down. I did not see anyone mention the utter mismanagement of Willie Walsh and the fact that he single handedly made the company pay out the biggest fine in Corporate history. It certainly wasn’t raised in Parliament. There is a systematic effort to ensure that those with wealth, and power, or with important positions of authority, are represented as the bearers of great truth. The only way I could ever see this changing, is through direct action. Unless you believe we are in fact living in a true democracy now, to suggest that direct action is some great evil antithesis of democracy, is frankly ludicrous.
People don’t enjoy being trampled by horses, or beaten by men dressed as Robocop with batons. They don’t enjoy being arrested or tear gassed. They are protesting for a better World. And violence often worked. I bring you back to Civil Rights (Our SU President, to be consistent in his condemnation, would have to condemn civil rights rioting); without the violence, if it were all kum-by-yah singing and pot smoking peace, it would have achieved nothing. I say that with conviction. It would have absolutely achieved nothing. 2,000,000 people went on peaceful anti-iraq war demonstrations in London throughout 2003 and 2004. The war ended in 2010. Thousands more died. I wonder what would have happened, had there been mass riots on the streets of London. I cannot imagine the voices of 2,000,000 people would have been ignored then.
I would go further, and say contrary to our SU President’s short sighted opinion; direct action of the violent and non-violent variety have been the catalysts for the social and economic changes we have all come to appreciate. Direct action has enhanced democracy. It has encouraged debate. Peaceful protest has not had anywhere near the same level of success. It gets ignored. By politicians, by the mindless middle classes (which our SU President is well on his way to representing, should he take up a career in Parliament), and by the media who cater to their celebrity news needs.
The SU President says:
“Students are now left with the burden of looking like yobs”
To who? Who are we apparently trying to impress? The Government? Do we really believe that the Government are going to take any notice of a peaceful march? Do we really believe had it been entirely peaceful, maybe a flower laid outside Parliament with a love note attached to it, that they would say “hey, maybe those students are right, let’s debate with them”. Of course not. They didn’t even mention in Parliament on the day, that 50,000 students were marching past the Houses they were all sat in. It was only when direct action ensued, that any politician made a statement of any kind. The question still remains, who are we trying to impress? I’d suggest it’s the middle classes, the main bulk of the population. Because to “look” a certain way in public, means getting negative publicity, and that happens to be the niche of the popular press, who all aim their product at the middle class market. The question is, do we actually care what the middle class thinks of us? They are riddled with hypocrisies and contradictions.
What seems apparent is that issues that matter, but which show the upset middle classes in a negative and rather hypocritical light, will not be brought up. They wont be propagated by the mainstream press mainly because the mainstream press needs the hypocritical middle classes on their side in order to sell papers and stay in business. This is a middle class that needs to be kept smiling. Any bad news that might affect them, is at all times to be kept at bay. Don’t tell them that the clothes they buy from Primark and Gap might have involved the labour of an over worked exploited child. Or Tesco, who pay the workers who make the clothes, £0.13p an hour in Sri Lanka (Way below a living wage in Sri Lanka). Instead, make them feel utterly disgusted by a few students burning placards. That’s where their misplaced and hypocritical anger apparently ought to be. They are happy to shop in Tesco clothes, whilst wearing their clothes from Primark, and eating food that from big business that is undermining small local farmers; as long as they can be angry at a student smashing a window in London. Our SU President, for me, embodies that.
It is ridiculous to suggest that marching peacefully, means you’re getting your voice heard. It means nothing. It means you’re shouting. It doesn’t mean anyone is listening to that voice. You are shouting at a man in a suit wearing headphones. To get noticed, you have to take those headphones off, and smash them.
“Peaceful protest” is a nice little phrase, that makes people like our SU President seem all Messiah-like, but in reality, mean nothing. Acting and speaking as if you are an oddity in our species, that you have evolved beyond any form of aggression, in your quest for universal peace is great, if it were true. But until the World has caught up and humanity has evolved beyond self interest and violent exploitative economics, you are living in a dream World. I genuinely believe our SU President is institutionalised. He’s robotic in his opinion. He may aswell skip university and go straight into Parliament. He certainly doesn’t represent me.