On Saturday, I walked with over half a million people down Embankment. These people were workers, residents, families, students, and the unemployed. All in all, I was shocked at the variety of placards, banners and people marching. It was momentous – but its impact was on only half a story – addressed by a leader of a political party who has always supported monetary reform, and therefore – cuts.
It was UKUncut that had inspired me more for the day – peaceful direct action seemed to be the only way we could actually challenge the government, as they certainly weren’t picking up on any of the other nonviolent protest. It was clear whatever thoughts we had on living in a democratic world were false. Whatever thoughts we had about being able to have a voice were crushed by the monopolisation of “market forces”.
The action at Fortnum & Mason was just the beginning – as activists peacefully planned to take over a tax dodging store that serves the minority, rather than the majority. Had the police not intervened, I doubt much “violence” would have happened. It is when a group of people are treated as criminals and denied their right to free and democratic processes of protest that they begin to see their repressors as opposition. For almost everyone there, all we wanted to do was go inside, sit down, sing a few songs and then walk out. Instead, we were banned.
As Beth has argued, the definition of ‘legal’ is not that which is ‘moral’ – the legality of action has changed over time – and anyone who knows much about recent bills on protection against ‘terrorism’ would be aware that we are losing the fundamental freedoms we believe that we had. The structure of the state has changed from postwar socialism – instead of protecting the people it has become the security guards of the rich and the powerful.
Outside Fortnum and Mason, numerous attempts to kettle protesters failed – largely because those there were not willing to put up with yet another pointless evening faced with the police silencing their right to dissent. Numerous means were used – using no-violent means, people used intelligent tactics to break police lines – but as more police were called in from all sides – hoods were pulled up, face masks applied and what was once a peaceful sign of protest soon became a weapon of retaliation. The violence against the police was not ruthless – it was chaotic, done by your average young person who was merely fighting the “peaceful” violence of the state.
There are those who have been outraged by the smashing of windows. There are those who have been disgusted by the acts “criminal damage”. But what are these compared to the impacts that the cuts will have? How will a few smashed windows on The Strand impact people the same way that cuts to Disabled Living Allowance will?
There was nothing wrong with the violence on Saturday – there were no bombs, no injuries that truly mattered (from the activist perspective) and the police were certainly more protected that the protesters they beat up. The case of violence against non-violence has become too black & white. This time it’s not a matter of right versus wrong – it’s a grey area, where fighting may become the only resolve.
The police face a choice – because they are the enactment of violence themselves – will they support the people who the live and work with everyday or will they betray the role of their job and continue to fight us? Because if it is going to be the latter, they shouldn’t expect people to be passive. All of us will stand up for ourselves when the time comes.
In the end – we’re all in this together. If you threw a pebble, climbed into a building, dressed up as a local services superhero or just attended. We will fight the Tory cuts: through our voices, our actions and our hearts. Democracy is for the people, not for those who dance around in money.
[Edit: It need not be said that I stand with all those falsely arrested, does it? Or those falsely or ridiculously portrayed in the media? Obviously, I do.]