There were some protests in London over the weekend, in which large numbers of people took to the streets to express their disapproval with some of the government’s policies.
You might have some less vague things to say about them yourself, if you’re better at assessing information than I am.
The protests – as is generally the case with everything up to and including live kitten transplants – have won support from some corners and criticism from others.
People’s analysis of the protests themselves has tended to correlate, in my amateur reckoning, with their opinions on the politics behind it. That is, people who hate the government generally find the reports and analyses which support the protestors’ effectiveness and moral superiority to be persuasive and well argued. And people who think the government shouldn’t have to put up with all this entitled whining while attempting to fix the country’s problems tend to be most convinced by reports which discredit the protestors’ credibility.
Which is something I could feel jolly smug about until I remembered that obviously I do exactly the same thing.
The lowest estimate I’ve seen for the number of people attending the protests has been 200,000. The highest estimate for the number of “anarchists” who deliberately caused violence and destruction is 500. Based on these, the proportion of the protestors who were being peaceful and reasonable and keeping within the law was at least 99.75%. Some media reports are accused of giving too much focus to the violent minority, as if the occasional small pocket of destruction was representative of the march as a whole. No doubt this sizeable group did have its violent thug contingent, but spend a moment trying to imagine what 200,000-500,000 people charging through central London would look like if they were all bent on property destruction and vandalism. I imagine it would be a bit more noticeable than a few broken windows.
I don’t have an estimate for what percentage of the police in the city were acting with similar benevolent calm to the majority of the crowd, but some members of UK Uncut claim that police lied about directing them towards safety and then arrested them when they were trying to leave peacefully.
This decidedly gets my anti-authoritarian hackles up. But there are numerous details I don’t know. I wasn’t there. Nobody was everywhere in this crowd of hundreds of thousands of people. And posts like this go some way toward quelling my “Fuck the Police” inclinations.
At one point it was claimed by some that light-bulbs filled with ammonia were being thrown at police. It was later asked by others how you fill a light-bulb with ammonia, and whether there’s any reason to believe it actually happened. I have no idea how true this claim was.
And there’s plenty of scope for propaganda on the other side, too. I think it’s only a rumour, but a popular one, that people in the crowd were approached by certain news organisations and offered money if they would throw a brick. I’m cynical enough myself to admit that it’s possible that someone might try that as a way of stirring up some more exciting footage, but it’s also the kind of thing which, if you’re part of a large crowd, it’s very easy to just say happened to you without having to back it up. It might even seem like a pretty harmless rumour to spread, if you want to discredit the news reports which, anyway, are totally misrepresenting your cause.
Laurie Penny was in the midst of it somewhere, and reports a largely non-violent demonstration, often being shoved around and mistreated by the police. At one point, she describes how “both sides begin to panic”, and I imagine that’s true. It takes a certain courage to stand up for what you feel is important in the face of possible arrest and incarceration… but it’s also got to be pretty scary staring a thousands-strong angry mob full in the face when you know that you’re the ones supposed to be in charge of keeping things under control, and that you’re hugely outnumbered.
Charon QC has some thoughts on Laurie Penny’s position on political violence. I’m not especially fond of the tone in which he describes “celebrity tweeters” (scare italics his), and the way he asked for a clarification of her position didn’t indicate much respect for it, and seemed to imply that his own mind was more or less made up.
Still, it does merit further questioning if she’s going to ambiguously tweet her support of certain forms of political “violence”. There might be a reasonable point buried in there which she could explain, but it’s important to be very specific about what you’re saying when endorsing any “violence” in the middle of a discussion about banks and shops having bricks thrown through their windows.
Incidentally, Charon QC is curiously incredulous at Laurie Penny’s suggestion that “smashing a window is not the same thing as violence”, and is prompted by this to doubt whether she is a “sensible journalist”. Except she’s quite obviously right. The two things are not equal at all. There are many ways to be violent without smashing a window, and it’s quite possible to smash a window without being particularly violent – as a necessary part of refurbishing your own house, for instance. He goes on to assert that “Violence is against the law… and it should be… in all its forms”. This would be rather dismaying news to the professional boxers, wrestlers, martial arts competitors, and movie stunt-men of the world.
Hey, it definitely felt like I was having an opinion by the end there. I was being more sarcastic, which is usually a good sign that I’m starting to feel like I know what I’m talking about. I hope this doesn’t mean I’ve chosen my side in this battle, though. That sounds dangerous.