Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been trying put together a series for Londonist about why people were going on yesterday’s anti cuts march. Consciousness raise and all that, on a site whose readers aren’t the usual suspects. You’d think some of the smaller groups would jump at the chance to get their message across to a wider audience and engage people on the issues, wouldn’t you? No, you’re right, and far more wise than me. It was like getting blood from a stone. (Please forgive the hackneyed metaphor, I am very tired.)
In particular I’m pissed off with the students. Now, I appreciate this is going to sound like whinging because nobody wanted to talk to me (and to be fair, that is a part of it), but I contacted three separate student occupation groups in London via email and Direct Message on Twitter. Not one of them sent so much as a ‘no thanks’.
OK. Maybe they’re all busy getting their dissertations in. But then last week a load of them went back into occupation again. And started appealing for support against eviction. Did you hear about this? Alright, you probably did, but that’s because you’re incredibly well informed and damned attractive by the way. But it wasn’t that widely covered. Presumably because the students were treating all the media like they were treating me – as invisible.
Point one of any campaign: if all you’re doing is talking amongst yourselves, you might as well not bother. If you’re not responding to the media who come to your door, what hope do you have of attracting the less interested parties? How, precisely, do you plan to get a wider groundswell of support if nobody knows anything about your activities?
This is a regular accusation levelled at the Left, I know, and it’s one of the reasons I’ve been so impressed by UK Uncut (and not just because they were one of the groups who spoke to me). They’ve been incredibly inventive in their campaigns and pro-active in building on interest in their actions to get out the message about corporate tax avoidance. They’ve also been extremely careful to be nothing but non-violent, which in turn has meant they haven’t turned off the general public.
Of course, a lot of that good work got ground into dust yesterday by a bunch of black-masked twats throwing paint and flares, and either smashing stuff up or setting fire to it. Inevitably, the media trained its focus on this tiny group instead of the 500,000 other people who were slowly winding their way through London – and, to make it worse, the BBC’s rolling coverage decided to lump all the violent protesters in under the UK Uncut banner, thereby tarnishing (possibly ruining) their reputation in the minds of the watching public. And making it much easier for the police to deal harshly with the occupiers in Fortnum and Mason. (Though, I have my own issues with UK Uncut picking a target on the main march route. I was in the part of the march still going past when they went in; there was no problem from the police – perhaps because the wider public were still around – but I didn’t like the gamble they took on that.)
It’s very easy to criticise the media for latching onto the shiny, shiny violence and ignoring the wider story. But here’s the thing: we know this happens. We know it because it happens every single time. Every single time there’s a protest with a hint of violence the coverage is not of the issues, it’s of some guy in a balaclava chucking a brick. And those images devalue the issues they’re theoretically attempting to highlight.
You might argue that without those images, some protests might never get onto the news at all – but you certainly can’t claim that about yesterday. So why do it? Why keep giving the media the distraction they want? Who was it that defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again in the expectation of a different result? If the black bloc knew how the coverage of their little jaunt was going to turn out – and I find it inconceivable that they didn’t – I’m left with the conclusion that they’re happy for that to happen. That they’re happy for their antics to overshadow the hopes, complaints and anger of 500,000 others. I find that incredibly arrogant and disrespectful. But this is another of the problems I find with the Left – individual groups often don’t give a rats’ ass about working with others, so long as they get to air their own grievances. The TUC did a great job yesterday of pulling together so many different people, but now the general public – already scared off by the threat of kettling – will have to decide whether they want to risk getting caught up in violence by a fringe group.
So, what was the result of yesterday? Distraction of the media away from the main message, spoiling of a successful, non-violent, group’s reputation, and possibly fewer members of the general public on the next march. All in all, an excellent afternoon’s work, what?
Incidentally, you really should take a look at the Daily Express‘s coverage. They can shoehorn the Royal Wedding into anything, can’t they? Kate Middleton should take care they don’t line her up as the next Diana.