Friday, 25 March 2011

You can take Kennington Common from the Chartists, but you can't take the Chartists out of Kennington Park

I'm sure that if you're interested, you'll already have heard from another source, but tomorrow is the day that the March for the Alternative is taking place in London and one of the feeder marches leaves from Kennington Park at 11am.

The first aim of the march (which is organised by the TUC) is to give a national voice to those affected by the ConDem deficit-solution programme and to demonstrate peoples' opposition to the extent of the cuts.  The second aim of the march is to reject the government's argument that there is no alternative option to deep cuts.  The marchers will demonstrate against the swingeing cuts which they argue are not the most effective way to ease the country out of the recession.

The Guardian expects the following folk on the March for the Alternative; students, mums/toddlers, pensioners, a football supporters union named "the Spirit of Shanky", campaigners against domestic violence, medical personnel from "Keep our NHS public", off-duty police officers (as well as those on duty), journalists, a national anti-cut alliance, a group called Resist 26 who intend to occupy Hyde Park, a group of campaigners who are inspired by protests in the Middle East and intend to occupy Trafalgar Square for 24 hours and finally... anarchists/communists and militant workers who think the TUC have sold out.  The anarchist/communist/militant group are the ones organising the feeder march from Kennington Park.

Naturally, there is a certain amount of "establishment" opposition to radical folk all getting together to protest, so the Financial Times has an ex-commander from Scotland Yard warning that "extremist" groups might be planning violence.  I wonder whether they'd be referring to the mums/toddlers or the pensioners??  But... it seems that this intelligence emerged from the stable of "The Policy Exchange", a right-wing think tank, and actually, the current Met Police are aware of rumblings but aren't so concerned.  The ex-commander thinks the police aren't aggressive enough at rooting out troublemakers early, and he seems to be agitating.  The TUC apparently intend to have a peaceful family day...

Don't be afraid that the Kennington Park demonstrators will be hardcore anarchists, they're going to be ordinary folk too.  Urban 75 say South London will be assembling at Kennington Park, and the march will be supported by, "Lambeth TUC, Southwark TUC, Lambeth SOS, Southwark SOS, Wandsworth Against the Cuts, Lewisham Anti-Cuts Alliance, Latin American Coalition Against the Cuts, Goldsmiths Students’ Union, Defend Southbank Defend Education, Lambeth and Lewisham Right to Work.".  They can't all be anarchists!

Simon Jenkins, of the Guardian's "Comment is Free" (which hit my radar on account of his mention of Kennington Park) thinks British people attempting to identify with protesters in the Middle East is "insulting" to those suffering under quasi-facist regimes.  He thinks protests are outdated.  But I've never believed that solidarity meant that one had to assume similarities of regime.  It's perfectly obvious that Britain under Cameron is not Libya under Gaddafi, but I'd have thought that the Middle Eastern protesters would welcome British folk promoting two causes.  Me?  I love a good protest.  Unfortunately, I'm already committed elsewhere tomorrow, but would be there if I could.  In my view, protests and demos are a way of building solidarity for a cause, making a point a a creative manner, and discovering new friends.  Jenkins though, thinks demonstrations do not make much difference and
 "are mostly boosts to group morale, childish song festivals, obsessions with the media and desperate attempts to cause a genteel nuisance without breaching the law".
But isn't that missing the point?  I mean, demonstrations do make a difference, but sometimes they make more of a difference to those who are on them than those who observe them.  The London Million Women Rise march numbers nowhere close to one million women, but it provides a much-needed space for women to get together and affirm that male violence against women is wrong.  It's a space to say, "violence exists, behind closed doors, and we want to talk about it".  Maybe it makes no difference to Jenkins, but it does to the women who march who have stayed silent for many years.  Pride marches used to be a form of protest and solidarity, but when they'd achieved most of their goals, they became a carnival and a way of demonstrating that London has room for a diversity of views.  Do these things make any difference? Undoubtedly, but that doesn't necessarily mean they lead to legislative change.  Are they still needed when we have Twitter and Facebook and blogs and television?  Yes, absolutely.  Demonstrations and protests are more important in a society that has weakened social and familial ties because they offer citizens a protection (a very weak protection, admittedly) against the coercive nature of even democratic states.  (Indeed, that any journalist can label Britain "peaceable" whilst it appears to be at war with three countries rather demonstrates that many people fail to recognise how coercive Britain actually is).

Protests may not necessarily achieve their stated aims, but this does not prove that they "do not make much difference".  The demonstration against the Iraq war certainly didn't stop Tony Blair taking the country to war, but the political cynicism it created in the eyes of a younger British public may be behind demands for thorough-going parliamentary reform.  They may not, of course.  But one cannot know what the outcomes would have been had nobody marched.  Protests are much more than "the venue of withdrawal of consent when all else has failed," they are actually a means for creating a different society.  They're a place for forming a body politic and for shaping political opinions.  What Tahrir and Trafalgar Squares have in common is that the people who occupy them long for a politics that will include the ordinary bodies that are missing from the Westminsters of the world.

Today's politicians won't be out of a job (at least for a few years) as a result of the cuts they voted in, and they won't be surviving on State pensions alone when they leave Westminster.  But joblessness and fuel poverty and the failure of adequate healthcare might  be experienced by millions of ordinary people if the cuts bite deep, and the NHS is crushed beyond repair.  That matters.  Occupying a square is something an ordinary woman or man might do.  Occupying parliament is not.  March onwards!


Anonymous said...

Gosh. Increasingly your politics are shining through. No problem, but by 30 we all ought to grow out of uni idealism. I do hope the silly anarchists don't mess up the the spring blooms in the Park and will be out before I go for my walk. And the association with the North African revolutionaries is insulting indeed.

Anonymous said...

We must assume that you're not 30 yet then as your own politics and silly idealism is shining through much louder than in the original post.

Anonymous said...

Funny. About 30-40% of those marching from Kennington Park were clad in black from head to toe (faces covered) carrying large red and black flags. The same group is now causing havoc on Oxford Street. So well done, we can be proud.

Anonymous said...

Also the "gian trojan horse" that was burned and caused huge risk on Oxford Street started from Kennington. Make sure your happy report of all the wonderful people who started from here mentions that. We were disproportionately represented by the real scum.

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