Leaving a busy London tube station yesterday, a man was asking commuters to join him in a demonstration of sorts planned for Donald Trump's inauguration on Friday January 20th. Intrigued by the premise of this, I stopped to ask him what it is he will be marching for. His reply; "to show we're not happy with the new American president." Again I asked, this time slightly changing my wording, "but what is it you want?" And again he replied; "to show the establishment we're not happy with the new American president."
With this, said man perfectly encapsulated the new and somewhat terrifyingly futile protest culture. As noted by Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev in 'Democracy Disrupted'; "What strikes any observer of the new wave of revolutionary politics is that it is a revolution without an ideology or a project."
He goes on to argue that it's often the act of protest itself that is the goal, a goal which means once achieved, leaves demonstrators without much fuel for a proverbial fire.
One only needs to look as far as the "Occupy" movements around the globe to realise this. And no more so than when billionaire businessman and CEO Peter Schiff - claiming to represent "1%" - visited the movement's HQ in New York asking what they wanted. Unsurprisingly, a coherent answer or proposed solution was hard to find.
And it's not just the various "Occupy" movements where this lack of pragmatic goals leaves protestors somewhat undermined by what can only be described as an ignorance to the very origins of mass protest. Throughout the 20th century, protest culture rightfully flourished; helping to establish racial equality, woman's rights, and push anti-war policy. But then somewhere along the way, a shift happened. And it was less a case of marching for, and more a case of marching against.
Unfortunately, it's a reflection of who we are and what we've become. Individualised and atomised to the nth degree, we no longer strive for something but only shout and whine about what's wrong. We expect too much and complain when these unrealistic expectations are not met, as Krastev notes, "The new revolution is one of expectations and not frustrations."
Last year, I wrote a piece damning my friends and fellow "metropolitan elites" who decided to march tirelessly - and dangerously - for a second EU referendum in the UK following a vote for Brexit. I say dangerous because what they marched against - if they marched for anything at all - was democracy itself. And this to me, epitomised our modern protest culture. It's somehow become a false proxy for the democratic process itself. Meaning these days, we vote (or at least think we do) with our feet and not with our ballot papers.
In itself, this is no bad thing but the problem is - democracy disrupted is not the same as democracy achieved.
And whilst these protests show unrest with our democratic systems and the leaders they produce, paradoxically they do nothing but galvanise those in power who are quick enough to join in with the cries of frustration, and condemn the supposed target. A target which, itself, is often entirely misrepresentative. It's not the 1% who have done this, it's the system that allows for 1%-ers.
Add this to a complete lack of goals and you've got yourself a pretty useless tool for achieving very little; "We are witnessing a cry of frustration against political representation that has no interest in attempting an alternative to the existing forms of representation - that is, beyond the cry of frustration itself" writes Krastev.
From this, one thing which becomes increasingly apparent is a complete lack of understanding how democracy - and the differences it aims to iron out - works.
In a perfect world, everyone's each and every need would be catered for but as we all know, this world is far from perfect. And so we aim to reach a consensus of what is best for most of us (including for "low information, non-city dwelling bigots"). And by doing this, we realise that representation can never be full in its entirety. And polarisation of opinion will always occur.
It's these tenets that I think much of the modern age has lost touch with. And it's these tenets that we must re-engage with. We need to remember that what we're against is not the same as what we want. And we need to engage with those who exist on different sides of our democratic systems, not throw our toys from the pram claiming the democratic process itself to be wrong.
We must march; yes. But - we must know what it is we are marching for.