This weekend saw what was the first anti-austerity march of this new government. Initially scheduled for the weekend after the election results this event was postponed in order to allow for proper organisation and planning. For many of us it will seem like the last 5 years have been fairly dominated by marches, protests and occupations and perhaps being immersed in the culture of London, many may not have expected another Tory Government. I know I certainly didn't.
It seems to be a strange thing that London, the financial capital of the UK, should be the heart of so much discontent. The benefits of this financial activity are to so few that those who might be thought to gain from this, because of its proximity to their lives, its happening on their doorsteps, clearly are not. Instead it has becoming a city that illustrates the widening gap between rich and poor. And what we have is London and other urban areas voting left (apart from some rogue boroughs), and the rest of the country (mostly) voting right. This is not to say that those who might have self-interest in the right (Russell Brand, Charlotte Church) are not able to recognise and seek to support social justice. Equally, as we have seen with this election, we cannot expect a vote for the left, from those whose interests it might meet. I wonder if this is not a country of shopkeepers, but a country of wild, deluded fantasists.
So when the left immediately starts organising, talking, arranging meetings and so on, here in London in the wake of the elections, it is puzzling to think what might be achieved. The problem, it often seems isn't London but the rural areas: if the left does want to make a change surely it should be taking its campaigns to the rest of the country? In the light of all this the meetings and demos in London begin to feel like the echo chambers that algorithms make for us on Facebook and so on, particularly more so because of the lack of or distorted coverage in the media.
It is perhaps heartening to know that people still march even in the aftermath of world wide demonstrations over ten years ago, whose failure to enact a change in governmental direction continues to reverberate with devastating and heart breaking effects. It is interesting to note that this overwhelming defeat did not signal a more general loss of energy and optimism for people and their faith that governments will pay heed to protest. Certainly Saturday's march will not be the last. However it remains to be known what the concrete effects of all this gathering together might be in the light of governments who increasingly seek to serve the needs not of the people but large global corporations.
Such protests always bring to mind Walter Benjamin's statement that large demonstrations are ideal for the age of cinema:
Mass reproduction particularly suits reproduction of the masses. In big festival processions, monster rallies, large-scale sporting events, and war (all of which are today paraded before the camera), the mass sees itself face to face..... As a rule, mass movements present themselves more clearly to the camera than to the eye. Cadres of hundreds and thousands are best captured in birds-eye view. In other words, mass movements (and that includes war) represent a form of human behaviour that particularly suits the camera.
What I wonder here, is how these movements are felt and understood when those images never come to light because the cameras are switched off? By Monday no one is even mentioning Saturday's 250,000 strong protest. Does this mean it may well as not have happened?
What I am interested in, and keenly aware of as a feminist, is the problem of preaching to the converted.
These demonstrations need to be more than sites for the parading of our activist egos, the donning of vaguely menacing black outfits, or poetic hemp clothing, hoodies and hiking boots. Such protests are joyful in their gathering together of a vast array of diverse groups and sub-cultures (and their signifiers). Excellent too is the combination of serious messages well as the delightful and absurdist humour exhibited on so many placards. But more importantly such marches are a place to consolidate energy, find renewed solidarity from a range of voices and begin to reach beyond the believers. They are, I hope, an opportunity to create new groups and organisations that operate under a banner of interconnected issues, all of which go toward a strengthening of our democracy.