So I don’t usually write about things not related to the Middle East, but I feel like the events of the past couple of weeks merit a bit of discussion, if only so that I can sort them out in my head. I also feel as though the more people who add their voices to the discourse on this, the more we can move the focus away from questions such as ‘HOW DID ANARCHISTS GET SO CLOSE TO ROYALS?’ or ‘STUDENT YOBS: HANGING TOO GOOD FOR THEM?’ (NB: only one of those is a genuine Daily Mail headline.)
The usual lines are being repeated, the ones about violent minorities undermining peaceful protest, about police conducting a successful operation in a challenging situation. The message is perpetuated down to the nuances of vocabulary: student yobs ‘charged’ the police, who merely ‘advanced’ against protesters. But it wasn’t a violent minority who undermined peaceful protest. It was the police lines who kettled us before any violence on the part of the protesters, who proceeded to tighten that kettle throughout the night whilst refusing to offer any explanation, who didn’t let us go until 11.30 and then had the gall to laugh at us as we trudged off Westminster Bridge. It was those who, safe behind their riot shields, could drag people out of the crowd and beat them when they were lying on the floor. It was those who horse-charged crowds repeatedly and were no longer ashamed that this was being filmed or photographed. The whole thing was designed either to cow us sufficiently so that we wouldn’t come back and protest again, or to make us so angry that we cracked and could then be painted as the mob, as anarchists, as whatever name would serve to delegitimise us. What the hell is going on when police can horse-charge crowds and this is no longer a surprise? When officers are praised for showing restraint and not opening fire on protesters? It’s no longer enough to talk about two different types of protest, the violent and illegitimate, and the peaceful and legitimate. Try making that distinction to kids trying to hold a line against a police charge. Yet that division keeps being upheld because it’s the last shred of justification the authorities have for what happened on Thursday – which was organised, calculated, and brutal violence. If resisting this attempt to control, inflame, and brutalise makes me part of the violent minority, then I will happily join them.
Disruption like the march on Thursday, or the occupations, or the flash protests, is the expression of a popular power that is increasingly unwilling to legitimise a government with no mandate, imposing decisions that are no better than broken promises. After Thursday, the fight will get tougher; we are now the mob, an illegitimate rabble, undermining law and order, threatening democracy. The calls for violent suppression have grown louder. Yet if democracy is the expression of popular sovereignty, then this is democracy. When institutions fail us, we can organise outside institutions. Occupations like the one I was part of in Cambridge can form alternatives to a parliament that no longer represents us – or, in the case of those too young to vote but who will be hit hardest by tuition fees, never did represent us. This will be called disruptive and illegitimate; but these are names we can be proud of. For if legitimate, peaceful protest is standing meekly by as police baton kids and MPs vote to triple tuition fees, then it’s time we all joined the mob.
And for fuck’s sake, can we stop talking about Charles and Camilla?