Ok, so given there’s a lot of shouting going on at the moment I thought I’d put this up here. I had a piece published in LibCon today which was relatively heavily edited by Sunny. Fair enough – it’s his blog. I do think my position was rather misrepresented but have done my best in the comments to clarify, nonetheless I am still coming under attack from people who think that I’m against protest in general. So here’s the text I sent Sunny. You can decide for yourselves if you think he’s altered my position.
We already know the story too well: mass protests in Parliament Square inevitably end up with everyone being kettled until 11pm, violent confrontations with the police in which activists get beaten up or more seriously hurt, and plenty of arrests to boot. Every indication in the press has been that the reaction from the police and the state towards future student protests will be stronger and more violent than it has been. The left are not to blame for the brutal police tactics, they are not guilty of kettling anyone, and they are not responsible for arrests. Nonetheless they are responsible for unnecessarily putting people in situations where these things inevitably happen.
The Government has escalated its legal reaction to protest. At the first demonstrations arrests were made for anti-social behaviour. By November 30th over 150 students (mainly FE students) were arrested for breach of the peace in Trafalgar Square. By December 10th, the charges being handed out were violent disorder (a serious offence with a maximum jail term of 5 years.) This is the offence that many young people were prosecuted for in January 2009 during the protests around the war on Gaza. Some are still in prison. Detective Chief Superintendent Matthew Horne, heading the Operation Malone (student protests) team, said on Thursday,”We saw, this week, a young man with no criminal history sentenced to a substantial term of imprisonment for throwing a fire extinguisher off the roof of Millbank Tower. … I would urge those intent on committing violence and damage to reflect upon this.”
The organized left have a role to play in protecting activists from these heightened state offensives. Unfortunately this role is not yet being taken seriously enough. In the coming weeks there are three demonstrations called: two to try to save the Educational Maintenance Allowance (19th and 26th of January) and one around university fees and cuts (29th January.) All of them hope to end up in Parliament Square. Almost all of the factions are complicit: SWP, Counterfire, AWL, Workers Power, Revolution, and the Socialist Party.
If anything threatens to blot out our political message, it’s the continual violent confrontations with the police. These are, of course, inevitable, but we can attempt to minimize them. The police are in many cases a legitimate target, not least when they are containing protesters or lashing out violently, but by protesting in Parliament Square we make these confrontations inevitable. Some people in the movement are saying that we really need a “good symbolic endpoint” for a demonstration. As if a demonstration not at Parliament wouldn’t get our message across. They apparently believe that this need is strong enough to justify losing the political message, losing support, and getting protesters injured, and arrested. The area from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square was designed to control mass protests, and we should not become complicit with this architecture. We must protest elsewhere
The really sad thing, though, is that these people push forward these decisions on the routes of marches are rarely the ones who get arrested and beaten up. Somehow the self-proclaimed student leaders seem to always end up in the pub before the final kettle. Those who get arrested are more often than not working-class FE students who need more, not less, protection from the state than experienced activists. If the organized left are going to drag young people into these dangerous situations the very least they should be doing is sticking around to help them out, to stay within the kettle to provide support and advice gained over years of protest. Some activists are already doing this in the form of the Green and Black Cross but the organized left are yet to start participating, rather they are happier to provide an army of stewards who send people back into dangerous situations (something that resulted in 150 arrests on November 30) without dealing with the consequences.