A step in the right direction?

A few snaps from a sunny day of protest in London… The writing on the many, many banners and placards confirmed just how much people love to play with words. Sometimes the tone was simple and direct – ‘No ifs, No buts, No public sector cuts’; sometimes it was more about reworking phrases like ‘Big Society’ and ‘Fat Cats’; and sometimes it was simply personal (‘Eton Mess’, ‘Clegg is a Chopper’, ‘Sam is Not The Only One Getting Screwed By David’). There was also a grinning woman holding up a placard that read ‘Keep Calm and Bend Over’.

So many different protest groups, so many different messages. By the time we had sat through a few speeches in the park it felt more like the search for an alternative rather than a coalescing of dissenters. Just one orator, speaking at a side event, managed to bring thoughts back to more fundamental questions – what power do opposition groups have, what can be done to make that power tell, and what next? He suggested that those unions and others who wanted to make a difference should go forward with a 24-hour General Strike, and that was probably the most powerful moment of communication: a call to unite on something tangible and weighty. It reminded me of a huge banner in Trafalgar Square – ‘Strike Like An Egyptian’.

Across town, masked anarchists were attacking banks and tea shops, an exercise in instant impact without long-term political consequences. Of course, stick-wielding youths with spray cans gave many in the media the content they were hoping for. Much better to paint a simplistic picture of angry young people breaking up property than discuss deeper issues about power and politics. The idea of TINA – There is No Alternative to market capitalism – is a corrosive rut that keeps many people from thinking things can or will ever be different. But as one elegant Trades Union banner reminded us: ‘Another World is Possible’. The festival of different perspectives that was March 26th has added a spring to the step of dissent, but it also showed how difficult it is to create momentum behind a true alternative. The next few weeks will be fascinating.


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