Thursday, 11 November 2010
Spitting Words and Rocks: The London Education Protests, 10.11.10
Oh hello, there was a march through the centre of London yesterday, it went past the House of Parliament and along by the river. It was organised by the NUS and UCU and was protesting education cuts and said things like: “NO to scrapping the EMA / NO to the privatisation of Arts, Humanities and Social Science teaching / NO to cutting ESOL provision / NO to higher fees / NO to fees in FE for ‘adult learning’ / NO to soaring levels of debt / And YES to fairness, equity, and a properly funded state education system.” And this march was supposed to go along its route and then there would be a rally at the end and we would watch some videos and speeches projected on a big screen and then everyone would go home or to the ‘afterparty’ at LSE; and there would be around 15,000 people there, in the middle of the week, in the early afternoon. But then there were 50,000 people from Wales and Scotland and England and some 5,000 of them went to the nearby Millbank Tower and caused damage to private property, which is a mortal sin, and they were not orderly and glass was smashed and there were figures on the roof with an anarchist flag and with fists and they stood out against the blue sky.
So, the media coverage of the demo was predictable, given the way that any of the past few years’ protests and riots in Greece or France have been routinely denounced as dangerous, irresponsible, ‘against common sense’ – the work of thugs, hooligans, ‘yobbos’. In article after article we see the 5,000 protestors who gathered and merged and jostled in the courtyard of 30 Millbank, Conservative Party HQ, similarly denounced as a small ‘extremist’ element (“a minority of idiots” as the NUS president described them). These ‘evil, or at best misguided’ [by whom?!] idiot-thugs (never mind the fact that a number of people there looked delicate and fragile and might be trounced by football hooligans) ‘damage the cause’; these thugs make all reasonable people hate them because they smash a few windows and enter the hallowed sanctum of those who are pushing the low of competition and profit and the law of the market down our throats and telling us to like it and stop choking; because they threw a few eggs and rocks and because there were flares and a small fire was lit with small and delicate wisps of charred paper floating over the crowd and down on them like some sort of confetti; because someone brought out a ghetto-blaster and the crowd started nodding their heads to muffled Drum ‘N Bass and suddenly everything felt like a cross between a rave a riot and a soundtracked piece of film or theatre (a surreal revealing of the real unreality of life under the present system); because the atmosphere was that of a carnival or a party, albeit one driven by frustration and anger – and yet the overall feeling was one of exhilaration – as someone said to me afterwards, ‘I realized when I was standing in that crowd that this was the happiest I’d felt for a long tine’; because this was a piece of fucking street theatre, a performance, an action, a happening; because this was where the avant-garde and performance art met and merged with ‘popular’ culture and the mass euphoria of the crowd in a club or a music festival or a football match or a demo; and where the impulse to destruction stemmed from the same spirit as the impulse to creation and enabled it and fostered it and fuelled it; because this is where theory becomes, became feeling. ‘My education is a fist.’
The point of an action like this is that it cannot be restricted, cannot be shepherded and moved on by the march stewards or the cops, cannot be made to move on rather than sitting down in front of the Houses of Parliament, cannot be reduced to the end-point of a big-screen and speeches made on a bus parked in front of Tate Britain and videos like movie trailers with pounding orchestral music and bogey-man Nick Clegg so that the march becomes the multiplex; all the momentum of whistles and drums and chants and people standing on the roofs of bus-stops and builders on scaffolding being cheered by crowds of students and grinning back could not be made simply to dissipate and disappear, to tail and trail off back down the road into ‘normality’; that we – you – want something more and cannot suppress that longing any longer.
The chants and songs, the rhyming couplets and swearwords and plosive voice explosions that you hear on marches such as this respond to the sloganeering and slick phraseology of advertising/ political-spin-culture, where a catchphrase cons us into acceptance and lulls our thinking minds to sleep; “Ready for Change" comes up against “Tory scum, Here We Come”. We might even say that this is poetry, poetry as antagonism and response and counter-thrust. It may not be ‘good poetry’, the slogans might even ‘embarrass’ you or seem trite and child-like. Yet they are there; this is change we can believe in, or at least it is a glimpse of the change that might happen were the momentum of yesterday afternoon to continue, to build up, to be followed up.
“When we mourn violence done against buildings more than violence done against people, we have totally internalised capitalist rationality. Perhaps attacking buildings is the only way to reassert the importance of being human.”(The Third Estate)
"The argument of the broken pane of glass is the most valuable argument in modern politics. There is something that Governments care for far more than human life, and that is the security of property, and so it is through property that we shall strike the enemy." (Emmeline Pankhurst)
“He was in the street, not a professional context but an open framework, a social and public space where all types of different people pass by, and there he was, taking risks without being afraid of looking utterly ridiculous! It reminds me of something that happened during the recent riots in Athens, where journalists came across a gang attacking places that represented neoliberalism to make noise, using breaking glass and burglar alarms as instruments. Improvising in the city. That's so inspiring, like the Futurists, the Scratch Orchestra and Black Block joining forces in an extreme form of sonic dérive! Imagine using police sirens as your instrument! Imagine what a beautiful drone twenty of them would make! The urban space offers so many possibilities for noise production, let's use the city as our venue – we'll always have an audience!”(Mattin)
"Love is not the unswerving bias of police dogs; it has to be made from scratch at the first indication of its possibility.”
“The wall of glass smashed in, looks like what Wordsworth saw; in the flint windbreaker, lying on the empty floor; to be a shard of broken glass, shining like life; psychosis as the mirror of your dreams, or justice.”(Jow Lindsay)