Yesterday evening I posted a link on Facebook to an article on the Guardian website which reflected quite accurately my own views on the what we’ve all been hearing about – the ‘hi-jacking’ of Saturday’s protests.
In her article, Leah Borromeo argues that ultimately we are all fighting the same thing – the government. She also made a simple but important point – similar to one I made when I wrote about the Millbank protests in November – that ultimately, people will react to brutal cuts in different ways, and that’s to be expected.
There then followed a series of comments, each presenting their opposition to the tactics employed by groups such as the anarchist Black Bloc. Fair enough – there’s a reason why I chose to march peacefully rather than engage in violence.
But once again, we are seeing the argument that civil disobedience – mostly damage to property rather than assault and battery – was initiated by a bunch of unconcerned extremists. Well, if we’re talking about the Black Bloc, they are extremists – I’m sure they’d admit that themselves. But what bothers me – and bothers others by the look of half the responses to my Facebook posting – is the notion that these people are just in it for kicks.
By all means engage in a political debate about the ideology of anarchists. I certainly will myself – I don’t believe that a removal of the state will solve the problems created by this government. Indeed, I was initially thinking that cuts – and non-payment of tax – would be favoured by people of such persuasions – although I took this back after reading this rather eloquently written letter from one of the groups concerned – they keenly stress they are anarcho-syndicalists.
But the fact that people can believe that a significant section of people present on Saturday was not politically motivated is very worrying.
Anyone who engaged in civil disobedience – and let’s stress, for reasons of ideological argument more than anything else, that it wasn’t just anarchists damaging the property of big business – is taking a huge personal risk. If you were vandalising for kicks, why target here? What about the fact that court sentences for those who have broken the law have been harsher for student protestors than in general? As one commenter on my blog pointed out:
A protest where hundreds of cameras and reporters, and several helicopters, with a police presence of around 4,500? If i wanted to escape arrest, that wouldn’t be my first choice.
This isn’t about whether you think everyone protesting is in the same boat (although on this matter, I am inclined to agree with Borromeo). But just because people deploy different tactics, it doesn’t mean that they’re simply a load of a-political troublemakers with no intention but to ruin the protests for everyone else.
If trade unions, the Labour party and huge swathes of the British public are angry with the government, why would you think that those who responded in the most aggressive way wouldn’t be?