Politics, Protests and Placards: How Far Is Too Far?

George Somers /
Dec 19, 2016 / Opinion

The idea of campaigning, rallying and fighting for the recognition of alternative viewpoints has existed since the very first Neanderthals shouted “me lead tribe” – “no, me lead tribe” over their camp fires. Since the dawn of civilisation, the frustrated calls of those whose plights remain neglected have been tirelessly thrown at monarchs and parliaments without rest. When voices go ignored, the tactics of the protestors can be both truly inspiring and chin-strokingly creative, from brave nineteen century Frenchmen manning the barricades to Fathers 4 Justice scaling Buckingham Palace dressed as Batman. However, sometimes when a collective is down to their final straw, the actions need to become loud enough that the words can follow in their wake. The question is, how loud is deafening?

When a man who’s been denied access to his child decides to climb the London Eye dressed as Captain America, we can’t help but giggle. When a staunch Labour supporter lobs an egg at Nigel Farage’s smug smile, our grin tends to widen. The ingenuity of protestors, no matter how legitimate the cause, can be hilarious when they want to be. However, on the other end of the spectrum, this immense longing for an issue to be recognised can become violent, destructive and life-threatening when a group has been pushed aside for too long. Chaining yourself to railings and marching with placards is all well and good, but when the blurred line between ideological expression and intentional anarchy becomes hazy, this boundary becomes a lot less distinct.

In the wake of the peaceful protestations of climate scientists following the election of Donald J. Trump – a man who, regrettably, does not appreciate the intensities of the danger posed by a failing ecosystem – as well as a notch further up in the form of vigorous interruptions of Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s speech by campaigners calling to “end the suffering in Aleppo”, the world has witnessed relatively restrained protests for the most pivotal and impacting of issues. With the inauguration of the President-Elect on the horizon, will the campaigns outside of the US Embassy in January 2017 prove as collected, or are things threatening to turn sour with the establishment of potentially the United States’ least qualified candidate in history?

In 1913, after countless years of lobbying and abiding by the legislative rules of an oppressive system determined to halt their progress, a group of suffragettes blew up the future Prime Minister’s home. The act had been systematically planned for months in advance to avoid casualties, no-one was inside when the explosion took place, and with every newspaper proclaiming the bombing on the front page, the plan was clearly an over-whelming success. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win’, and following decades of denying women their civil liberties and voting rights, the mockery was over, and the severity of this political onslaught was realised by the overpaid, upper-middle class white men. However, as with all defining moments and pivotal turning points, it sent a wincing fracture down the spine of the movement. While blowing up post-boxes was acceptable, many believed upgrading to a mini-mansion proved too radical and hubristic a leap. Violent protest, however, is not an act cemented into the past. 2011’s Tottenham protests following the death of Mark Duggan and the current Brazilian capital riots in the wake of dramatic austerity reforms proving that fisticuffs politics remains firmly on the agenda in the twenty-first century.

The truth about protest is simple; any and every goal-driven unit will, with good reason, keep increasing the grandeur of their demonstrations with every ignored attempt. This may seem like common sense, however poses a terrifying possibility: how far will many causes go to see their ideals fulfilled and yearnings satisfied? While some seem acceptable and those involved should be praised for exercising their fundamental freedom of speech – for example, the Oromo community’s protests in London over ‘forced eviction and ethnic cleansing’ earlier this year – others are stepping ever-closer to this concerning and wince-worthy fine line between what constitutes legitimate protest and what doesn’t.

Aggressive protest is a necessary evil. When a mass of junior doctors opted to stage a walk out this year (an event which thankfully never took place), they could have risked the lives of hundreds to prove their point. With the demand of increased hours, startlingly lower wages and over-stretched professionals, they simply had no choice but to play this threatening card. Regrettably, we live in a society in which the loudest are addressed first, and with simply such a large quantity of issues and platforms on which to protest, it’s only a matter of time until a demonstration turns sickeningly sour.

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Words by George Somers

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