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29 March 2011
"RITZKREIG" — the Daily Mail maintains its special place in my heart for another excellent pun. And it's no surprise that its hysterical coverage of this weekend's anti-cuts protest in London makes a well-worn and deeply suspect distinction. Wade past the drooling stupidity of "ammonia-filled lightbulbs thrown at police" (the only thing I can think of more noxious than ammonia is trying to drill a tiny hole in a lightbulb...), and you'll eventually come upon the direct, uncriticised quotation from chief plod Bob Broadhurst:
I wouldn’t call them protesters. They are engaging in criminal activities for their own ends. We’ll never have enough officers to protect every building in Central London
So, in barely falling short of saying that anyone deviating from the main march wasn't actually human, you would have thought that this would be rightly dismissed as a bit of divisive propaganda. After all, no-one would want to put themselves in Aaron Porter's uncomfortable, unpopular shoes, right?
Nope, apparently saying the word "violence" to someone on the centre-left is like saying "immigration" to a group of supposedly-left-ish politicians. Before I even got home on Saturday, I was already winning (losing?) my own version of "hand-wringing lefty bingo" on Twitter; "violent minority ... (tick) ... spoiled it for eveyone ... (tick) ... out for a fight ... BINGO!"
Stuart White's post on Saturday on the Next Left blog1 was typical: he describes fleeing a "black bloc" with "crystal clear intentions" on Oxford Street, before (so, so profoundly) ruminating that it's the media's fault after all — anarchists are morons, he reasons, but isn't it awfully unfair that they get all the coverage ahead of the people who went on a walk 'round London? Whilst Stuart doesn't go as far as many of his commenters ("loony thugs on the fringe" and "misguided hooligans" are particular favourites), he does fall into the blindingly-simple trap of "good protestor, bad protestor".
Even without looking at the rogues' gallery of this concept's champions2, it should be obvious that there are as many definitions of what makes an acceptable and effective protest as there are people there on the day. There were hundreds of thousands of people who, for whatever reason, didn't think occupying shops and banks was going to make a positive impact; to many of them even the sit-in at Fortnum and Mason was too far.
So why, then, do so many UKUncut activists and sympathisers try and paint their method of protest as the only one with any principle, feeding the rest of the movement to the media wolves even as they fire up Wordpress to complain about the "violent minority" getting all the coverage? Why are commentators like Sunny Hundal prepared to justify a protest based entirely on it being "non-violent", ignoring more pressing questions, like
what good is a non-violent strategy that relies on the police playing along when... shock ... they don't
There's a reason that the phrase "diversity of tactics" appears in the presence of people who know what they're talking about.