Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Hobby horses of the apocalypse!

Good grief, but the G20 protests are kicking up some action. According to Red Pepper's tweeter-on-the-ground, all you can hear is barking dogs and police helicopters, and it's getting ugly. Like an idiot, I promised myself that I'd stay home and ohyes, get a lot of work done all day like a good girl. What's actually happened is that I've been sat in front of the laptop getting wriggly, checking the news every thirty seconds, letting a succession of cups of tea go cold and wishing I was down on the streets.

Because I believe in the power of protest, and because this one in particular bloody fascinates me. I freely admit that I thought the 'four hoursemen of the apocalypse' four-pronged march stunt might be a little complicated to pull off, but the jammy bastards seem to have made it work, and my god the symbolism smells great.

Because although the terms are narrower than those of Saturday's march, it still isn't a protest demanding any one specific, actual thing. It's the people of Britain, on the streets of London, angry about the apocalypse their lords and masters have brought down on their heads. It's insurrection in its purest form, and in its most archaic form: it's the pageantry of the old May-Day celebrations, the traditional time of public anarchy, complete with hobby-horses.

The hobby horse is a traditional British carnival figure from folklore, - you might recognise it as the same type of freaky-looking stick-and-blanket horse that led the procession in The Wicker Man . The hobby-horse represents anarchy, foreboding, the changing of the seasons, and really bad seventies haircuts, amongst many other things. Look, here's a video of the 'Old 'Oss at Padstow.

Now, here's a video of the four horsemen of the apocalypse this week in London. Click through to 1:05. Now, imagine Christopher Lee dancing in front of that ominous samba band with a great big grin on his terrible scary face.

See what I mean?

I can't imagine an apter piece of semiotic street theatre. Something deep in the blood and the bone is infesting these protests. Something in our cultural memory calls to us, and no, I don't have a drop of English blood in my veins, but I can feel it too. This country is angry. The land is angry. The people have brought their carnival of apocalypse to the streets of London, as they have done for thousands of years.

This is a festival of fury, a carnival of chaos. This is the British people calling down the doom of the seasons and reminding the Men of Property that they rule only at our behest, and they'd better not forget it. Are the G20 frightened? Are the city workers frightened, with the howling, laughing mob under their windows screaming for them to jump?

They should be.

Oh, the hell with it. I'm not getting any work done at all any more. Girls and boys, come out to play. See you at the riot.

29 comments:

  1. Are the G20 frightened? Are the city workers frightened, with the howling, laughing mob under their windows screaming for them to jump?

    Somehow, I sincerely doubt it.

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  2. Fancy reading my thesis sometime? :)

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  3. Absolutely yes! Am I along the right lines here?

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  4. Broadly; the historical use of the hobby-horse is fascinating.

    I would argue though, that the social and sexual misrule allowed around dates like May Day functioned less as an opportunity for genuine 'insurrection' and more as a pressure-valve which enabled the release of community tensions while, due to its circumscribed nature, not actually posing an alternative to the status quo so much as presenting a contrast which shored it up. Part of May Day's power was inherent in the fact that it wasn't going to last all year.

    At this stage of capitalism's evolution, it remains to be seen whether these post-J18 types of protest function similarly or whether their function has altered to contain any capacity for permanent and comprehensive political change - personally I'm doubtful.

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  5. "It's the people of Britain, on the streets of London, angry about the apocalypse their lords and masters have brought down on their heads."

    Yes, it's the people of Britain, but only a few of them - a small minority of young, politically-motivated people.
    Most of the rest of the people were at work - if they have a job which most of them still fortunately do - or at home getting on with what to them is real life.
    In fact, most people really don't care - whether through accident or design - and who's to say they're all wrong?
    After all, if you're going to speak for people you need to know who you're speaking for and whether they want you to speak for them in the first place.
    Was anyone actually asked?
    Or is democracy one of the things direct action wants to put an end to?
    Just so you know where I'm coming from, I'm an ex-communist, lifelong Labour voter and now thinking who is really worth listening to, and whilst it might not be anyone on the inside of those broken City windows today it certainly wouldn't anyone directing the braying mob outside...
    Yes, it's time for a change but I'm not looking at any of the current political parties or the tired old socialist/marxist/anarchist crap that seemed so appealing until I started to grow up.
    I want something different.

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  6. I don't agree that "most people really don't care", I think like the 1990 Poll Tax demonstrations, this affects and concerns a majority of people. I don't think certain media organisations agenda's trying to put a spin on it as being all somehow orchestrated by anarchists and 'lay about doll scrounger Swampy types' is at all a true representation of these protests.

    At the same time, however, I think you have people either just feeling utterly powerless or cynical as to whether anything including riots will change things ultimately, or they fear losing their own jobs so badly that they dare not risk taking a day out to protest (especially if they get caught on camera?)

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  7. Are the G20 frightened? Are the city workers frightened, with the howling, laughing mob under their windows screaming for them to jump?

    Are the people with power frightened? Hell no. Are the people trying to make ends meet, who happen to work in the centre of London, frightened? Well, actually, yes, and angry. Just because someone's a G20 protester doesn't give them a right to scream at us and tell us we don't deserve to ever be happy, which is what I witnessed today (unclear on whether it was directed at me personally or not, but the point stands - I wasn't standing around fat cats or anyone with power).

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  8. This may not be the intention of the protest organisers, but there seem to be so many different issues being marched about that they whole thing is coming across as, well, bloody incoherent, quite frankly.

    Climate change is a bad thing...Sir Fred Goodwin's a bit of a bastard...We're all fed up with the recession...and, er....Down With This Sort Of Thing!

    I always thought the Stop the War Coalition made their message less coherent by mixing in the Iraq War with slogans about Israel/Palestine (an entirely separate issue, in my opinion, since I don't believe in Zionist/Rothschild/Illuminati/Space Lizard conspiracies) but this one seems to be not two but several messages at once. The danger is that in trying to get them all heard, the result will be that none of the messages get heard.

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  9. "I don't agree that "most people really don't care", I think like the 1990 Poll Tax demonstrations, this affects and concerns a majority of people."

    The Poll Tax protests were the same sort of deal. It was a *small* minority who took part.

    As soon as the usual suspects get involved - Billy Bragg for one - most people just turn off completely.

    What is it about the term 'popular' that most agitprop types don't understand?

    You can call something 'popular', 'populist' and 'for the people', but until the people actually agree with what you're doing it doesn't stand a hope in hell.

    The next time I see some sort of ground swell and unorchestrated protest involving a couple of million people then I'll believe people care and that there is a popular cause.

    The anti-Iraq war movement almost got there but still didn't attract enough people.

    That's how much people care.

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  10. "It's the people of Britain, on the streets of London, angry ..."

    No, it's the usual suspects, youngish, whitish, Student Grantish, middle-class hippy/crusty - I haven't seen so many white people in Central London since the Live 8 concert. Get the bongos and whistles out, Jeremy !

    You're right that people are angry though. I personally am damn furious. I'm sure that anger will manifest itself over the next few months in a suitably shocking fashion.

    But probably not by breaking up computers in a branch of RBS (which you and I own 80% of).

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  11. I have two concerns, speaking (etc) as a Britisher, but abroad...

    The first is the strategic advantage provided by the cameras. The protesters have cellphones, twitter and the like. The authorities have cameras, batons and shields. Who gets the upper hand when you don't need that much time to track many protesters to their homes?

    And (I've asked this before): in the face of all that... Who the heck would trust their government? I, for one, do not trust the British government. They monitor people, they refuse to be open, scandals are a political convenience not a press imperative, and that odious Official Secrets Act is a blasphemy to the British public.

    Some say capitalism is dead, I'd argue different. I'd say British democracy is dead, and has been since Thatcher.

    Carolyn Ann

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  12. Carolyn Ann - I'm sure many of us Brits would echo your sentiments. And I am extremely reassured to hear that politically-minded people in the US are aware of the way in which government surveillance is used against the British people...

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  13. @ SteveShark

    "a small minority of young, politically-motivated people"

    I was on the streets today. In terms of the Stop the War Coalition march, they were not all young; the age spectrum was full and not over-represented by any particular age group, and while perhaps politically motivated, largely with very limited political consciousness.

    I am unsure of the age demographic of the bank riot groups, but assume they were primarily young, and again would hesitate to describe the majority as politicised, from what I can gather from news reports and comrades present.

    The climate change camp, where we were detained under spurious use of the Criminal Justice Act for several hours, was certainly primarily young, and again with a definite mixture of politicisation.

    Most of these people are, quite simply, angry.

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  14. James - I'm so glad you got back safely. Did you hear that a guy died at Climate Camp? Jesus...

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  15. AFAIK the person who died collapsed unconscious. Very unfortunate, but hardly surprising in a large press of people on a fairly warm day - just think about the tube in summer...

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  16. @ James Ivens

    If, as you say, political motivation was rather limited and disparate, why were they there at the protests in the first place?

    Anger is not enough - if that was the case then only the people prepared to act on anger would be the most successful. Might would always be right.

    Rationalise and channel that anger and you might get somewhere. Just allow it to run free and you get chaos.

    If you get chaos then those with the physical might start to take over.

    Is that what those protesters really want?

    A world where they can't tweet freely anymore?

    However, to return to the original point as to why people were actually on the streets if it wasn't with some political aim, "Girls and boys, come out to play. See you at the riot" seems to hit the nail on the head.

    Welcome to the new leisure activity of the young and poorly politically-educated.

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  17. I'm not sure why 'politically motivated' is being thrown around as an insult. Having a political opinion and seeking to change society on the basis of that opinion is a positive, legitimate activity for any good citizen in a democracy (maybe even the duty of a good citizen).

    As Laban suggests, though, the political relevance of young bourgeois revolutionaries smashing up publicly-owned banks is very limited.

    But more engagement in the political process from the wider population - which Saturday's march was an example of - is a good thing.

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  18. I hope my comments re 'political motivation' haven't been misconstrued as a criticism of that quality.
    Would that more people had at least some interest and participation in politics - even if it's only looking at what the various parties have to offer and then voting in elections.
    Apathy is dangerous and allows all sorts of insidious forces to start working - the BNP for one, and those bastards should never be allowed any political power in a society that we want to be a tolerant one.
    Had I heard cogent and cohesive arguments from those involved in the G20 protests then I wouldn't be so critical of them, but I can hear nothing that is founded in reality and not just some academic construct of how a few people want our society to be.
    There is a real world out there and very few people I've heard who are protesting seem to have experienced it - Chris Knight for one.
    The 'anarchist professor'...I'm sure he has experience of how some people merely 'exist' in our society.
    But I'm certainly not saying that the status quo is worth preserving - there has to be a better way, but a few so-called revolutionaries and anarchists with half-baked political philosophies aren't going to provide it.

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  19. Hi Penny Red.

    I regularly read and admire your blog. Thought you might be interested in reading my account of the day seeing as you missed it.

    Keep up the good words.

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  20. SteveShark
    I've read your comments and they are the best ones I've read in any blogs on this issue.

    I too became disslussioned with the way the so called 'left' was being expressed by these people. It's protest for protest sake.


    My own solution has been to set up a commune which means that members are able to remove themselves from full-time work if so wish and live a more fulfilling life. Communes can be done in all sorts of ways and can beget great cost savings. Some of money we are using are on projects in the third world because lets face everyone in the West is rich, they really are in comparison to millions in the third world. These are the people that need help.

    The protestors are pretenders.

    The protestors are wrong if they think they are poor. They are amongst the top 5% of rich people. It's a party for them. All they do is a make a noise .. lots of hot air.

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  21. Since when are the protestors amongst the top 5% of rich people?? I'm sorry, but that really is BS!

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  22. I must admit that divine's statement took me aback a bit, but on reflection I agree.

    If you look at the population of the world as a whole then divine's spot on here.

    Not BS, Steph - FACT.

    Even if you look at the UK population only, divine's sort of right.

    I get the distinct impression that the loose coalition of organisations we've seen protesting is mainly made up of young, reasonably well-educated (although not necessarily intelligent)and thus reasonably well qualified middle class people.
    Given that this demographic would make up something between the 'top' 5 to 10% of the population then we are looking at a certain segment of society that might be considered a somewhat 'elite' minority.
    Whilst certainly not rich - although some are - they certainly don't comprise a working class grass roots movement - however much they say they're doing it 'for the people'.
    It might be a useful exercise to look at many of the dictators and autocrats of the past and present and calculate what percentage of them claimed to be doing what they did 'for the people'.
    As a well-known trasher of high end guitars once wrote:
    'Meet the new boss - same as the old boss'.
    Nothing that I've heard from anyone involved in the G20 protests has given me any reason to believe that what they're trying to replace the current system with offers any more hope for the future than what's already in place.
    Many thanks for the kind comment, divine, and good luck to you in actually doing something rather than playing - as the people at the G20 Meltdown seemed to be - with nihilism.

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  23. Thank you for looking at that 5% comment a little more closely than most people. I mean are you going to take a narrow conservative nationalistic viewpoint of who is rich and who is not? No I think we should compare the protestors in relation to the whole of the world. And as anyone who as ever been to the third world will know there are millions of people who are much poorer than anyone on welfare in Britain. For starters there are at least a billion in India .. need I go on?
    I don't like Socialists who shout a loud but don't actually do anything. In my commune we don't spend time playing Fidel Castro trying to 'knock the state over!!!.. totally fruitless effort. We do a bit of work, and some of us travel to a third world country and have set up water and sewerage systems.
    Why isn't there more of us rich Western people actually doing something that really is useful for poor people?

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  24. Divine - I suspect that we're poles apart politically and philosophically but I congratulate you sincerely on your holistic approach to what are *world* problems and also your practical application of it.
    You're doing way more than the vast majority of people who see wrong in the world and try and right it.
    I hear what you're doing and then I see the photographs of people in the Climate Camp meditating and see two very different approaches - one looking out at the world and one looking in at the individual mind.
    In terms of relieving human suffering it doesn't take a lot of effort to conclude which is the more effective.
    Feed people and then worry about your chakras.

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  25. Hi Laurie,

    I don't know if you remember me, I was at No Sweat with you. I thought you might want to see this, it's a photo I took at the G20 protest. Check out the website, Demotix.com, I reckon you'd be interested in what we are trying to do.

    http://www.demotiximages.com/photo/london-g2041785

    Hope you're doing well,

    Dan
    Tuesday Group ;-)

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  26. @Laban: "Student-Granty?". I don't know about you, but most people I know who've been students are up to their arses in debt. The student grant belongs to your generation, old chum. As such, this might explain why so many students - it's hardly the worst thing in the world, but it's hard to stomach being patronised and dismissed by members of a generation whose university education WAS subsidised. Get with the programme.

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  27. @Divine:

    Thank you for looking at that 5% comment a little more closely than most people. I mean are you going to take a narrow conservative nationalistic viewpoint of who is rich and who is not? No I think we should compare the protestors in relation to the whole of the world. And as anyone who as ever been to the third world will know there are millions of people who are much poorer than anyone on welfare in Britain

    Welcome aboard :)

    I grew up through the African famines in the early 80s. The first harvest failed four years (in my area) before the West noticed, and that was because of a pop concert. The G20 protests, both the Saturday march and the Climate Camp, were specifically an attempt to get the world leaders meeting at the G20 to think globally in dealing with a West-engineered economic crisis. Giving all our aid money to western banks isn't how we get out of this; spreading wealth (and thereby autonomy) out from the centre (the West) to the edge (the Third World) is how we should be doing it.

    According to people who were in the room, the G20 protests had the desired effect; they changed the thinking of the leaders we hoped would notice us.

    Now, think on this: could my friend Mutari, who is in a village in West Africa, have got Barack Obama's attention? Even if he'd had 100k friends standing behind him? No. But a bunch of educated people who understand how to communicate, who are wealthy enough to believe in causes like Make Poverty History; those are exactly the kind of people who can make world leaders listen. Personally, I am glad that in this decade, a hefty chunk of those lucky, rich Westerners care about the rest of the world.

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  28. You may have caught this over on twitter, Penny, but if not:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/apr/07/video-g20-police-assault

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