100,000 suits, the wisdom of Jolyon Rubinstein, and the problem with the Million Mask March.
The problem with the million mask march has always been that it is the veiled terror which society teaches us to fear from the very beginning. The masked threat is the invisible wasp’s nest which even those who don such masks feel fear and uncertainty towards. At the protest in London this Saturday (16th April 2016), despite the 100,000 person turn out, I only saw one such mask.
As I boarded the coach with 50 other protesters from my local area, these thoughts were already set at the back of my mind. I had no doubt that each and every person on that coach, despite our obvious discrepancies, had a good heart and proved to me, before the engine even started, that the left is not apathetic. A step forward- but, despite our good intentions, I had to ask a question without which we might as well have simply gone to a conference to discuss our mutual views: How effective was our protest?
When we hit London, we had to wait for an hour in the cold for the march to begin. At the age of eighteen, I hardly have to worry about being cold and drenched, but I was extremely conscious that many of the older people in our group may not have been coping so well. One of our members was a disabled man in a wheelchair from Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC), and I felt particularly concerned for him. But as the march surged forward- and I use the word “surged” because there was most definitely a powerful forward pushing momentum- this same man began to chant.
And it was a powerful sound. Far more powerful than many of the people with megaphones.
So it has never been that we do not have the passion or the numbers to draw media attention and public interest. So what can be done to make that which is ignorable un-ignorable?
By the time we reached Trafalgar Square it had all but come to a standstill- protesters and placards as far as the eye could see around that square. I briefly caught the end of John McDonnell’s speech and a message from Jeremy Corbyn. My camera came out shortly afterwards, but I only got one picture of the next speakers: Representatives from DPAC, who spoke with such passion (and I mean passion in the old sense) that I could hardly concentrate on anything else but the pain and injustice that they had suffered at the hands of this government. As such, I would strongly advise anyone reading this to look into the DPAC’s upcoming week of action against the cuts.
Owen Jones spoke shortly after that, in a speech which has been dubbed “This Square”, which you can go onto my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/thecognitivesociety) to watch the end of. Jones was as stirring and inspiring as always, but before him came Jolyon Rubenstein.
What Rubenstein said particularly resonated with me.
Rubenstein spoke out for a group who go almost unnoticed at every protest. Fascist groups like the BNP, EDL and Britain First detest this group for the good work they do. All too often, protesters unleash their anger on this group without a second thought.
This group are the hidden armour of every people’s movement as much as the joints in the armour which allow them free movement. Free movement and their right to protest.
This group is, of course, the police.
Rubenstein stated, and I wholeheartedly agree with him, that we should constantly be seeking to fight alongside the police and for the police- not against them. And this image of working with, rather than against the police, is the technique by which we shall mark ourselves out as the protest movement that is working to improve the lives of ordinary people in a plausible and rational way.
It seems to me that anyone can claim to be on the side of the police, but we also need to appear trustable. That is why I am recommending a new form of protest: suited protest.
You see, as much as we are taught from a very young age to fear the veiled threat of the invisible wasp’s nest, so we are taught to trust the “exterminators”- those who appear to bring order into our society. Invariably, these men and women wear suits.
Much was made in the 1980s, of American Foreign policy being enacted to “Save Face.” I have an endless list of problems with American Foreign policy in the 1980s, but this concept of “saving face”, is that which we would be enacting (if far more morally) by organising a protest in smart suits.
A protest in casual wear is easy to dismiss- “Rabble rousers with nothing better to do!” It becomes too easy for those who wish to do so to hide the intelligence of the crowd and even the strength of their message. There could have been 500,000 of us, and the general public would have dismissed us without hearing a word we had to say.
Man power isn’t our concern anymore: it’s the image.
100,000 people in casual wear are easier to dismiss than 500 people in suits.
The suited man on the street can be a threat to all who traverse close to them, but we would still sooner walk close to them than a man in a tracksuit and hoodie.
A right leaning relative of mine once said that they could not explain why they did not trust Jeremy Corbyn. They claimed to just have a “funny feeling” which they “couldn’t explain.” The answer is, of course, that the systematic demonization of Corbyn in the media has conditioned them into a view where they don’t even know why they don’t trust him- all they know is that they don’t.
In a similar way, the media has conditioned all of us to trust and respect people in suits- or at the very least to hear them out. X and Y wear suits, and so B wears a suit to fit in. X, Y, and B now wear suits, and A knows that they are logical and respectable, so A wears a smart suit to match.
It is high time that we turned that conditioning on its head. The simple world view of many of those on the right must be shaken up- opened up- to the possibility that the protesters of the left are respectable, logical, and there for good reason. Imagine it: 100,000 smartly dressed men and women bring Trafalgar Square to a standstill.
Not just bizarre, but naturally this would incline an interest from spectators. An interest which can lead to the opening of ears. It is by this method that the left will transform the protest movement from the wasp’s nest into the letters of a message carved into the wood: we are progressives. We want a better tomorrow.