Friday, November 12, 2010

Protest Cancer

We've had a fortnight punctuated with student protests in both Ireland and the UK.  

There were some small "scuffles" at both protests, which the media and the powers that be blew out of all proportion (to serve their own purposes, no doubt.) Yes...I know...I'm "a bleeding heart liberal"...or at least that's what I've been called. (I think they meant it as an insult, but I took it as a complement coming from someone I'd consider to be an elitist arsehole), but even a bleeding heart liberal can apply logic and critically assess a situation like that.  I could understand the Garda using force when they are greeted with force, but when people are sitting on the ground protesting peacefully there is no need to beat them with batons.  

We've had minor success in Ireland. Registration fees will not go beyond €2000 but that's only for this year. Are they just delaying the really, REALLY bad news ? or does this prove that civil disobedience works?

Unfortunately legal protest only works when the intended audience is willing to listen. Do we think the Con-Dems and Fianna Fail are really that willing to listen? Both parties are willing to take money from the poorest of the poor to keep their "buddies" onside.  The Tories are traditional the party of the landed gentry. There are 18 millionaires in their current cabinet of 23 ministers.

Fianna Fail are looking at slashing benefits and I seriously doubt any of them could survive on less than €196 a week especially once property tax and water charges are introduced. 

The British Government is full of old public school boys from wealthy backgrounds. They have NEVER had to exist on the breadline or go without.  They have also just announced welfare reforms in the UK that would see countless millions lose any rights to benefits after 2 years of being unemployed. Currently there are only 500,000 job vacancies in the UK. The sums just do not add up. Will people do anything about it though?

I don't deny that people have tried to tackle our governments on such issues but there has not been anywhere near enough public support nor enough co-hessian between protesting organisations. Time and time again it seems that apathy is the greatest ally of those that would see our countries in a "race to the bottom". It is the cancer of protest. It slowly eats away at its power. We see the power of the French unions and we see how often French workers protest and the scale on which they protest. We also cannot fail to see that they have way more rights and a much better work/life balance than we poor schmucks do!

The French seem to have civil disobedience down to a fine art, but is there a place for it in the UK and Ireland? Is it effective?  There are so many protests outside the Dáil that cause little or no disruption. There is no incentive for the cabinet to listen. Civil disobedience can be a useful tool, but only when it's organised and en-masse. Scuffles with police/garda will only result in peaceful protesters being attacked. (as we have witnessed)  It is one of the many ways people have rebelled against what they deem to be unfair laws. 

Thoreau's 1848 essay "Civil Disobedience" has given practitioners of civil disobedience their blue print. Thoreu's driving idea behind the essay was that citizens are morally responsible for their support of aggressors, even when such support is required by law. (He did not pay tax as a way of protesting against slavery and the Mexican/American war.)

He famously said: "If I devote myself to other pursuits and contemplations, I must first see, at least, that I do not pursue them sitting upon another man's shoulders."

forms of civil disobedience, such as illegal boycotts, refusals to pay taxes, and sit-ins, make it more difficult for a system to function.  It has been noted by a number of academic studies on the matter, (details of which can be supplied if needed) that  it may be necessary to apply limited forms of this kind of coercion to get the particular issue on the table for discussion. 

The Garda beating up those students were obviously taking orders and the orders were to quell civil disobedience now before people think they can get away with it. Kicking a garda's riot shield is not the same as a Garda hitting a protester with a baton on his face, head and bare skin! If witnessing that is not enough to get your blood boiling enough to get out there and protest then I don't know what will... 

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