Sunday, 30 January 2011

Protest goes viral

Protesting against cuts isn't new, and even organising protests online is now fairly well established. But what is new is the use of new media to guide protests as they are happening. As a direct reaction to the draconian kettling of young and disabled protesters during the student protests a whole new world of protest organisation has sprung into existence, promising to allow protests to be more fluid, and as a result evade the police's attempts to stifle their right to protest.

I should make it clear at this point, I am no anarchist, I'm no enemy of the authorities (people who know me will find it strange that I even have to make this point) and so have no issue with policemen and women who perform a difficult job often admirably.

What I do however have an issue with, is the tactics being relayed and endorsed by the likes of Sir Hugh Orde which deny people not only their right to protest, but also their basic rights to freedom, to have access to food and water and sanitation. Keeping teenage protesters in an effective outdoor prison for upwards of 7 hours can never be acceptable in a democratic society.

And so it is that there is a demand by protesters for an effective way to keep one step of the powers at be. This requires them to keep the protest fast-flowing, to not allow them to be pushed into small an area, and to have eyes and ears warning them of developing police lines designed to contain them. A challenge that has bee admirably risen to, and new methods are still being developed, notably Sukey which promises to be the best yet.

Not only that, but the way protests are organised has shifted dramatically, from a system which required a large organisation (typically a trade union) to organise an event for its members to attend, to a system beautifully demonstrated by UKUncut where there is effectively no leadership and is open to all.

I took part in the latest UKUncut 'Twitter meeting' and it was quite amazing to see how quite an anarchic method to conduct a meeting could result in a well formed plan of action. If the police are genuine in wanting to allow peaceful protest whilst performing the necessary actions to keep the general public safe then they have to catch up, and fast.

They shouldn't, as Douglas Orde suggested, simply resort to ever more 'extreme' measures, as this will only further raise tensions and bring more confrontation. What they need to do is learn how to use this new media to engage with protesters and allow them to air their concerns rather than brutally squash them into a kettle. 

William Hague recently spoke out against the barbaric treatment of protesters in Egypt, let's hope the government heeds his words when it come to protests closer to home.

Edit: Since drafting this, news has reached that apparently the police have gone on rather a different tack, pepper spraying and dragging peaceful protesters who showed no signs of turning violent and even reports of using CS gas on some.

This is not the way to gain the respect, and as a result the compliance and peacefulness, of future protesters. It will only serve to alienate them, and that could be very dangerous indeed.

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