It was November the 5th, 2013. I was stood outside the Houses of Parliament with my hands nestled as far into the pockets of my jacket as they would go. It was achingly cold and I was beginning to wonder if perhaps it was time for me to slip onto the Jubilee Line at Westminster and make my way home. I’d made my way to the square outside the home of our Government to stand together with thousands of others in a united front against ‘the cuts’, but slowly the scene was descending into complete chaos.
It all started off quite well. My friend and filmmaker Aaron Jolly dropped me a text early in the afternoon asking if I wanted to come down and join him in Trafalgar Square for the start of the protest. With no plans, I agreed and met him by the forth plinth just after seven. When I arrived, there were already well over a thousand people there. The crowd was your typical mix of angry folk from all walks of life. The Suits stood next to the Youths, and the Youths stood next to the Press. There were Anonymous masks everywhere, as well as banners calling for change. This motley crew stood waiting for thirty minutes past the hour, when we would all make our way towards Parliament to show the establishment once and for all that enough was enough; or at least, that was the plan.
It wasn’t long after I arrived that I started to have the uneasy feeling that I usually get in situations like these. I realised that once again, there was a complete absence of unity amongst my fellow protesters. As we started our march, cries began to ring out around me. ‘Stop the Badger Cull!’ then, ‘Save our NHS’, then, as expected, ‘Whose streets? Our streets!’ Before it could be stopped, the air was filled not with cohesive chanting, but a rather less effective jumble of unintelligible words. It was early days though, and I hadn’t lost all hope yet. We hadn’t even reached our first port of call, the famous abode of Mr. David Cameron, number 10 Downing Street. I continued my walk amongst the throngs of people, as Aaron took to capturing footage of what he felt was about to be a real show of force.
I readjusted my hat to cover my ears as the temperature continued to drop. I noticed others take flasks from the inside pocket of their coats and sip deeply upon the contents. No one around me seemed to be growing tired or cold, and I was very much aware of the dedication that surrounded me. You can imagine then my disappointment when we arrived at the gates of Downing Street. Nobody knew what to do. Again the varying chants rose up from the silence, but they soon petered out. The police began to form a line in a futile attempt to block us from advancing towards Parliament. This kick-started a mass exodus of bodies down Parliament Street and calls of ‘Don’t let them kettle us!’I followed behind at a walking pace and soon arrived in the square. A firework went off and everybody cheered. The police attempted to block the movement of one group, which was successful, but failed to stop another mass of people, who quickly moved to the centre of the road to stop the flow of traffic. I watched on as a group of young Black Bloc Anarchists proceeded to take their anger out on a double-decker bus. They hurled insults at the commuters within, climbed upon the front windshield and pulled metal railings from the streets, placing them before the bus so that it quite literally had no way to move. I watched on and wondered how this was going to stop the effective privatisation of the NHS. I moved to say something, but was beaten to it. Two young guns wearing Disarmament T-Shirts were soon asking these kids what they were doing. They were met with a bucket full of profanity and threats and soon retreated back into the crowd. By this point, the sound system had arrived and was blasting Drum and Bass. Several people decided they’d had enough of protesting and so instead they started two-stepping. There was a woman wowing spectators and tourists with her pretty impressive fire-blowing skills. There was a whole lot going on, but really I was feeling quite dejected by this point. Was this how we were going to make people take notice?
I hope you don’t think for a second that I’m anti-protest, or anti-people-campaigning-for-what-they-believe-in. I’m not at all. I think there’s nothing more sacred in life than the democratic right to protest. That alone is worth taking a smack of a police baton for. The real problem lies in the delivery. Protests in 2013, and unless something changes in 2014 as well, are completely disorganised. We have the numbers, we have the anger, but there is just no clear united voice. It’s good that people feel strongly enough about their own agendas to turn up on a cold November evening and shout loudly for three or four hours. The issue is that no one can hear you over the sound of their own loud shouting. When it’s unclear to the pedestrian walking by the reason why there are so many people gathered together then you have to step back and ask yourself if you’re going about things the right way. This disjointed protesting movement also gives the Government and the Mainstream Media the chance to ignore everything that’s being said. They’ll type it all up as an ‘Anonymous Gathering’ and focus entirely on the small group of trouble makers who chose to kick-off for no real reason and completely miss the point of why everybody was there in the first place. There are enough pissed off individuals in this country to be a real thorn in the side of the establishment, but until we all unite under one clear message, it will all just get written off as some ‘internet’ thing.
When it comes down to it, I can’t even be sure that uniting will work. Look at the protests against the Iraq War. A million people line the streets of London with one clear message, ‘Don’t Go To War’ and yet still Tony Blair’s government thought it best to ignore. But at least the message was clear and the show of solidarity spoke volumes. It meant that at least people could say they did all they possibly could to make it clear that this was not something they believed in. Everything that people felt it was important to address that night in November is important. It’s important that we don’t let the NHS fall victim to privatisation. It’s important that we stop spending money on nuclear bombs. It’s important that we bring back the ancient right to squat in empty buildings. I’m not sure how I feel about the drum and bass, but heck, if that’s what the kids want to dance to let them, just perhaps repeal certain parts of the Criminal Justice Act that banned ‘repetitive beats’ and raves in cool locations. We need to consolidate all these things down into one clear movement and one clear manifesto. That way, when the people next take to the streets, they take to the streets together, united behind one clear set of ideals that everybody can agree on. That way, there can be no questions about what it is we want. There can only be questions about why nothing is being done to enact these demands.