- The act of condemning another's form of protest, because it does not satisfy your expectations of a sufficient form of protest.
- The manifestation of prejudice against those who don't do enough to protest, such as those who simply sit on their arses behind a computer screen.
I saw something today that worried me. It was a Facebook discussion thread (yeah, I know…but just hear me out) concerning the issue of protesting.
The discussion wasn’t even between any of my own Facebook friends. It showed up on my news feed because one of my Facebook friends had commented on it. The issue that launched the debate was someone’s disgruntlement at another manifestation of gentrification.
All well and good, but as I started reading through the thread, I started getting more and more concerned. And I must admit, I always feel a bit funny about reading discussions which show up in my news feed. Like someone discretely ear-wigging in on a conversation which I’ve not been invited to. It leaves you feeling like a curtain-twitcher.
But fuck it, I thought. It can actually be quite a revealing thing to do. Quite insightful. By reading their Facebook posts, you can learn things about the way people think.
And this one guy was condemning people who sit behind their computers, blasting this injustice, blasting that injustice.
“Words are cheap,” he said. “Words change next to nothing. If you care, act on it. Fight. Don’t sit behind a screen proclaiming injustice.”
And whilst you may initially think there is something logical and fair about that, there is in fact something really quite unfair about it.
I also find it deeply troubling that it isn’t the first time I’ve seen arguments along those lines.
* * *
“Protest Elitism” as I call it, can be explained quite simply as follows:
“Sitting at your computer, spouting-off on Facebook or Twitter and calling yourself an activist or a protestor is a joke. You will achieve nothing. Words alone will achieve nothing. You have to get out of your house and protest. Demonstrate. You have to show you care and fight, and stand up for your rights.”
And by fuck, I have a real problem with this.
Without words, there is NO protest. Without words there is no ideology to protest against in the first place, so if there’s an ideology to protest against, you pretty much have to use fucking words. You have to use the same method of conveying ideology, but one which is counter to the ideology that you’re protesting against.
Words are used in protest by writers, cartoonists, comedians, songwriters, politicians in opposition, and plenty of others I’ve probably failed to mention.
Why..? Because ideas need words. Without words, or external methods of communication, ideas are simply electrical impulses which frequently can’t go anywhere. Trapped as thoughts which may very well please and satisfy the private individual, but which can’t achieve change on their own unless expressed into words (or art, perhaps) for the sake of communication, support, design and action. So yeah…Ideas need words.
“Words alone will achieve nothing,” said the guy on the Facebook thread. But take a few examples…
George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four are books filled with words which have packed something of a powerful and enduring punch over the years. The imagery from these books, created by words, has infiltrated the way we think on a multitude of levels, and without words, that would not have happened.
Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill’s speeches organised, unified and empowered nations to come together and work towards agreed goals, and whilst we may condemn the objectives of Adolf Hitler, we may also - on some level - appreciate his power and efficiency as a speaker, which could not have happened without words.
Comedians use words to make us think on a regular and daily basis with routines, Facebook posts and tweets - all of which deploy techniques such as jokes, irony, sarcasm, metaphor. These are all things that couldn’t happen without words.
Even songs - the protest songs of any era - would only be passionate pieces of music without words.
The point is, words convey ideas. A protest without banners and posters, without infectious chanting is simply a silent collection of people either marching through the streets or milling around somewhere.
There is no such thing as a meaningful protest without words. Even a silent protest needs words to make the organisation of it possible.
* * *
So what then of people who don’t attend demonstrations..?
I personally don’t believe for one minute that not attending a protest renders the activities of someone sitting at a computer pointless, or useless.
Far from it, in fact.
There’s a practical element in this, to start with. People care about what’s happening around them more and more all the time. That is something I truly believe. But not stepping foot alongside an army of protesters doesn’t mean you don’t care as much as the protesters.
It doesn’t mean that signing online petitions, writing inspiring blogs, tweeting to followers, penning letters to MPs - that these things are all useless. True change takes time and effort and commitment, and no amount of chaining ourselves to railings without the other stuff will change a damn thing. When you’re fighting an ideology, you have to use the same weapons as the ideologists.
Without online petitions, without tweets from comedians or writers or whoever…ideas don’t get conveyed.
Without words, MP Philip Davies wouldn’t have been able to embark upon yet another one of his 90 minute filibustering cuntathons to sabotage a bill he didn’t agree with. Without words, we would not be able to protest against the selfish and contemptible process he's become known for.
But this whole problem that some 'active' activists seem to have with those of us who don’t go marching is that by failing to march with them, they’re better protesters. Their hearts are in it more than ours.
And that is something that offends me to the core of my being.
* * *
People have lives, and whilst we may care about the wider shit-storm raging out there, we’ve also got to focus our attentions on the apparently more mundane. Like work. Getting our kids to school, and being at the gate in time to pick them up. We have to worry about putting in for paid holiday, or not missing a signing on date because the system will - the way it is currently set up - totally fuck you over for it.
We have to worry about petrol, and parking and rail fares. And not all of us can just drop everything we’re doing to attend a protest. If you think that makes me a less effective, or less passionate protester, then fuck you.
I care. I am angry with the system. And in the ways that my life currently permits me, I’m participating in efforts to seek changes.
I write. I write these fucking blogs. I write books. I tweet. I read news, and respond to it. I sign petitions, and try to get others on board. I write to MPs. I email them, tweet them, contact them on Facebook. I discuss, and engage in debate with people, and it's all part of the whole process of encouraging change.
I do things. And whilst those things might not necessarily include chains or banners, it requires the investment of my time, my energy and my intellect. And that, as far as I’m concerned, makes my efforts - and the efforts of all the others like me - equally as valuable as the efforts of those who attend demonstrations. In order to make change happen, you’ve got to keep on getting at Them. And without the words, you can be guaranteed that NOTHING will happen at all.
One protest won’t make a change happen over night. But one protest and a barrage of letters, tweets, comedic observations, cartoons, songs - just the whole fucking kit and caboodle might get some motherfucker’s attention.
Words have more power than some seem to credit. And that is why I resent this new Protest Elitism, which says that your protest is inferior to mine because I stripped naked and chained myself to an MP’s hub-cap. It’s bullshit.
Protesting is not a competition. It is not a club, or an initiation rite. It is not something you can use to measure a person’s commitment to change.
The negative implications of elitism is what many of us are protesting about in the first place. We could do without a dose of elitism within the fucking ranks, too.