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Thoughts on the art of dissent

Protests are often perceived as a waste of time by the wider public if activists make no effort to engage their audience - Photo (c) Guy Smallman/www.guysmallman.com

Protests are often perceived as a waste of time by the wider public if activists make no effort to engage their audience - Photo (c) Guy Smallman/www.guysmallman.com

Two weeks ago, ‘Smash EDO’ protesters blocked off Lewes road as they paraded from the Sussex University campus, and attempted to reach the EDO MBM/ITT factory responsible for the manufacture of weapons components.

The marchers subsequently paused the lives of many residents of Brighton, and the demonstration has caused much debate since its occurrence. The discussion which resulted seems to have digressed from its original topic to the larger conflict between peaceful demonstration and angry protest.

Debaters I have come across are loosely organised into three groups: those who believe disruptive protests are completely acceptable, that they achieve goals and recognition that can be gained by no other method. There are those who believe that protests should be carried out peacefully and with respect if those participating wish to win support. Finally, there are those who find their monotonous daily tasks disarrayed, and are too bothered about missing their deadline or not being able to reach their child at school to have the time to think or care.

‘Parading outside the factory, guilt tripping a father or a mother who works in the cafeteria to provide for their family isn’t going to upset the apple cart of the government’

In the society in which we live out our lives, there are many hard-working people who have duties they must perform; and their lack of concern is arguably justified. A parent will always worry for their child, and if an angry mob of protesters is to come between them and their offspring, I don’t expect them to observe the protesters cause with more regard than they do their child.

I am totally in support of individuals who have the courage to attempt to push change into action. When countries are being bombed, and guiltless people killed, a day of disruption is little to ask. However, I have little regard for those who shove, kick and punch change until action is forced to occur. I am sure that there were numerous protesters who took to the streets with full intention of peaceful action, with the aim of attracting attention to the issue; I back their motives.

It is those who insist upon violence that I am less sympathetic with. Violence, be it in the name of policing or in that of passive anti war values, negates the original aim. Although I expect the majority had the former intentions, I cannot help but point out Assistant Chief Constable Jeremy Paine’s comment, featured in the Argus, in which he said: “There was clear intent to use violence and cause damage evidenced by the high level of tension among the demonstrators and articles observed and seized by police.”

In a country that has become too apathetic about political affairs, my disagreement is not with those who react to a company making parts of weapons designed to execute the innocent. However, it seems the true problem is not with a small device that releases a bomb, nor is it with the company that manufactures these parts, it is with a government that allows a senseless war. Parading outside the factory, guilt tripping a father or a mother who works in the cafeteria to provide for their family isn’t going to upset the apple cart of the government.

The most convincing argument I have heard so far which offers support for the disruptive protest is that it has forced the issue into the consciousness of the citizens of Brighton. However, the majority of those I have spoken to now have the conscious opinion that the protesters have made no changes to the operation of the company, and definitely not to the ongoing war. The greater part seems to share the opinion that they have done little but disrupt traffic for a day. Regardless of the truth in this opinion, it still shows the lack of support that the protesters have gained.

Flash riots and protests appear to yield few results. The public needs to become more aware of the current situations; asking questions, filling the post boxes of the people who hold the power to make real changes; even becoming those people.

Finally, in some cases, protesting – but peacefully. Protests have worked in the past – those for women’s rights, and against apartheid were clearly successful, and the world we live in is better for them.

As Professor Dana Fisher explains, “You need people coming out on more than one day. You need sustained action. You need people to go home and continue to show their dissatisfaction. They need to make it clear they’re not going to take it any more. They need to show politicians that change is required.”

Taking to the streets with violence on set days will not rally an apathetic public, it will only annoy them. An irritated bystander will not become a supporter. Brandishing plaques proclaiming peace for those in distant lands, with intent to cause harm nearby is not the answer. The most advantageous way to tackle this problem is by making conscious decisions, remaining consistent, and awake to the world.

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