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This article was written on 04 Sep 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

Protest is pointless

‘And we went on the march and it was great. There were so many people there who thought just like we do. I feel really energised. Affirmed, even. I’ve never been so confident that change is going to happen. In fact, I’m sure of it.’ Sound familiar? These words could have been spoken after every protest march and every single meeting in postwar history and produced absolutely no discernible result whatsoever. Why? Because every protest movement in this country fails.

There are a few caveats here, of course. I’m talking postwar movements and I’m talking primarily about protest, where people march, en masse, with banners and signs. And every single protest like this, every last one, has been ignored. More than that, it’s served a useful function. It’s allowed a well-meaning brigade of educated idiots to believe that they have a say in the running of their country when all they’re doing is letting off steam, which the people who run the country are very happy with. You spend time making a banner and shouting slogans in Westminster and you’re no threat to the established order at all.

When I was a baby journalist, I did my early writing on my then father-in-law’s computer. Next to me was a filing cabinet on which he’d put stickers from every march he’d been on over a period of about twenty years. And every single one had made a lot of noise and made absolutely zero difference to the politics of the country. He’d been on numerous protests, for instance, about the Miners’ Strike, which ended in failure and cost a huge amount of suffering in the families of the people who went on strike when they should have accepted their destiny. He protested against Rupert Murdoch to no effect, didn’t want nuclear power and marched for CND.

It all ended the same way. They put away their banners and went back to their lives. The biggest march I’ve seen, which commanded the most diverse support, was the march against the war in Iraq. The government went into Iraq anyway. Not a single word spoken, gesture made or journey undertaken to go on that march made a single bit of difference. People travelled from all over the country, probably at great expense, to make their opposition heard and, when it was heard, the people in power just shrugged and did what they were always going to do anyway. That noise and colour had made absolutely zero difference.

This came to mind when I saw the so-called ‘March for Europe’ yesterday. I’m notionally on the same side as the marchers. I voted to remain and want to stay in the EU. That’s where we diverge however. The vote was a democratic mandate and the government will never overturn it because it’d cost them trust and legitimacy. Marching will not, in the great postwar tradition of things, change anything. There was, as is usual for such things, lots of life and colour, photographers went along and captured images and video, the marchers all felt terribly relevant and engaged and then, at the end of it, they went home. Theresa May appeared with Andrew Marr this morning and said that Brexit meant Brexit. Nothing was changed.

Even the hundreds of people who turn up to see Comedy Comrade Corbyn speak are doing nothing, in the great scheme of things, to effect change. They’re spending time with other people who like Comedy Comrade Corbyn and thinking that their numbers will change things but, significantly, what they aren’t doing, just like the Iraq war protesters, is panning the notional camera back a bit. At the fall of Saddam’s statue we saw people tearing down a giant effigy in a moment that we thought was redolent with meaning and symbolism. When the cameras panned back, there were about twenty people there. Pan the cameras back at any protest in this country and you’ll see empty streets and a country that is largely indifferent.

Before you march, for whatever cause you march for, ask yourself a question. And sit with it for a while. Will the march you’re going on change anything? At all? Or is it just about ego and a sort of strange, political narcissism that tells you that what happens between your own ears is hugely important and just has to be shared with the rest of the population. And of course, it doesn’t. Even when you have shared it with the rest of the population and maybe got your picture in the paper, the people in charge will just shrug their shoulders and do what they were going to do anyway. Your participation in the protest means nothing and does nothing. You had a day out, is all.

As I write this, I see that the Refugee Council are planning a march in solidarity with refugees on September 17. For what it’s worth, I support the Refugee Council and I think that the treatment of refugees by this country has been criminal. But the march will achieve nothing. People will get the chance to feel hugely righteous about the issue they’ll make a noise about it and then there will be some speakers, chosen from a fairly shallow pool, and yes, everyone will go home. Virtue will have been signalled in abundance, but official policy will not have been changed and the plight of the refugees will continue to be abject. In short, a vast amount of time will have been wasted making people feel good and achieving nothing at all.

Protest achieves nothing, because the people in power are too expert at it to hear your voice or the voice of thousands just like you. Stay at home, watch TV, tend the garden or play with your children. The end result will be the same and, as an added bonus, you won’t be lying to yourself.

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