the book bloc - several students holding huge painted 'classic' books.Image from the artsagainstcuts blog

“We live within networks of messages, signs, information, and knowledge which produce our experience of ourselves, society, and all that we consider real. And, as power produces its subjects, so it gives birth to antagonists and the forms of resistance with which it is irreducibly implicated.” p.119 Sadie Plant The Most Radical Gesture

I haven’t spoken much about the protests against the cuts on here, I have been at a few, which you will have seen if you follow me on Twitter or Audioboo. But I haven’t felt like I’ve quite been able to marshall my thoughts to communicate them to you. But I have been there; I have seen people beaten to the ground, I have see the police charge on me, I have thankfully thus far avoided being kettled due to a combination of being dressed smart, luck, and sense of when people are suddenly pelting in the opposite direction. I have walked dazed bleeding people to taxis with directions and a tenner to the nearest hospital because (apparently) Police medics are only technically there to look after police. I have seen cold, frightened young people, stand together with parents, with older people, with disabled people, and be driven back like animals, penned, and deprived of food, toilets, water, liberty. And I have seen those people burn things to keep warm, seen hands raised and voices cry ‘don’t push us back, we’ve nowhere else to go’. I have seen angry angry people, some of whom aren’t even old enough to vote, raise the only voice they know will be heard; in violent action. And then I see what the media sees, because kettling is such a brilliant way to make sure all the photographers and the protesters are in the same place. So they smash a window, poke a princess. Violence is decried, the protesters dismissed. Despite the fact that that violence was not against humans, but symbols of the blind privilege of the ruling elite.

And I believe in parliament, I do believe that the majority of people there are there because they want to fight for the world which they think is best, and that the best way they can do so in small, measured wades through sticky, muggy, heavy beaurocracy. But I also believe that the mainstream media has hamstrung our politicians and society to the point that only the thickest skins make it. And thick skins get used to not hearing things in order to exist. So they don’t hear the cries of the people trapped just metres from their workplace.

“[the kettle] is also a media strategy which seeks to concentrate the spectacle of violent protest into a defined space precisely for the media. Thus the physical terrain of the kettled site is marshalled to produce violent spectacle for media consumption. It is a type of siege that lets the police appear under attack. The kettle thus needs to be understood as a form of media strategy deployed by the police to delegitimize protests and re-symbolize legitimate protest as unlawful ‘riot’. The kettle attempts to cast opposition protests as such as radical, violent and in need of police repression, whose brutality is legitimated by this same spectacle of student violence that the kettle aims to facilitate.” Rory Rowan on the brilliant Critical Legal Thinking

And I also believe that the mainstream media has made us believe that politicians are not people, and politics is complicated; and made politicians believe that people don’t understand politics, and just aren’t interested.

I believe democracy is better altered, than burned to the ground. But I also believe neither will happen unless the media are forced to sing from our song sheets. I believe that the suffragettes and civil rights movement in the US show that civil disobedience and violence against property have their place in protest.

‘We hypothesise, then, the coming of an era which replaces the bearers of truth (divided unions, political groups with their identifying signs and their banners) with intelligence and shrewdness,’ […] ‘This era will be based on the social possibilities of falsehood, on the technological possibilities resulting from the destruction of rules, on the free exchange of products, simulation, the game, the nonsense, argument, the dream, music.” (written in Italy in the late 70’s) p.130 Sadie Plant The Most Radical Gesture

It’s the spectacle that separates us from our society, and it’s the spectacle that needs to burn, burn in the face of our anger, despair, loss, injury, ecstasy and oblivion.

don’t push us back, we’ve nowhere else to go

And while the bickering and spite bubbling out of the Netroots conference descends past valid points and into two sides of people refusing to listen, while the left of Westminister tries with the best intentions to form the version of their beliefs most palatable to the press, there are people out there taking action.

Tonight 100 students stormed a lecture by Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt at a lecture he was delivering at LSE with shouts of ‘we are everywhere’, and people attending the lecture urged him to address them and ‘the concerns we share’ afterwards (paraphrasing).

The people of Tower Hamlets have occupied Mulberry Place in protest against council cuts.

And this Friday a dance protest will be held outside the Bank of England. Called on facebook ‘Dance Against the Deficit Lies’ the suggestion is that they would like to be:

“part of something so playful with purpose, that any aggression whatsoever (police kettles or the few protesters who throw stuff) will simply look preposterous.” (from the facebook event)

And I have hope. I am a hopeful person. These actions may not yet shake George Osborne from his sleep at night, they may not even make the news. But they are people standing up, resisting the kettle, resisting the spectacle, and saying ‘I am here to represent my own views’; each action a small end of the once-remove.

This post began in my head as a post about the interesting sparks of methods and ideas that a situationist might have recognised in the student marches. Not to say that any student may necessarily have heard of them or their part of the student uprising of May ’68. But the situationists, too, saw the spectacle, recognised ways to defeat it – the reclamation of city space, the reforming of the spectacle’s own words against itself.

Many people at the education protests will have seen the Book Bloc (pictured), which has faced the batons with wit, détournement and practicality.

Books became shields. They were the opposite of a work of art – or at least the work of art as the spectacle has conceived it.

“Just as everything which appears in opposition to the spectacle can be brought within it, so everything which appears within spectacular society can be reclaimed by the consciousness which seeks to subvert it.” P.32 Sadie Plant The Most Radical Gesture

I don’t mean that the situationists offer us any kind of template. But they recognised the tool we have in our ingenuity, our creativity. That with which this world was made, can unmake it.

And to the people bickering online now: stop it. To people complaining that Labour have somehow co-opted your suffering: stop it. To people sitting back feeling powerless: stop it.

The situationists made a point of “rejecting the ‘black-and-white simplification of the class struggle’ [… suggesting instead that] Revolutionary struggles become ‘molecular’; configurations of desires rather than solidarities between people or social groups.” p.124 ibid

The voices raised tonight in places where they should not have risen. The people sat in buildings in which they should not be sitting. The people dancing on Friday in space not designed for dancing. These are people rejecting the vision of our society that was built in their name, but not for them.

It’s time to take to the streets, it’s time to dance and bleed and cry and shout, to take the spectacle of politics, of the media, of left vs. lefter, protestors vs. police, and to turn it inside out.

Empty rhetoric? Rhetoric, certainly, this blog post it an unfinished story, why not go outside and fill it up?

Graffiti, poster, knit banners, make sculptures, dance, perform in the streets, mashup.

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4 Responses to “Mashup”

  1. Jon January 13, 2011 at 11:22 am #

    I used to be totally against violence. But increasingly I feel, sometimes you just need a riot. Its a question of the right reaction in the right place. In France, we tend to start by setting fire to things and worry about everything else afterwards. Not an ideal approach either – but one that worries those on top. The trouble with a peaceful protest is that it is possible to ignore. Its rather harder to ignore a burning car.

    The English protest movement is always concerned with its media image, rarely recognizing that mainstream media will spin it how they like – and generally marginalize it: the peaceful protest is a bunch of hippies dancing around with banners, how quaint (if they bother covering it at all). The violent one is Bleeding McShouty youth, that won’t do at all!

    But the attacks on property have this benefit: then need to be stopped. No matter how many people may disapprove of the actions (and admittedly this would be far more people in the UK than in France, where such things are expected), they can’t be ignored or sidelined, since things will still be getting smashed. Governments are forced to act or face chaos and millions in property damage (and at some point even the insurers start to complain). And often enough that means concessions to the protestors.

    After all, though there is a lot of scorn towards the French way of protesting in England (ok so there’s a lot of scorn against the French generally – you guys have issues :P) lets not forget that French people have free higher education, higher minimum wage, shorter working hours, and longer holidays. Nor, for that matter, does France have a power-wielding aristocracy . (House of Lords? Really? Its not 1700s anymore!)

  2. Hannah Nicklin January 13, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    Hi Jon, Thanks very much for your comment, I’ll just say that I really don’t have a problem whatsoever with the French, and I think it’s a joke that’s getting palpably old over here. Mind you, could do with a few less ‘rosbif’s from your end ;) (and anyway I”d have to be a rosnoix)

    More seriously, as our government was cutting arts funding, yours was raising it. There are problems in the French education/political system, too, but some of your priorities are ones I could certainly sign up to.

  3. Jon January 13, 2011 at 1:18 pm #

    Heh, of course I’m not suggesting you have a problem with the French – nor really does anyone, like you say its just a joke that’s getting very very very old (no really, no one is allowed to use “The French” as a punchline anymore, on pain of being sent to Joke Hell)

    And yes, France certainly has its laundry list of problems (outdated teaching, widespread islamophobia, and policing that makes the UKs forces look like paragons of leniency, to name a few). But I feel on the whole, we’ve got some of our priorities right. Which is why students take to the streets over retirement reform that won’t affect them for 40 years – because they want to be heard, and they want to protect their social rights.

  4. Jon January 14, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    – French university budgets will increase slightly for 2011, on average to match inflation with some over and some under, with overall budgets having increased 21.9% since 2007. Like i said, got some priorities right.

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