The ‘Make Poverty History’ demo on Saturday and despite my reservations about the diluted message, etc, it was a great experience for them. One really interesting bit was when we were waiting for the start of the march (bizarrely- in the bottleneck.), there were a big group of ‘Black Bloc’ protestors next to us; the visual effect of them all dressed in black and all boxed in by police, plus their ‘make property history’ banner, was pretty eye opening for the young people; they variously thought they were devil worshippers/ protesting against us rather than with us(one lad from another YMCA group said “they’re against the g8, and we’re for it aren’t we?!’(oops!!). But it promoted some really interesting discussion about what ‘anarchist’ actually means, and about the aims of the MPH campaign. I say f** ‘citizenship’ education in the classroom; get more young people out on demonstrations and open up their minds and let them express themselves. This was a life changing experience for them- to experience what I think can only be described as solidarity, with 200,000 others; or however many it was.. and to know that there are all these people out there who believe whats going on in the world is wrong, and its worth making a noise about. And some of them dress in black, some in fairy costumes and dreadlocks, some in ordinary clothes, some covered in the logos of ‘their’ organization, but above all – they are all people like us! (ie the complete opposite revelation to “oh Scarlett OHansen’s voice is playing on stage telling us to make poverty history in 2005- that means we should.”) (Unsurprisingly , the young people saw through this celebrity bullshit anyway.)
One high point for me was when a lad grabbed the loudspeaker from a group of well- meaning lefties who had been repeating their well-meaning mantra all the way round.. and starting rapping away about the ‘poverty situation’. He got a little cheer for it, but the lefties soon got their louder back and started the mantra again… (I thought this said so much!!....) He was buzzing about it though.
After seeing the news coverage the young people got really annoyed about being dwarfed by Live8, and the way the reports all mentioned ‘violent anarchists’ when we didn’t see any, and we were standing next to these people in black who seemed nice enough!
I was buzzing at the experiences they were able to have and the discussions that were had , I still am. I would urge anyone who works with young people to stop worrying about risk assessments and get them out on demos if you can. Although admittedly and annoyingly, the celebrity endorsement and air of acceptability about the white band campaign were probably what made it ok for us to take them with the backing of Bolton Youth Service.
Lets hope the right to protest is not further eroded in this country; perhaps more importantly that we don’t see a shift to ‘acceptable’ forms of protest such as… going to a pop concert, and the perception that anyone who does anything more than this to get their point across is a dangerous threat to order.
There is hope- the next generation of activists is out there and we need to work hard to make sure they see “politics” as something more than wearing the t-shirt, but something they can get involved in and which is exciting , not something to leave to blokes in suits.