What this means is that the purpose of protest should not be persuasion – or not persuading the government anyway. Persuading other people, yes, but the government? They understand power, not persuasion, and will justify whatever they are forced to do. Furthermore, trying to build a better world through lobbying for government policy changes is a losing proposition. You can make some temporary gains, but those who hold the reigns of power will always take them back in the long run - if you let them. That is why we are now gradually losing the welfare state and other things we thought we had forever. I think we need to understand that there is no fundamental decency or altruism we can count on within the political system to stop undermining our quality of life once they have gone so far. Humans might have those qualities but the machinery of government and the economy does not.
So 'protest' needs to be about (a) undermining the real power and perceived legitimacy of the government and (b) trying to build alternative and more democratic powers between ourselves that will enable us to challenge the government, or at least hold it in check. The second of these is a long term project and I won't say much about it here, except I wish it were happening more quickly.
The first also needs to be cranked up a gear, and I think we can do something about that more easily in the short term. Marching from A to B with the TUC does not undermine government power/legitimacy, but nor, frankly, does the kind of untargetted street demonstrations I have been involved in from the early 2000s 'anti-capitalist' demonstrations to the recent NCAFC-called demonstration in January 2011.
In particular I've noticed a tendency for people to call demonstrations, suggest that people can pick their own targets, and that 'all sorts of things will be happening', and then we go on the demonstration and everyone ends up either following 'the route' or wandering the streets in an untargetted way – which causes some minor disruption, but nowhere near as much as we could.
I want to suggest that people get together with their groups/friends, starting today, right now, and start planning to do their own thing for the March march. There seems to be too much assuming that other people will start doing some cool stuff and then you can join in. And mostly it doesn't happen. For individuals it is difficult to do anything about this, but if you are in any kind of group with a few people you trust, I want to ask you to stop assuming that other people will plan the cool actions, and to stop hoping it will happen 'spontaneously' on the day, and just start planning it yourself. If you are in a local anti-cuts group, or a university group, trade union branch or some other group, you have more power to take action than if you were were alone. It might be actions your group can take separate from a main march, it might be actions you can take embedded in a main march, it might be something you can get other people to join in with once you start (take a megaphone or sound system to rally people round you) but please start planning now. If not you, who else?
I think it's worth thinking about the targets a bit. There are symbolic/publicity targets, which will attract attention and make a point. But we have to really bother the government and their business friends if we are to have any chance of changing the power dynamics – so more interesting are disruptive targets, such as blocking major roads or transport hubs – because these cannot be ignored. And perhaps more interesting than these are economic targets, which is about hitting them where it really hurts: preventing the making of money, the money that isn't for us, because those who make it control the politicians who now want to reduce the tax 'burden' on businesses by eliminating our public services. This is an artificial division of targets of course – you can easily think of more types of targets – my division is just to help think about targets strategically.
So here are some examples of such targets, and if you like the targets, then work from this list for the March demo. Please plan something, or nothing will happen. This list isn't to tell people what to do, but it is a plea for a bit more planning so that we can do a bit better than aimlessly wandering the streets causing only minor disruption. Please do work from it as a starting point if you are searching for ideas yourself.
++BBC Television Centre in White City (symbolic/publicity) – for constantly repeating government propaganda that the cuts are necessary
++CBI - 'The Voice of Business', Centrepoint Tower, New Oxford St (symbolic/publicity)
++Lib Dem headquarters/offices, HQ at SW1P 3NB (symbolic if you think breaking the coalition a good interim goal)
++Elephant and Castle roundabout (disruptive)
++Euston Road, a major arterial road through central London (disruptive) – NB police will try to move you on if you stop in a road but walking along it seems to be more tolerated
++St Pancras International Station, a business-oriented transport hub (disruptive/economic)
++Topshop/Boots/Other high street tax dodgers (symbolic/economic)
++Supermarkets – tax dodgers and lobbyists of government, have smaller stores throughout central London (symbolic/economic)
++The City, but not weekends or bank holidays so not much point in March (but the major economic target for future protests) - particularly major Conservative Party funders like ++Bloomberg Tradebook Europe EC2A 1PQ.
Finally, we have to accept that the TUC isn't going to like what some of us do. History shows that as a bureacratic entity they have to protect both their 'respectability' and their money. So they can't push things further than the protest 'allowed' within the anti-protest laws instituted by the Conservatives and Labour. They couldn't support the General Strike in the 1930s and some of their number in the Stop the War Coalition could not take the anti-war movement further when it was clear that A to B marches weren't working. Their positions within legitimate and respectable structures forbid it. But, almost by definition, you cannot challenge the power of government while remaining respectable. We simply have to thank the TUC for their ability to mobilise many people, and then take things further when they will not.
In conclusion, I hope we will all start planning now for the March demonstration and the protests that will come after, and not assume that someone else will plan the actions. I hope we can create concrete plans with considered targets. If you are part of any organised group or just a group of friends you trust, I hope you'll start planning now – and may all your plans come to fruition.