The Poll Tax Riots and 4 weeks of actions – EDL, Brighton, the Crude Awakening, Anti-cuts marche. How can we learn and move forward.
In 1990 the Poll Tax Riots shook the country. Not only in Trafalgar, but across the country, angry people fought with the police, occupied council and government buildings and organised their neighbourhoods to defend against the tax men.
In Many places the actual main day of riots involved as few as 100 protestors. It is encouraging to note that it was not more than this and that effective action can come from so few.
This is something we need to be aware of when mobilising for an anti-cuts campaign: hope springs eternal and from small sources. Because, as many who have tried doing outreach and engaging people with cuts might have noticed, whilst there is a lot of anger, there is also a lot of British ‘Blitz spirit’ – that somehow the politicians have our best interests at heart and we all have to pull together during this difficult time.
Nonetheless, this is moment when more people will be affected than ever before. More directly than the war, more immediately than environmental catastrophe, more abruptly than fascism.
In Birmingham (anti-cuts demo at the Tory conference) there was a black bloc. That was it. With no co-ordination, little modern direct action experience or preparation we were just another set of marchers. Except we wore black. And got kettled.
In Leicester (EDL demo) we were non-existent. Having prided ourselves on winning in Bradford (where the locals did most of the work and were the most prepared), we failed to mobilise, giving a waning fascist organisation a morale-boosting win and letting the citizens of Leicester be intimidated and attacked.
In Brighton it was simply our time. New tactics were needed as the police mobilised more than they ever had for a mass anti-militarist/war action that had punched well above its weight for years. More arrests than ever (though only three charges) means that certain protestors may be not be coming back.
At the Crude Awakening, flawless tactics supported by smooth and efficient media and legal teams were followed by a peculiar ending. Because the police didn’t brutalise us as per usual, and potentially due to higher credence given to other political issues at the moment, a certain disappointment was felt at the lack of confrontation. It would have been the only thing to get us into the papers properly. That, or shutting down a dozen or so oil refineries like the French.
So what can we learn?
1. If mobilising for mass demos organised by others, let’s get organised if we really want to get something done. We could meet somewhere else and take other targets, turn up with tripods, or use our creativity. There are plenty of options. But let’s talk first.
2. We need to consistently organise against the fash. This doesn’t necessarily mean demo-hopping. Outreach in your own localities, or a spot of disruption to local groups transportation might do the trick. But be on it, ’cause they’re large and they’re after us.
3. We need to take on secondary and tertiary targets, i.e. let’s get at who fund EDO and make some bother. Also work to win over more locals to the cause and see what they can come up with. The students in Brighton barely knew about it and whilst there was some support, there was also a heavily negative local reaction.
4. Get out of the ghetto a little bit? Climate activism is awesome and flourishing, but more local action and sharing those skills with other movements will endear climate activists to all and help increase the vibrancy of other campaigns. Especially the skill sharing – we have so much to give.
But woah, slow down! There are so few of us and only so much we can do, we’re stretched as it is…
I say finally this: we need to think long term. We can’t just dance from action to action, with short-term strategies (not that we all do this, but there is a tendency to appear like that). Nor can we just focus on transition and socially-isolated bubbles. These are both excellent ways of creating and affecting change, but we are constantly letting reformists and reactionaries mobilise the mass of people, only to inevitably disappoint and fail.
We need to engage and empower people in our localities, our other communities and our workplaces, and share all the skills and good news we have to share – as well as the thirst for direct action (it gets the goods, right?).
Then we won’t be struggling to start an anti-cuts network, to mobilise for anti-fascist campaigning, to engage local people with issues or to create new tactics to make our actions more effective.
If you are interested in becoming part of national outreach network devoted to engaging, empowering and involving more people in taking control of their own lives – especially around the cuts – email firstname.lastname@example.org
We are the National Information Network for Justice and Action.
There will be a national gathering 15th January, giving local collectives/co-ops time to form, try out things and work out what they want from a network. We have collectives formed in Leeds, Edinburgh, Manchester and Glasgow, with hopefully more to come.