Saturday, January 29, 2011

On showing #solidarity and accidentally protesting #demo2011

How did it end up like this?
It only started like this...

Today the streets of London erupted, alongside the boulevards of Manchester, with the sound of righteous anger as a generation of students took to the streets to defend the future. Due to a piece of work I happened to be in London and had abstractly thought it might be nice to tag along and see what the fuss was about.  However, near to the close of the meeting someone cracked open the window and I heard a roar of students and the thud of samba drums.  Something inside me flickered and I knew 'it might be nice' would become 'I shall go'.

Each generation appears to find reason to protest.  The causes are rarely the same covering climate change, third world debt, Iraq War for Oil, Human Rights Abuse, ultimately you name it- people have marched. However the real cause is usually the same - the politicians in power abuse that power by acting in ways that ignore an undercurrent of feeling within the country.

Look around the world tonight and you can't help but be drawn to the stories leaking out of Egypt. While politicians dance on the head of a pin, at first wishing to back President Mubarak then seeking to 'support the people', what is clear from the news is that the population have had enough.  Social media, in particular Twitter, enables news to spread quickly and momentum to build.  I was sat in a meeting room in London, yet by the time I had exited and walked onto the street, I had been able to track down the demonstration and head in that direction.

By the time I had caught up with the demonstration it was clear things were changing.  The thousands on the march were moving. I found them in Whitehall and walked past many more in Parliament square. People flowed and I was at St Jame's Bridge. As people continued to move and walk small acts of non-violent traffic blocking occurred and this human snake encompassed Milbank and the area round Victoria in it's body.   By now my feet were aching (I was in work rather than walking shoes) so I decided to call it a day. 

Yet once on the train home I logged back onto twitter to find out what else was going on.  It appears the huge march was headed for Egypt.  The students in England were demonstrating to defend their future from being destroyed, yet at the same time wished to provide immediate support to the people of Egypt.

I don't know what will happen in Egypt or London tonight. I fear those in London will end up being kettled as police 'faciliate' protest or 'protect the public'.  As for those in Egypt? They face a very different challenge. The armed forces have a decision to make - back the people or the government and whatever occurs they will be responsible. This places a small group in control of affecting the outcome for millions - ignore the population at your peril because once you've tasted the power of protest it's difficult to stop.  Realising your full potential to stand in support of your views, or in solidarity with others, presents many challenges. The hardest is to try the first time, the second is to stop.