Sunday, 27 March 2011
26th March – If something amazing happens but the media are only there to misrepresent it, did the amazing thing happen at all?
Yesterday I was in London for the March for the Alternative. Even as the day was unfolding the difference in what I was experiencing and what was being represented in the media was very obvious. Reports by the BBC of ‘tens of thousands’ attending were being re-laid on twitter… ‘How’ I thought ‘can the BBC be reporting such crap?’ It’s almost as if they were being wilfully misleading or something! I’ve been to big football matches and music festivals and I know what a crowd of say 40 thousand people feels like. It’s big and impressive, but that comes nowhere close to the amount of people who thronged the streets yesterday. I see today that the estimated figure of attendees has been revised up to 250 thousand people. I want to tell you that this is nonsense. There were comfortably 500 thousand people demonstrating in London yesterday. Singing, chanting, smiling… People of all ages, ethnicity, persuasion and gender! Librarians and firemen and actors and teachers and council workers and doctors and people in wheel chairs and people on homemade cycle powered crazy machines, and samba bands and dancers, and queers and straights and and and AND it was a 360 degree snap shot of our country! And for that reason it was not only fucking large but it was also fucking beautiful…That’s my genuine belief based on the experience of being in that crowd. Whatever figure you decide to believe in, I think its safe to say that what occurred in London yesterday was by anyone’s standards quite significant. And at the very least, not unimportant?
I’ll say that again.
What happened in London yesterday was by anyone’s standards significant.
We now know without a shadow of a doubt that vast VAST amounts of people wish to engage in a discussion about what the government is doing. They want this discussion to start with the idea that there is an alternative to the cuts agenda… Because its that conversation which needs to be had (not whether we should be having it or not). We can start to discuss the various ideas about what ‘another way’ might mean. Do we want to go down the UKUncut route and tax corporations? Could we introduce a Robin Hood tax to tax the banks… Should we cut trident and reinvest that money in green jobs… Others are interested in total system change… There are many many different ideas to be discussed. To be clear, the marchers yesterday were not all in agreement on what the ‘alternative’ might be. But you bet that yesterday was a huge and insistent cry representing a vast amount of this country’s people demanding a proper 360-degree conversation looking at all the options… And that is something the ConDems, and Labour for that matter, have been refusing to do…
So my big ask is why has the meaning of yesterdays march and direct action been wilfully ignored? And why is it that the media routinely sidesteps the meat and potato of an issue and focuses on the serviette? Why has investigation been replaced by a strange kind of personalised / blinkered desire to be seen to have been ‘embedded’ with the action. I suspect that journalists / editors have been just as affected by reality tv as the rest of us. So now we are a world of people obsessed with the mediated abstracted sense of experiencing the moment, rather than understanding that it may be our role (as outsiders) to think more objectively about what a group of people may (or may not!) be doing? Why for example don’t reporters ever ask the masked folk why they are smashing things? I would love for a reporter to ask an activist why they’ve just smashed a bank window. Or for that matter ask a van load of riot cops who’ve been waiting all afternoon to do some ‘riot prevention’, how it feels when they finally get the green light to get out of their van… I think it would be interesting. I think we might actually learn something. We might end up with a media that acts as a source of information for the people at large. A service, which might lead to a greater understanding of the world! How amazing would that be!
We live in momentous times. I said this at a creative writing workshop I was running recently and a young woman who was attending asked me why I describe our times as ‘momentous’ and I was frankly shocked. This young woman by the way appeared to me to be an intelligent and interesting person. So please don’t interpret that last comment as an attack on her. Rather, I found myself thinking, that we – the people who view ourselves as ‘radicals’ or ‘on the left’ or whatever - we have so much work to do! To be asked by a young woman, who has just graduated into a world on the brink of peek oil and climate disaster, into a world in the midst of the worst recession since the 1930’s, with youth unemployment standing at 1 in 4, on the very day our government announced that it was launching aerial attacks on Libya… To be asked by this woman why I think we live in momentous times was just incredibly shocking. But she asked because she doesn’t know, not because she is stupid. And with the media we have, is it really any surprise that people don’t know?
I am so glad I went on the demonstration. It was an amazing and positive thing to be part of. But I am left under no illusions. Just because we want the world to stop and take in the importance of what we’ve achieved doesn’t’ mean it will. So we all have to think about ways in which we can take the conversation forward. For me, yesterday has made me more determined to get more involved down the UK / Arts Uncut direct action route. But that is one route of many. What is important is that we build links between all people working towards furthering this debate and find ways to tell the story as we see it, because the media we have can not be trusted to do it for us.
If you want to be part of that conversation, here are some places you could try…
For direct actions - www.ukuncut.org.uk
For action you can take at home - http://virtualprotest.org.uk/
For information - http://robinhoodtax.org/ and http://falseeconomy.org.uk/
For Bradford and Leeds folk - http://anticutsleeds.wordpress.com/
For all of us - http://www.coalitionofresistance.org.uk/