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Art, Propaganda and Protest

By Tim Hardy

(Google map shared by UK Uncut of points of interest around the main protest route.)

Yesterday’s sessions at the March Weekend were long, intense and exhilarating.

The March for the Alternative on the 26th is going to be extraordinary: while thousands unable to make it take part from home through DPAC’s virtual protest and with the Armchair Army, we hope to see a million people take to the streets and make their voices heard.

Although not officially recognised by the TUC, there will be many other feeder marches in London bringing thousands of protesters from different points on the map to join with the main march before the final rally in Hyde Park.

But for many, for dissent to be effective requires more than:

A return of the stewarded A-B march, some riveting political rhetoric at the end, a bit of self-policing and a morose pint afterwards, as our protest is registered and politely ignored.

(DSG: Clockwork Futility.)

It is to art that we might look for ways to resist a vision of the world in which man-made legislation about taxation, for example, is viewed as though it was an immutable law of physics and most people find it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

Artist Seth Price in his work Dispersion (2002) wrote of the need for art to present a rupture, citing a response to Duchamp’s question, “Can one make works which are not ‘of art’?”:

Sarat Maharaj… sees the question as “a marker for ways we might be able to engage with works, events, spasms, ructions that don’t look like art and don’t count as art, but are somehow electric, energy nodes, attractors, transmitters, conductors of new thinking, new subjectivity and action that visual artwork in the traditional sense is not able to articulate.”

On the fringes of the marches, a host of beautiful, creative, actions will draw attention to and offer different ways of resisting the injustice of the cuts, with a whole host of actions planned to start at 2.11pm when:

Everyone will set up areas of autonomous resistance, where each individual or group can engage in whatever sort of protest they want, or just have a good dance.

While those on the main march can rest assured that the combined watchfulness of the TUC stewards and Liberty will keep them safe, those on the margins know that care is needed.

As the DSG warned:

We come into conflict with the police whenever we transgress the boundaries set by the state as an acceptable territory for politics.

As anticipated, the police have already begun their strategy of leaking stories to the press to discredit the protesters.

All it took was a chummy reference to an old BBC comedy for the state-owned channel to regurgitate the propaganda they’ve been fed.

Further briefing notes suggest police believed there had been an increase in “militant activism” and that some students would try to “goad” officers into taking “heavy-handed action”.

“Avoid hasty actions or taking the bait,” the document said. “This will require nerve, discretion and discipline.”

It is not a great surprise that a news organisation happy to describe “cuts” as “savings” is just as happy to pin the blame on the victim.

This is after all an organisation that teaches children to play riot police, teaching them how to “verbally dominate” protesters and “kettle rioters” all in the name of entertainment.

Happily there are alternatives to the corporate media who will be helping to keep protesters informed and safe on the day and telling the real stories that the mainstream news organisations prefer to ignore.

Sukey and IndyMedia London are working in parallel but independently to help keep protesters safe, mobile and informed on the day. VisionOnTv are offering training, advice and a platform for people to make and share their own videos of events. Dissident Island and  Resonance 104.4 FM will both be covering the protests, the latter using art to explore new and interesting ways to present the stories, such as the way in they used surrealist poetry to evoke the horror of CS Spray being used on peaceful protesters.

As I wrote before, those who stick to the main march will be perfectly safe.

There will be other streams that flow around the main river of the official protest engaged in the kind of creative, theatrical and eye-catching peaceful protests we have seen at UK Uncut actions around the country during the last few months. When you go home after the march, others will stay.

You do not need to join them.

All we ask is that when you read or watch the news in the weeks to come, you question what you are being told and make your own mind up about whether, say, turning a bank into a day centre, is an act of peaceful, playful protest or an act by criminal troublemakers.

For those who want to stay, there will be Pentacle after-parties with Battle of Britain bunting, tea and cakes served from 5pm at key points on the map and plenty more exciting and playful events that will become apparent on the day.

These works, events, spasms, ructions that don’t look like protest will amplify the voice of those on the main march and show the world that we have had enough.

26 March is not a goal, it’s a milestone on the journey – but with this much energy and creativity I have no doubt that we will only gain momentum from what promises to be the biggest demonstration in the UK in decades with the core march of a million as the stem around which a hundred flowers will bloom.

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