It’s easy to be pessimistic about what real world impact an act of protest can have.
When large numbers of people gather together in an act of political apathy, sometimes the overarching narrative and message of the event becomes lost in a fog of hysteria.
Attending the recent women’s march against Trump on January 21st in central London, I fell into this doubtful mind-set.
Despite holding the firm belief that Trump is a threat to women’s rights regarding his views on abortion and his revolting comments recorded in the infamous Billy Bush tape, the march still lacked discernible objectivity.
Protesting needs a clear, precise objective to put sharp pressure on a particular figure or institution to make real world effect. The women’s march fell into a vague symbolic anger towards Trump, rather than a precise critique or stance against a specific action or policy of his.
As a leftist myself, I am wary of such protests because it can often make the left look weak and confused rather than a serious, decisive political force.
The right wing media had a field day ripping apart the weak narrative of the march, including a Breitbart video documenting the event which gathered hundreds of thousands of views, as it mocked the protesters who often appeared to be there for no other reason than wanting to broadcast their hatred of Trump.
A week later, on January 29th, the next bombshell in our chaotic political era exploded: the announcement of Trump’s travel ban on seven majority Muslim states.
As this shocking announcement was still setting in for most of us, darling of the British left, Owen Jones, had already set to work on organising a string of emergency protests across the country, putting pressure on Theresa May for failing to condemn this divisive policy.
Speaking to Maajid Nawaaz on LBC radio, Jones passionately defended the need for protest:
“we’ve all looked back over history at moments of huge injustice and ask ‘what did people do? Did they speak out or did they remain silent?’ […] this is a historic moment […] people of whole range of political persecutions, whether you be on the left or the right, need to speak out on the basis of human decency against injustice.”
On the night of January 30th, low and behold, a huge wave of protests across the country emerged, including a huge gathering outside 10 Downing street a staggering 30,000 strong.
This was political protest as it should be: a clear and powerful act of defiance, with strong moral intent and a discernible objective.
This united act of rejection conducted in a civil and sincere manner, transcended the petty tribalism that so many acts of protest fall into. It was a clear and potent political statement.
The following morning, the British press responded markedly to the scale of the protests, with front pages emblazoned with images of the vast crowds that had assembled in cities across the UK that evening.
This cemented the success of the protest’s intent for real world impact. It’s scale and potency was too great for the establishment to ignore.
The final victory came with a sharp TV exchange between Piers Morgan and Owen Jones the following morning, in which Jones comfortably held his moral high ground against the weak, poorly justified sneers of Morgan.
Upon first hearing the announcement of the protests on January 29th, I feared they would fall into the same ambiguity and weak direction of many recent protests. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to see the British left at its strongest, most unified and most emotionally potent in a long time.
In an era in which hostility towards the left is brewing at ever high levels, the left should remember the events of this day.
The left all too often strays into the realm of poorly justifying its beliefs and actions, in the process legitimising its opposition and leaving it open to easy criticism.
The Stand up to Trump protests of January 30th show the left back in form.
With four more guaranteed years of a Trump presidency and likely turmoil as the Brexit process continues to unfold, the left must hold on for survival and continue to press its opposition, but to do so, it must seek an emotional poignancy that all can relate to and continue to act in a clear, decisive manner.
Let’s hope the hope the left in Britain will learn the lessons of this day and continue to act accordingly.
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