Katy has been talking about the Anti-Capitalist Riots that happened in London on May Day:
“I don’t think even the sensationalist news reports quite prepared me for what I saw:essentially the aftermath of pure carnage. I’d expected to see looted shops, broken glass, and a lot of mess, but it really was shocking to see the Cenotaph, a memorial to Britain’s war-dead, daubed with graffiti. I’m all for free speech, and I think demonstrations can be very effective when they’re conducted well – but the desecration of these commemorative landmarks just revolted me.”
I’ve been thinking about this since the events actually took place, and although I have yet to wander around the areas concerned, my feelings on the event and its aftermath in the press are anything but clear.
I saw a piece in The Sun today which suggested that a vote for Ken Livingstone was a vote for “THEM” (them being the people who “defaced” the Cenotaph). I saw the word “EVIL” bandied around in a couple of places as well, and a general horror of people not honouring the honoured dead of our country – the same “evil” people who gave us Churchill with a green mohican, and who daubed comments on the memorials of people who gave their lives in World Wars.
But what actually is the problem? Is it that they parodied Churchill? Is it that they don’t appear to care about “war heroes”? Because if this was written down and placed in a magazine or on a website people wouldn’t get anywhere near as irritated. Is it then just property damage? It doesn’t appear to be that either, because you don’t see any news reports focusing on how evil you must be to deface a MacDonalds.
Instead it seems that people have invested a symbolic value in the objects themselves – the Cenotaph and the statue – that these material products are the actual feelings of a country made manifest – turned into stone. But is that really such a big deal? Is it really any more appalling than writing anti-war statements on a phone box?
As I said – I can’t make up my mind – I just don’t know what I think about it. But one thing seems clear to me. Many (most? all?) of these people aren’t protesting about capitalism. They’re not aiming towards a more noble ideal (Communism? Socialism? Social Democracy? Liberal Democracy? Anarchy?) – instead they are products of a dissatisfaction with the way contemporary society limits and belittles the individual.
Their protest is a reason unto itself – an expression of freedom. It’s an aggressive freedom certainly, a non-communitarian freedom probably, even (possibly) an unworkable, impractical, EVIL freedom – but it’s freedom nonetheless. It’s punk with a cover-story, rebellion with a pseudo-cause. And such spirits will continue to erupt, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.