Pitching a tent for change

November 04, 2011 10:44

You may have noticed that there has been a lot of protesting going on this year. Some of it is admirable (for example, the demos against Middle Eastern tyrannies), some of it less so (August's protests against the fact that you actually have to pay for trainers).

The style of some of the demonstrations has changed. Back in the day, the protesters would gather with placards, sing protest songs, smash up Starbucks, be kettled and eventually go home.

However, thanks largely to a group of Israelis attempting to gain support for their campaign against high rents, there is now a new form – the tented city. Protesters set up camp in Tel Aviv, then around Israel and before you knew it there were anti-capitalists under canvas in Wall Street and over here outside St Pauls Cathedral.

The results of Occupy London have been mixed. The protesters have managed to shut down a rather big church but capitalism seems to have continued unabated and the local Starbucks, far from being smashed up, has been doing rather good business.

The big plus of the tent protests has to be the lack of violence. Had the youth set up a tented village outside Footlocker and Currys, there would have been far less trouble. However, would some of the great protests of the past have had the same impact had protesters camped rather than marched? Would the Thatcher government have yielded so readily to a Poll Tax camp in Trafalgar Square? Would Gaddafi have fallen if the Libyans had taken to the desert in their tents (would anyone even have noticed?) What would have been the response had Martin Luther King addressed civil rights protesters with the immortal words, "I have a tent"? And would the Battle of Cable Street have had as much resonance if the Jewish community announced "they shall not pitch"?

What if Martin Luther King had said 'I have a tent?'

It could be that some protests are better suited to tents. For example, you might not get much press coverage if you were to march down Whitehall chanting: "What do we want? More reasonable behaviour on the part of the banks, perhaps a return to a pre-capitalist system of bartering and a more just world generally. When do we want it? Now."

If you want to stimulate debate, then maybe a tented village, placed carefully to cause maximum inconvenience to passers-by, is the way forward. Those who work in the City can use their lunch hour to learn how the protesters intend to put them out of work and the newspapers will almost certainly decide to take photos of them, not because of who they are or what they have to say but because of where their tents happen to be.

The Occupy London village may be living on borrowed time but perhaps it should be given a chance. After all, this is democracy in action, encompassing a wide range of views, including Jewish participants working under the slogan. "Occupy Judaism" and "Occupy Torah". Indeed, I daresay there is also a group intent (geddit) on bringing attention to the plight of those living in the West Bank and Gaza. They probably call themselves "Occupy Palestine".

November 04, 2011 10:44

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