I missed the Dulwich Hamlet game yesterday, where it turns out they ran “riot” against Fleet Town, winning 6-0. I’d have loved to have seen the navy & pinks swarm over Town’s far more prosaic sky blue. Alas.
But I had always planned to miss the match. There was a far bigger ritual going on, and – dare I say it in the context of this blog – a far more “authentic” one… We brave South Londoners were to converge on Kennington Park, antiquarian scene of public executions, and march hubwards into central London to join the TUC organised (but very multifaceted) anti-cuts protest.
Protests. Probably one of my four favourite genres of ritual. But whereas with many others – especially football – I am very aware of the loose ends of logic, the pretentious suspension of disbelief required, protests are different, no? Even though I understand and accept new social movement theory, protests seem real, immediate, viscerel, objective. Public sector cuts – some at least – will increase inequality, sterilize urban spaces, even kill people…
They feel like the exact opposite of football matches. This isn’t chanting for a colour, a locality, a bizarre sense of “tradition” – it’s chanting to stop the dehumanization of Atos screenings, to keep higher education an arena of creativity, to allow families to live where they always have.
But protests aren’t solemn Sovietgrey events. They are colourful carnivals of raw energy. They are, for that moment, crowds, with the whiplashing hum of chaotic potentiality that comes with numbers and excitement. They are, in fact, what football consumption at its best is, or should be.
Greyfaced rent-a-quotes who dimlier-than-thou dismiss the so-called “madness” or (even more ridiculously) “premeditated” nature of either football hooliganism or protest violence have, simply, never LIVED, and I feel desperately sorry for any spouse they might have, for I doubt they’ve ever been FUCKED.
Numbers + Unity = Excitement
Of course, there may be a handful who come prepared (I dare say at least partly because they are addicted to the adrenaline after previous innocent experiences) but widescale violence comes from a proportionately widescale acceptance, a crowd go-ahead.
And the government had better beware. The kinds of people coming to these marches is indeed being increasingly drawn from from what Mr. Ed Miliband correctly spoke of as the middleground of society. People, nice people, bloody boring people, and they are appalled at the audaciously preemptive actions of the Metropolitan Police – who seem to think they are still dealing purely with a ragtag band of the usual suspects.
There is enormous subjectivity in protest, in political discourse. And they are very much rituals. But as the current government is seen to be changing the rules, the etiquette of governmental/governed relationships, so too – at lightning speed – does the collectively agreed etiquette of protest. The Ritz, Fortnum & Mason – you simply wouldn’t have been hit a year ago.
We seem to be living in a moment where rules are being forged anew.
But not all rules. Some of the oldest still remain. Which leads me on to part two…