Home > Sectariana, Socialism > My day out with the arthritic proto-hooligans

My day out with the arthritic proto-hooligans

Me, shuffling along carrying some wood

On Saturday, I eschewed the invitations of various strands of the bloggerati to join them for beer and debate about the merits of otherwise of direct action in the context of a mass protest.  I also declined the invitation to ‘get my ass’ up to Oxford Street.

Instead, I marched along with a group of Lancashire trade unionists and Labour activists who do not read blogs, do not have twitter accounts, and do not know who Laurie Penny is.  We arrived in London around 1130am, headed by tube for the back of the march, marched for four and a half hours, got on the tube to Swiss Cottage, had a pint, and came home.  

As a result, I got to witness an extraordinary save by my 11 year old on Sunday morning, plunging low to his right to keep out a volley from five yards and actually holding it.  But fatherly pride would have me digress…..

As Lancashire’s finest middle-aged trade unionists shuffled along Piccadilly around 4pm, it became clear that something was going on at Fortnum and Masons, a well known deli in those parts.

A young man was poking his arms out of  second floor window, waving a flag of red and black triangles.  It wasn’t clear from our viewpoint what was going on, and we had no idea at that stage that the shop floor had been occupied by a 100 or so ‘Uncut’ afficianados.  No police were present at that stage, as far as I could see, although there were a couple of vans parked close by.

But here’s the thing.

All the dull, middle-aged/elderly Lancashire trade unionists I was with roared their approval, waved their placards, and surged – in a midly arthritic way – towards what they thought might be a better vantage point. 

Only I, caught up with this whole blog-driven peaceful protest/direct action dichotomy thing, hung back, wondering for a second what my hitherto staid comrades – for whom the height of excitement on other Saturdays might be a SECOND pint down the Labour club before going home to Match of the Day – were up to. 

What were they up to? 

Well, just for a minute, before they realised time was marching on faster than the march was marching, and that we could do with getting the tube from Green Park if we were to squeeze in the real ale incident before the coach picked us up…. just for a minute, my comrades were well up for it.

On the coach on the way home, before people started to drop off, the coach was alive with jokes about Fortnum and Mason.  I was the only one on the coach with twitter, and they really liked the one about ‘15,000 worth of damage in F&M – a jar of olives has been knocked over.’

And that is the thing.  

There was no drama, no police involved, no calls to the wives and husbands to say that the kettle jokes we’d made at 5am the same morning weren’t just a joke anymore. 

Even so, I think this tiny little incident, replicated amongst many small groups like ours as the crowd turned and moved to the day’s high point of excitement, problematises the growing orthodoxy that people can be split neatly into two groups – the peaceful protestors and the others.

Inconvenient though it may be to the mainstream narrative, ‘peaceful’ protestors who are also ‘angry’ at the cuts may not always compartmentalise their peacefulness and anger as they are instructed.

Later on, when I’ve earned a living, I’ll carry through that problematisation, with special reference to Hannah Arendt. 


In the meantime, the most coherent intellectual analysis of the peaceful  protester/the others dichotomy narrative is at Paul Sagar’s Bad Consicience, which I’ll be drawing on.

Categories: Sectariana, Socialism
  1. March 28, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    Paul’s post is good, but even he doesn’t go nearly far enough in unpacking this label of ‘violence’ – see my comments there & on Dave’s post.

    When I was studying Italian protest I came to the conclusion that ‘violence’ is a hugely problematic term, which in practice generally means ‘what those people shouldn’t be allowed to do’ – violence on ‘our’ side goes by names like ‘firm action’ and ‘acting with restraint’. (There’s nothing new in this. Back in 1977, l’Unita on one occasion praised a group of Communist stewards for “refusing to fall into the trap of violence and provocation”; they’d done this by physically charging a group of student protesters and dispersing them, rather than letting them stand there being all violent and provocative.) Obviously I’m not in favour of people being hurt – including people in police uniforms – but I think we need to be critical of how this question of ‘violence’ comes to be given so much attention, and what work it’s doing.

  2. tim f
    March 28, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    Think I saw your placard around parliament square area. Went past F&M at roughly the same time too (maybe a little later) – it was obvious the occupation was going on because there were bits of paper in the windows. Have to admit I had to ask those around me who F&M were as I’d never heard of them before.

    I felt a bit as if I should get involved just on the basis of solidarity, and to attempt to stop police hurting people as they were starting to turn up. But it didn’t seem to me like there was the appetite for it among the crowd, and I remained unsure what the objective was (occupy it as a stunt for a couple of hours? hold it and squat it? liberate it and put it under the direct control of a workers’ committee? something else?). Still, I was torn both ways and perhaps I should’ve supported it directly. By that stage I was a little disengaged with the march generally, and I still had some of my own leaflets to put out, anyway.

  1. March 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm
  2. March 29, 2011 at 11:35 pm
  3. March 30, 2011 at 7:05 pm
  4. April 3, 2011 at 2:02 pm

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