Why Demonstrate?

IMG_3935The Communard has long since given up enthusiastically turning on the news when they get home from another demonstration. The point of going on a demonstration cannot be that it should be noted in the mainstream media; nor can it be that it should necessarily have any effect on the powers-that-be, even the minor irritant effect of being noticed. Why go at all? …especially why go to stand in front of the long, tall monumentally unresponsive facade of the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London on a bitterly cold evening to protest against Trump’s announcement that the US would recognise Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel?

The answer lay in the experience itself. It was heartening to see a large crowd, which spilled out awkwardly beyond the space where the police tried to corral it, notable for its diversity – children shouting for Palestine, people shouting ‘Allah Akbar’, mothers and fathers, young women with and without headscarves, young men with and without keffiyehs, sellers of Socialist Worker and Counterfire…but not much other overt evidence of the wider labour movement. The sense of fringe elements of the labour movement standing in for its absent core mirrored the international political isolation of the Palestinians. A demonstration is street theatre, in which you perform a small part as well as making up the audience. Here, standing bottled in for a freezing 90 minutes between the closed-off gardens of Grosvenor Square and the metal fence erected to keep the crowd away from the embassy, a few metres from the much-higher iron fence surrounding the building itself, we all briefly re-enacted the plight of the Palestinians in the occupied Territories under military domination. The police surrounding us reprised the role of the Israeli Defence Force, keeping the demonstrators packed in to the tight space and filming us with a camera on a pole. We could do nothing but shout and chant, and even this it was impossible to co-ordinate, so stretched and squashed and ragged was the space. On the other side of the massive railings, motionless behind a bullet-proof shield, his hand clutching his automatic weapon bare so as to able to use the trigger, despite the cold, a single dark-clad soldier stood in for the military might of the Colonial power. Whether or not his fingers were too cold, he could not have pulled that trigger without killing nearly as many police officers as protestors – he was performing a purely symbolic menace. Towering over the massive concrete and glass set behind him, the huge metal bald eagle in the centre echoed his sinister pose, a reminder of the murderous drones hovering over the oppressed across the globe.

So why demonstrate? The answer has to recognise that demonstrating is a performance of solidarity, so that a taste of futility and powerlessness is inherent to it in times like ours. You explore and develop your own solidarity with the victims of domination whose cause you are upholding; this helps in terms of experiencing your identification with the oppressed, even if there is only a vague hope or no hope that those victims will get to appreciate your gesture, let alone the perpetrators realising or caring. You go to help to build a collective historical narrative of solidarity, even if at first it is only shared within small networks. You drag yourself out of complicit passivity and become a participant, however small, in the resistance.

 

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