On Saturday 19 September, there was another anti-lockdown / anti-new normal protest that took place in Trafalgar Square London. This report from the i is typical of the way the mainstream media covered the protest: Police and protestors clash at ‘hostile and violent’ anti-lockdown demonstration in Trafalgar Square. Basically focusing on questionable speakers and also on any dodgy elements who are trying to attach themselves to these protests to exploit people’s genuine concerns and fears about the situation we face for their own nefarious ends.
It’s not just the mainstream media taking this tack but also a fair few activists across the left and even some in the anarchist movement. We’ll be honest – having a pop at the leadership behind today’s protest is like shooting fish in a barrel. Because of some of the questionable speakers, it’s such an easy target to hit. The problem is that some of the people having a pop at the organisers of and speakers at these protests are lumping everyone who attends in with them. Which means the legitimate concerns and fears people have end up being summarily dismissed when they should be engaged with.
What was initially supposed to be a few weeks to ‘flatten the curve’ has turned into six months with more lockdowns likely and no end in sight. That’s six months of physical distancing, not being able to see elderly relatives, not being able to have extended family get togethers and feeling lonelier and ever more depressed. It’s being kept apart from friends and lovers. It’s the constant messaging about distancing which feels like it’s aimed to make all of us regard each other as a threat. It’s the lack of physical contact with each other. Basically, it’s the denial of everything that makes us human. What’s being done to us feels is to all intents and purposes a massive psychological experiment. One that has already had consequences in increased incidences of depression and tragically, suicide.
Then there are the concerns about the coronavirus crisis being used as an opportunity to roll out increasing levels of tracking and surveillance, facilitated by our smartphones and also, hastening the move towards a cashless economy’ We dealt with all of these concerns in this piece here: Told you so… With specific reference to having to own a smartphone to simply be able to function in the new normal that’s being planned for us, we wrote this somewhat blunt piece: How the f**k did we sleepwalk to this point?
The truth is, a growing number of people have had enough of the strain that lockdown and the new normal is putting on their lives. Where do these people turn to for a way out of the situation we face? In the absence of any glimmer of sympathy or understanding from a left that would like a longer and stricter lockdown, many people fed up with the way things are going feel politically homeless. As for the anarchist movement, some have been dismissive of the concerns of ordinary people about lockdown and the new normal, others are making the effort to understand and engage but in truth, the response is patchy at best. So when people start flocking to protests like the one in London on Saturday 19 September, rather than blanket condemnation of their motives, those on the left and some anarchists as well really need to take a step back and do a bit of soul searching about why this is.
As we’ve mentioned before, we don’t really have a brief for the organisers of these protests. They may be a focus for people to gather but because of the ‘leadership’ and some pretty questionable speakers, they are becoming a distraction which could end up scuppering genuine resistance to the new normal and the next wave of lockdowns. Which is why we’ve always favoured dispersed, grassroots resistance and action. It may be easy for the authorities to discredit and disable centrally located street protests – it’s a lot harder for them to try and snuff out thousands upon thousands of dispersed acts of defiance: Lobbing a spanner into the workings of the new (ab)normal. Not only that, as anarchists we have a profound mistrust of anyone who sets themselves up as the leader or figurehead of a movement.