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What Did We Achieve?
Reaction from the bulletin boards, 2nd May 2001
I attended the Mayday protests yesterday to register my dissent against a system that allows multinational corporations and unelected organisations such as the WTO and the IMF to subvert democracy.
Like most others I am committed to non-violent protest, believing that to maintain the higher moral ground and win people over to your cause you have to demonstrate non-violently. I see violence as capitalism's way, not ours.
Along with roughly 1500 or so others I was detained under Section 60 at Oxford Circus for roughly 6 hours without food, water, a toilet or any idea of when (or if) we would be released.
I found this detainment oppressive and a violation of my right to peacefully protest. It is hardly surprising that violence flares when you are surrounded by a highly intimidatory police force that decides to make the area smaller every 10 minutes or so, squashing people and increasing the atmosphere of oppression.
If you weren't there, try to picture the centre of Oxford Circus surrounded on all sides by riot police fully equipped with shields, truncheons, horses, dogs, CS Gas and God knows what else.
To do this and expect a totally non-violent response is asking too much, in my opinion. Although I remained non-violent myself I could fully appreciate the frustration of the few that charged the police and threw things at Nike Town.
When your back's to the wall, it's easy to see this as the only option.
The problem with any show of violence is that this is what most people see on their TV and makes it very easy for the mainstream press to brand us as mindless thugs.
Predictably, this morning's papers are full of headlines like 'One-Nil To The Bill' (The Mirror). What is the end result of this? The real issues such as capitalism's environmental impact, the fact that most of our clothes are made in sweatshops, homelessness and all the other issues raised on the day are not discussed in great detail.
However, it's not all doom and gloom. When I finally got released at about 9:30 I made my way home, pleased to have avoided arrest and/or a kicking, and turned on 'Newsnight'. Jeremy Paxman was chairing a debate between anticapitalists such as Globalise Resistance.
Also involved were members of all three major political parties, including Simon Hughes from the Lib Dems. While there were obviously massive differences in opinion, what I found encouraging was that these parties are now at least having to consider the roles of the WTO and the IMF – both Labour and Lib Dem expressed modest reservations at their far-reaching influence.
My point is that after the protest a year ago this debate was not even happening; we were all just branded as rent-a-mob thugs. Capitalism was seen as 'The Way Things Are' and dissent was ignored.
The fact that we are now getting major airtime and our message is actually being discussed is a step forward. For our message to get across we have to be shown to be making a serious point and make it impossible for Tony Blair to describe our issues, the most important issues facing our planet, as 'spurious'.
What happened yesterday was a beginning; if we can hold more large protests and not play into the media's hands by reacting violently our message will be heard.