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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

In praise of Direct Action

There couldn’t have been a more appropriate location for a lone protest against the ongoing insidious repression of our democratic freedoms than that of the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race yesterday. Not just that these are the universities which predominantly cater for the elites but that the homes of the super-privileged overlook the river.
And the impact should be all the greater since the guy who disrupted this traditional annual race on the River Thames is himself one of the elite – expressing (in what I confess I find a powerful but strangely-written manifesto) his deep concern about the direction public policies in countries such as the UK seem to be taking us -  
Everyone will remember some of their history lessons ... where people have been taken advantage of by people that believe themselves somehow better, more entitled than others. Most recently this has included the enclosure and eviction from the commons, transatlantic slavery, imperialism and colonialism, fascism, holocausts, genocides and dictatorships and migrant labour camps. It is difficult to grasp, as many of us have strong memories of the previous ‘boom’ decade, but .... we have just about reached the precipice of another era of mass enslavement and the large scale enclosure of ‘Our Public’. What is happening in the UK, for example, is not ‘privatisation’ but a contemporary demonstration of full scale enclosure of Our Public. "Couldn’t happen again ..." why not? Why wouldn’t something different but similar happen again? What policies, what institutions, exist to prevent something similar from happening again? What evidence is there that this isn’t happening? When did Our Public last experience an injection of its own readily available dose of agency and liberty?
To enclose and to enslave requires the audacity, cunning and daring to take advantage of our natural kindness, our belief in others, our respect for authority, our desire to please, and our apprehension about ‘causing waves’, our hope for all to have a better life, somehow. It also depends on our disbelief, despite having experienced it, that other people would purposefully set out to harm us for their own advantage. More recently we have also been encouraged, though the evidence displays the opposite much of the time, that a whole raft of institutions exists that work to prevent human catastrophes like our right to protest being denied, detention without trial or charge, the monopolisation of industries, and essentials like food and water. These institutions were established to prevent slavery, genocide, indentured labour and groupings of indices of deprivation and poverty from occurring. It is likely many in the western Baby Boomers generation (large percentage of the UK population), who have benefited so much from these institutions, are finding it very difficult to consider that these institutions might now be turning against them, their children and their grandchildren? Could what is happening in the UK (and around the world); the state of exception with Olympics, the wholesale removal of countless civil rights, the project to create fear and suspicion of others, the transfer of our money into the vaults of a handful of corporations, the ongoing wars, the pomp and ceremony for unelected official anniversaries, the amazingly high unemployment, the devastation to public services such as health and education, the isolation of education due to high fees, the entangled corrupt relationship between the media, police and politicians, the racism, the increasing misogyny, the forced labour in supermarkets, the spying on our emails, skype calls, the control of food production and distribution and the reductions of tax burdens for the richest ... could these all be best understood as the process of enclosure? Do we resist now setting out to avoid something akin to slavery and imperialism? Or do we hesitate and find ourselves and our children without agency once again and in a long battle to gain it again? How long might it take and how many lives might this demand?

His manifesto encourages others to take similar direct actions. There are so many people of my age who have nothing to lose and who should certainly be inspired by his example. The discussion thread which The Guardian eventually added to the story was, curiously (since Guardian readers are notoriousoy liberal), pretty hostile to the action. So much so that I was moved to add my own comment to the discussion -
Most of these comments are at the level of "He stole my football, mummy!!" Ironically, they confirm the point the guy hints at in his statement/manifesto - that too many of us seem to be living in a protected bubble, unaware of what is going on around us - our sense of history lost. Direct Action has an honourable tradition - and has to be a serious option when corporate power has castrated our political choices and system. That Guardian readers can react in such a selfish way will, however, have to be taken into consideration during discussions about future actions.
And, for those who can't see a bigger picture, who are stuck at the level of the individual rower who has trained hard for months, can you not imagine the courage it takes for a guy to prepare for such an act?

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