Which Side Are You On?

Hello folks, pleasure to see you as always. I have a little something I want to share with you all today.

Unless you religiously avoid all television, newspapers and the internet (and if so, you’re not doing a very good job), you’ll probably have seen some coverage of the recent student protests, and the police kettling of protestors. You’ll have likely seen rioters and instances of violence. Depending on which news outlets you follow, you may have seen these events from various different angles. Certainly, in the days after the last tuition fees protest, the majority of the mainstream media focused mainly on injuries sustained by police officers, as opposed to injured protestors. However if you follow Laurie Penny on twitter or read her column in The New Statesman, for example, you will probably have quite a different view of these events.

A major issue which has come forward in the wake of these protests is the police tactic known as “kettling”. As Johann Hari writes in The Independent, “the Metropolitan Police’s instinctive response to any group of protesters is to surround them and ‘kettle’ – that is, arbitrarily imprison – them for up to ten hours in the freezing cold, with no food, water, or toilets. It doesn’t matter how peaceful you were. You are trapped.

In the days and weeks following the protests, I’ve read a number of articles on the issue and had debates with friends over the issue of kettling and possible instances of police brutality. I’ve heard various opinions on the actions of protestors and police.
(see articles on injuries sustained by freelance journalist Shiv Malik, disabled journalist Jody McIntyre being pulled from his wheelchair by police and student Alfie Meadows, who had to have brain surgery after allegedly being struck with a police truncheon)
Some  have argued that the protestors have to expect a violent reaction if they themselves behave violently. This seems to me a fairly blinkered view, especially since it seems to imply that simply attending the protest means you have the potential to be violent, or that the actions of the few represent the will of the many. This is obviously not the case. The majority of students were there to protest peacefully; some were there to cause trouble. ALL were kettled, regardless of their actions. Whilst I don’t condone violence by protestors, neither do I condone a police tactic which is only going to make even peaceful protestors feel scared and angry, essentially trapped; imprisoned for the crime of turning up to a protest. Once again, Hari sums it up perfectly:

“In reality, these tactics are provoking more violent protest than they prevent. It’s enraging to turn up to peacefully express your views outside parliament and find yourself suddenly imprisoned by police officers who won’t even let you go to the toilet. It doesn’t cool people down, it makes them burn up. There is an obvious alternative to kettling, and it was the norm in Britain until the Mayday protests of 2001 when the tactic was born. It’s simple: arrest anyone who commits an act of violence, instead of imposing mass imprisonment on everyone present. It’s called good policing.”

Sounds pretty simple indeed.

After following the independent and mainstream coverage of the protests, my writing-hand started getting itchy. After jotting down some ideas, another song started rattling around in my head. A song called Which Side Are You On, written by Florence Reece in 1931 and rewritten in 1987 by Billy Bragg. Traditionally the song is about miner’s struggles and strikes, however, I’ve taken the liberty of writing my own version of the song based on the recent protests and coalition government cuts. I hope you like it.

The song paraphrases a chant by some of the protestors: “we’re fighting for your children, we’re fighting for your jobs”. And whilst it’s been said by various people following the government decision to approve the rise in tuition fees, I was paraphrasing Laurie Penny in the final verse: “this isn’t over, it’s just beginning”.

Til next time folks,



2 thoughts on “Which Side Are You On?

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