Reaction formations- of time, space, rallies and camps #activism

Our choices – conscious and unconscious – of where, when and ‘how’ we protest – constrain our options, whether we can see that or not.

In 2005 activists at the Gleneagles G8 meeting realised that “summit-hopping” and responding to elite agendas was demoralising and debilitating.  Thus was born the principle of a ‘Camp for Climate Action’.  Not a bad idea at all (though the secret planning meetings were held in the flat of someone who turned out to be an undercover cop, #oops).If it had been savvier and less facipulated it might have avoided the blindingly-obvious danger of becoming an annual scorched-earth festival and lek.  So it goes.  The specific observation – that activists should where possible choose when there is a protest event and the circumstances in which they come- is a solid one.

Talking to a new friend about a recent rally, we realised that the possibility for doing anything innovative were massively constrained because of the physical geography – on the steps of parliament house, with a narrow pavement and then people spilling onto the main street (blocked off by the police).  All for the symbolism of ‘taking the fight to the politicians’ – i.e. parking ourselves on their ‘lawn’.  But when you have that narrow strip, and you only have it for as long as you agreed with the police (who are keen to get the traffic flowing again), then basically all you can do is the set pieces that were done.  Speeches (albeit good ones, not too long, and not just from the old white leftie men) and a few chants.

Yes, this enables people to learn some new information (most of which they’ll forget),feel less isolated and catch up with old friends/acquaintances.  But is that all we’re aiming for?

There is a perfectly good large green (and pretty) space very nearby, where the rally could have taken place. There could have been fewer speeches (after all, it’s a pretty inefficient way of distributing information) and with the additional time, those who came could have been helped to move from audience to participants. They could have been then asked to clump together in the geographical areas they lived in, and facilitators helping to get people knowing each other, perhaps realising that they lived quite close to each other but had never met because one was an old leftie and the other a young green or whatever.  Thus are the loose bonds of social movements thickened…

[For more on this, see this post about the 2011 ‘Say Yes’ rally in Adelaide]

Of course, the symbolism is lost, and since it’s an innovation there would be massive grumbling and sabotage by those who benefit from the status quo or just don’t like change.  The smugosphere is very resilient;.institutional change is very very difficult, and rarely happens quickly…

After all, the climate campers decided that summit-hopping to Copenhagen at the end of 2009 was a good use of their time – the analysis of 2005 long forgotten.  We revert – especially when we are losing or stressed, as they were by then – to comforting rituals.  So it went…

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