Why I’m not in Tahrir, I mean, Albert Square

October 5, 2011

in Activism, Opinion

Tahrir Square in February 2011

There is a peculiar trend within the activist community that all occupations, all protests, and all protesters must be defended at whatever cost from the tyranny of the state. That’s a fair enough stance to take, though I think given our manpower compared to that of the state, that’s too optimistic for me to agree with. What annoys me however, is when people ordering me to get to whatever occupation of five is being threatened by police this time assume that, if I don’t immediately head down there, its because I’m just staying in my nice warm house because I can’t hack “real activism”. The fact that I’m not at Occupy!Manchester sitting in a tent is because I’m just not good enough.

I can’t hack it? Yeah? Were you kettled for eleven hours until 1am while the police started snatching everyone who got too near them, and then when you got out, spent the night punctuated with warnings of police raids, sleeping on a freezing cold office floor under a foil blanket? Have you been a medic the night that the police tear gassed a rave and had to stay up ’til 3 in the morning in a Danish winter telling drunk and pissed off person after drunk and pissed off person to take their clothes off before entering our accommodation? Have you ever had to spray antacid into the eyes of someone who’s been pepper sprayed while they have a panic attack? Have you ever launched yourself at a policeman who’s threatening one of your friends and forcibly dearrested him? Have you ever formed a line with a whole bunch of strangers and waited as column of riot cops slowly march towards you with the express intention of knocking the crap out of you?

A lot of the people reading this were there with me when the above things happened, and I bet a lot of you aren’t in Albert Square with Occupy!Manchester for the same reason that I’m not: because we’ve been cold, and rained on, and brutalised, and I, for one, am not prepared to do it again without a damn good reason. I haven’t been kettled in a year and a half, not because I’m a coward but because I know what a police kettle forming looks like and I’d rather be a mobile and useful protester than rack up activist points because I stayed where I was and let the police control the situation. Being arrested seventeen times doesn’t prove that you’re a big, bad, activist, it means you’re an activist that got caught repeatedly. That’s all it means.

So fuck off if you think that I’m some kind of armchair activist because someone else thought it would be a good idea to go sleep in a public square and some warped idea of “solidarity” means that whatever protest happens, we all have to agree with it and prolong it as long as possible. You have to pick your battles. What I’ve learned from my experiences is that I want to calculate the return from my risk. I’ve yet to be given a meaningful reason for why I should be occupying Albert Square, and I’m not going to fling myself into hardship and misery because someone calls me a coward on Facebook.

 

One solution…

 

Am I prepared to be kettled, beaten up, sleep deprived, arrested, and imprisoned, for what I believe in? Absolutely. Am I prepared to start sleeping in a cold public square because someone who’s not me genuinely believes that occupying the square outside the town hall of a Labour-controlled council which hasn’t a single Tory on it, a mile away from the actual conference the occupation is allegedly protesting, in a city 250 miles away from the capital and centre of all political power, will somehow kickstart the revolution? No, funnily enough, I’m not. All fair dues to the people who organised the occupation in the first place, we needed a focal point after the asinine TUC march, but the fact that the occupation is still there several days later means that either the government’s about to fall… or the police simply don’t see the the occupation as an actual threat. Somehow, I don’t think it’s the former. We can’t be all Activist!Rambo all the time.

So, I’m sorry if you think I’m being apathetic when I say I’m not going to the occupation, but I’m actually just weighing up my available time as an activist and judging it more usefully spent at home in an armchair than trying to artificially add to my collection of this-one-time-I-got-surrounded-by-the-police-because-I-was-bringing-it-to-the-man-and-it-was-so-amazing stories. And if you’re suffering burnout because you’re there and no-one will join you, I highly reccommend “The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World Without Losing Your Way” by Hilary Rettig. I read it and that’s why I’m not in Albert Square today.

(Incidentally, I will be blocking the bridge in defence of the NHS on the 9th October, and I fully expect we’re going to get kettled and beaten up. This will be totally worth it given the gravity of the situation and I hope you will all join me. There are free coach spaces still available.)

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