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Tuesday, 7 May, 2002, 09:02 GMT 10:02 UK
Do street protests work?
Paris and London are among several cities throughout the world who are returning to normal after a series of May Day demonstrations.

Around 400,000 people took to the streets of the French capital, where 3,500 riot police were deployed amid fears of violent clashes between supporters and opponents of far-right presidential candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

In London, more than 50 people were arrested after a largely trouble-free day of protests planned by environmentalists, anti-capitalists and trade unionists.

While in Sydney, Australia, police on horseback have broken up a protest outside the Sydney offices of the company which runs detention centres for illegal immigrants.

What can May Day street protests achieve in your opinion? Have you been involved in or seen any protests taking place?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

They contribute hugely to the bringing together of people

Anon, France
Even if as many people suggest, street protests don't work, if they are anything like the protest that I took part in Paris on 1st May, they are a pleasure to attend. The atmosphere was fantastic - music, singing, clapping of hands. The old, young, children - people came from all walks of life to join the protest because it was something they believed in. Even if street protests don't get their political point across they contribute hugely to the bringing together of people and a thoroughly good day out.
Anon, France

It's a sad truth that the credibility of decent law-abiding citizens airing their protest on the streets is being jeopardised by the semi-professional dissenters using any 'cause' to start a riotous assembly. These people are just looking for a fight; they are by no means constructive but purely destructive.
Colin Basham, Germany

Let's face it, the protestors really do not truly care about the cases for which they riot in the streets. If they did, then they would not support the global imperialists through their eating, dressing, and personal habits. To be truly committed, one must have more than convenience.
Eamon Andrew McGowan, Washington, DC, USA

Of course street protests work. We all have a good laugh as life's failures make absolute fools of themselves.
Graham, The Netherlands

Let's face it, for nearly forty years in affluent western countries it's been a rite of passage for middle class students to flirt with rebellion before taking their place in the corporate world. I know because I did. We shouldn't get too worked up about it. They're no real threat to anything, and are only going to retreat to some student union bar afterwards to regale each other with exaggerated stories of their 'wadicalism' (sic). In a year little Tarquin will have resumed washing and will be advising you on your investment strategy, trust me!
Paul McDonnell, Australia

I am even more worried about the spin that the media puts on these protests, without discussing the underlying issues

Rich, Australia/London
Anti Globalisation protestors are definitely not stupid. Last year one of my investment banking colleagues went out to protest. He is not dumb. I would have joined him myself, but was worried that my job as a manager at the bank would be jeopardised. I have since left the bank, and can say that I was sickened by the greed, ruthlessness, contempt for others, and disregard for the environment that I discovered permeates the big global businesses. The accounting scandals that came out of Enron is just one of the threads that has unravelled showing a glimpse of the plague of greed.

I am scared that capitalism is infecting the governments of the free world, and where that could lead us if unchecked. Already the protection of Western markets is a huge global issue. It worries me how these issues often escape the media, and I am even more worried about the spin that the media puts on these protests, without discussing the underlying issues.
Rich, Australia/London

Sometimes yes. Street demonstrations happen to be a way of expressing the opinion of the public in a democracy as much as voting. It is an immediate response to an issue as opposed to waiting for 4 or 5 years to vote. These demonstrations sometimes do get violent, but it is a tool and like any tool depends on how it is used.
Hareesh, USA

The war in Vietnam was not lost because of Street Protests. It was lost because the US went up against a heavily armed and determined guerrilla force with no political goals. Street protests may seem to work for awhile, but they just delay the inevitable. I was over here when the WTO came to Seattle and saw some of the destruction first hand. It was pointless because later meetings made up for it and now protesters there are on a tight leash.
Anonymous, US

Interesting to note that one day holds demonstrations and vandalism, yet the following day democratic local elections are being held nationwide. If the demonstrators really want to prove a point, they would get more support if they went along the democratic route of standing for their cause rather than just mindlessly fighting for it.
Nick, UK

Unfortunately, it's true that street protests change very little, and it does no good to the anti-capitalist cause to make claims like "street protests brought down Milosevic" - they didn't, he was brought down by a 'coup' organised from within his own security services, or "street protests stopped the poll tax and brought down Thatcher" - they didn't, the Tories got rid of Thatcher and the Poll Tax because otherwise they would have been unelectable in '92.

Those people who say "legitimate protest is OK, but send in the Police (tanks) against lawbreakers" are adopting exactly the same criteria as the Chinese or Zimbabwean governments have done - the idea that there is "legitimate" protest is a nonsense. How can we protest if we can only protest about what is allowed? That's not protest, that's agreement.
Mark C, UK

I think the issues that the protesters are trying to portray are very complex: to change the world's system and bring about a different way of life seems a good idea. But I can't see it happening and would it really be any better? I also think violence is not really the way forward, although it does get the attention of the media.
Michael, UK

They can achieve a good criminal record. Praise to the Police for putting a sharp end to the thuggery of these spoilt little rich brats who'll always have mummy and daddy to bail them out. Message to them all - Nobody listens to you, you're annoying and should either go home or straight to the police station, and cut out the middle man.
Richard H, UK

Basically all these people do is disrupt the lives of ordinary people trying to earn a crust

Brian York, UK
Basically all these people do is disrupt the lives of ordinary people trying to earn a crust, and cause a lot of public money to be wasted that could be better spent. Again the mug public ends up paying. Personally I think this sort of pointless protest should be banned, and anyone persisting with silly anarchistic riots should be beaten by burly policemen with large sticks until they get the message.
Brian York, UK

May Day street protests don't really amount to much these days and are regarded by most people to be the domain of the right wing radicals. They are considered by the majority of normal people more of an inconvenience than anything worthwhile. Street protests in general though, do sometimes have an effect, such as the Countryside Alliance one a few years ago.
PhilT, Oman

I didn't necessarily agree with all of the points raised by the May Day protesters but the protests make people think and help encourage debate, which is healthy. What did annoy me however, was the people of the younger generation who were caught on camera saying that 'there is no point in voting because the political parties are too similar etc'. I am 23 and I believe that there is every point in voting! Such comments are the product of spoilt, consumer driven Western brats! Socialists, Greens, whoever - they may be minority, but if enough people banded together and voted for them, then they would cease being minority. Street protests are good, but so is voting and writing to your MP. Our Grandfathers fought and died for this privilege¿now I'm sounding old!
David Jack, Scotland

In a democracy there is only one legitimate way to protest - at the ballot box on election day

Jon Hawkins, Oxford, UK
In a democracy there is only one legitimate way to protest - at the ballot box on election day. If the Government even acknowledges these protests then it makes a mockery of the fact that I bothered to go to the polling station. If the hundreds of thousands protesting against Le Pen had voted instead then he wouldn't be in the position he is now.
Jon Hawkins, Oxford, UK

Shouldn't we ask ourselves: does the average man, woman, boy or girl even have knowledge that these problems exist without these high profile protests? Upon seeing that people are protesting against something, does it not provoke curiosity from the observer or reader? I argue that from this seed, people as a whole are then ready to begin investigating the problems for themselves. The next time that they are in a bookstore, for instance, maybe they will pick up a book like No Logo. Maybe they will read that book, relate it to their own experiences and disagree with the claims. However they may read the experiences of other people and be convinced to do something about what they consider an important problem.
Bradley Hope, England

Street protest is a British tradition that goes back hundreds of years and has had varying success. In nearly all cases there have been a minority of moronic trouble makers attempting to turn protest into riot but from the so called "People's revolt" in 1381 to yesterday's May day marches, the majority were there to protest and petition as is our right and, in my view, duty. The ironic thing is that those on this page who want protest banned and the morons who think they can change the world by terrifying the underpaid staff of McDonalds, are on the same side really.
Charles Moore, Scotland

Street protests are essential, as the ballot box doesn't work when it comes to addressing injustices.
Del, UK

Protest is what makes us a democracy.

Funny how when the Left demonstrate it's called activism and when the right protest it is called a "hate crime".
Robert M. Thomas, USA

The fact that we are having this debate proves that street protest work. If everyone sat at home then no one would know how they all felt. They definitely got our attention!

No they don't work. What these protesters conveniently forget is that the freedom to make their infantile protest comes precisely because of the society they claim to seek to destroy! We here the usual mantra of how they went along for a peaceful protest and that it's always the police's fault. Funny then how they go along for peaceful protest equipped with ammunition to hurl at the police!
John, UK

I think that street protest is vital in the global fight against Le Pen and his kind

Andrew, Ireland
I think that street protest is vital in the global fight against Le Pen and his kind. Hitler said himself that if people organised to crush him on the streets before he rose and crushed the German workers' means of organising then Germany would not have went through its fascist nightmare. The pressure from the anti-capitalist movement has increased the general level of struggle immensely. In Genoa where 300,000 people came together the marriage of the Italian trade unions and political movements has sparked off a huge movement in defence of jobs and conditions that brought millions out on general strike recently.
Andrew, Ireland

With the rare exception, most of these people just want a day when they can 'legitimately' disrupt the capital and blame big corporations for their sad lot in life. If you want your life to be better then get off your backside and work for it. Don't blame capitalism for the fact that you may not have the life you wanted when in fact it's because you're lazy!
Sara Dawson, UK

Protest is what happens when the needs of the people are not listened to by the ruling class, it is what happens when our bosses and our politicians try to take away our rights and our freedoms. People have protested en mass since capitalism began 250 years ago, and people will continue to protest until we change the money grabbing, selfish wasteful economic system that we live in now to a responsible socialist and organised system of distribution based on need not greed. Argentina will show us the way!
Simon@revolution youth group, UK

I'm not sure how stopping a London cabbie from plying his trade could be described as protesting against global corporatisation. It was asked if these protesters would exercise their franchise today. As that would involve registering on the electoral roll and thus paying council tax I doubt it very much. I had to come to London on May 1st and decided to change out of my suit for fear of physical attack. Why should I have to do this simply to accommodate the ramblings of an unwashed minority? As for worker's celebration, to qualify for that you'd have to have a job in the first place.
Guy, UK

Who will pay for cleaning up London after these 'full-time' protesters cause problems?

Michael, Canada
Who will pay for cleaning up London (and other cities) after these 'full-time' protesters cause problems? I say find out who the leaders/organisations are that are co-ordinating these so-called protests and send the bill to them. If they do not pay, make them do community service. If these people are not satisfied living in a 'free-market' society then why don't they move to Cuba, North Korea or whatever other 'socialist' countries still exist
Michael, Canada

I am in favour of the protests. May Day has traditionally been a day to celebrate life and fertility, but what sort of life do the people in third world countries have? Anyone who believes in equality must believe that the current system which penalises those not lucky enough to be born in the West is unfair and needs challenging. Everyone has issues they feel strongly about, even if it's something as selfish as the amount of tax they have to pay. They have channels through which they can voice their concerns; if there were other channels through which protestors could have their views heard then I am sure that they would use them, but street protest and direct action seems the only way. People should open their eyes to the unhappy reality of the world and not live in their own selfish bubble.
Liz, UK

Capitalism is the mechanism that lets people earn a living (profit) by giving us what we want. It's stupid to talk about smashing capitalism. Rather, we should start wanting the right things - that is, in a way that doesn't involve robbing the poor or raping the planet. Large companies have to see that profits are enhanced by meeting public demand for social justice. For example, massive changes took place in Shell as a result of Brent Spar protests.
Steve, England

Why the hell should we listen to this bunch of dropouts? They contribute nothing to this country, and, generally know nothing about the matters on which they are protesting. And how come they never have alternatives to propose? It's always "ban this" or "down with that". If they actually proposed solutions instead of smashing up Starbucks we might be more inclined to take them seriously.
Matt, UK

I presume that all the people who writing to support street protests on this site will be cheering on the Countryside marchers when they are protesting against banning fox hunting? Won't they?
Michael, UK

We allow a majority to violently protest, in the form of police and war

Andrew Bartlett, UK
Those who call on the Army or police to 'lay into' the protesters validate the decision to violently protest. They ask for peaceful, non-disruptive protest? Why not use that principle in law enforcement? Because it is not practical. We allow a majority to violently protest, in the form of police and war, but condemn the same means employed by others. What should be realised is that condemning the means, as is so often used in the terrorist debate, leaves one with no effective course of action.
Andrew Bartlett, UK

Yes, they work after a fashion, but they also polarise the parties which isn't constructive. I vote with my wallet - I don't buy products that come from certain companies (eg Nestle) and never buy petrol from companies that exploit people in Africa. That makes it difficult to fill up at times, but it's a small price to pay.
Brian, England

If there was any credible opposition in the Commons, speaking up for the environment, fair trade and decent pay etc, there'd be little need for protest. Unfortunately, the police tend to play down actual numbers of protestors, while much of the media also tends to give little coverage to even the largest protests, unless there's violence, preferring stories about Beckham's foot.
A Cutelli, UK

Although their causes might be just creating mayhem in our cities is not going to win any respect by the general public. I acknowledge that there's a lot that's wrong in the world today, but rather than going out to smash up the Local McDonald's restaurant I stick with a more traditional approach to democracy. You see, by smashing shop windows you're only hurting the local shop owners. The damage caused does nothing to the fat cats and politicians. Speak up through legal channels and you might soon win popular support.
Christine, UK

It is very important to be able to demonstrate peacefully in this country.

Deborah, UK
It is very important to be able to demonstrate peacefully in this country. Governments and organisations have changed their policies in the past when the majority of opinion seems to be against them. However, although traditionally May Day has been a day for rebellion, I personally wouldn't choose it as a day to go out and make a peaceful protest as I think events on May 1 have a tendency to be hijacked by anarchists and thugs. Even more important though, is that people go out and voice their opinions through the democratic process, and vote in their local elections today.
Deborah, UK

Law abiding protest is central to an open and healthy democracy - it's states such as Zimbabwe that ban protest or dissent. However, those who break the law on these demonstrations should be dealt with firmly as they debase the points being made (in my view deeply misconceived points) by the demonstrators. I am sure that the vast majority of the protesters on the streets in London yesterday could not articulate a coherent argument for their demonstration. Certainly the people interviewed on television were frighteningly ignorant of the 'reasons' for their presence. The point that seems to have been missed in the last few years is: there never used to be these marches and protests on May 1st and there is no reason at all why ordinary people should be inconvenienced every year at this time. Why has no-one noticed this?
Philip, England

I think the numbers of protesters show the real support in the UK for the causes that they support. In France the cause to make sure Le Pen does not win the Presidency got hundreds of thousands of ordinary people onto the streets. How many people protested against the evils of capitalism and globalisation in London?

But what gets my goat is that the majority of these protestors have never been to the third & second world countries that they claim to support, never seen themselves the grinding poverty and the endemic corruption which is one of the primary causes of their problems. They also tend not to want to work for voluntary agencies abroad either. They seem to think that by protesting in the west it will do more good than helping a village out in the bush sort out its wells or sanitation.
Charles, UK

I say give them all some shares and let them compete in the market

Billy, UK
These protestors are such a nuisance. Why do they want to complain about big companies? I say give them all some shares and let them compete in the market, they'll soon calm down. I've got a few shares in ITV Digital I'd be willing to pass on. Let's face it, you can complain about the way they are protesting, but you can't disagree with the general global discomfort with global industrialisation, you just need to read yesterdays news about the massive uprise in diabetes to see that its affecting the entire world.
Billy, UK

Gaz Twlldyn, Wales, self-styled "warrior for the working man", makes huge and generalistic assumptions about and on behalf of those he has never met. That the vast majority of the unwitting subjects of his cause chose to go to work on May 1 instead of joining the Twlldyn protest knocks the bottom out of his argument. Moreover, whilst Mr. Twlldyn's "warriors" were acting like idiots and simultaneously getting poorer, the "fat cats" whom he so despises were quietly getting richer. So it could be said that Gaz Twlldyn's protest, far from furthering his cause, actually helped to widen the perceived gap between rich and poor. Well done Gaz!
Chris B, England

Isn't it funny? Everyone moans about how the fat cat bosses and idle rich who lower the standard of living for everyone are ruining the country. But when we, the warriors for the working man try to hit the reset button for a fairer future for all, you materialistic whingers start moaning. You can't have it both ways. Get real, get active, get involved.
Gaz Twlldyn, Wales

Protests sustain a healthy democratic system

Connie Wessels, UK
I don't think the protests actually achieve their aim of changing policies but they are extremely important in our society. We need people to speak their beliefs so that issues are highlighted and the general public find out about things they may not have known earlier. Protests sustain a healthy democratic system. It is just extremely sad that you get a few idiots among the protesters who sole aim is to cause chaos and mayhem. A protest is about voicing an opinion, not violence.
Connie Wessels, UK

Globalisation has become a crusade for some people who, faced with the heartbreaking unfairness of a world where thousands of children die from lack of the simplest amenities, are desperate for a simple answer. If only those protesting today would focus their attention on world leaders whose lust for power and wealth keeps their people downtrodden then perhaps the world would change for the better. Until then, I imagine that they will continue to think that the worst enemy of those suffering in the world is Ronald McDonald.
Phil, UK

I keep as far away as I can from these kind of protests. A few of them may have something to complain about but the majority are just there to cause trouble. Why should tourists or innocent people who are just trying to run a business get dragged into such scenes? I think people are getting fed up of people whingeing and rioting just because a certain chain of events don't suit them? I hate to say this but perhaps it is now time to stop all this nonsense and ban it once and for all.
Amanda, England

I protest against poverty in Africa by monthly giving to a development charity and buying fairly traded goods, and against environmental decay and the global food commodities trade by planting an orchard from my savings. It's not capitalism that's so wrong, it's choices we make as individuals that can make the world a better or worse place.
Stephen Hayes, England

No corporate bigwigs are affected. No policies will change

Nick Smith, UK
They achieve nothing at all. All they end up doing is causing terror for some poor kids getting minimum wage in McDonalds, and then a poor bloke from the local cleansing department has to come and sweep up the mess they leave behind. Wooo! Way to go to defeat globalisation and capitalism! No corporate bigwigs are affected. No policies will change because of some broken windows in a franchised outlet of a worldwide burger chain. There are plenty of things that need putting right in this world and I respect people who go out of their way to do so (human rights abuses in Burma for example), they at least put themselves at risk for their beliefs, but the people that I see on my television screen are champagne socialists at best, and at worst they are a set of bandwagon-jumping thugs.
Nick Smith, UK

Thomas, Street protests didn't kill the poll-tax. It was the campaign of non-payment and the realisation that they could never collect it that ended it. The so-called Poll Tax Riot did more harm than good to the campaign to get rid of it.
Dougal McKinnon, UK

Yes street protests do work. They killed the unpopular poll-tax and led to the downfall of Margaret Thatcher.
Thomas, UK

Street protestors should not be able to achieve anything by their so-called protests, but I am afraid governments may be blackmailed into making concessions.
Graham, The Netherlands

Having just completed a dissertation on anarchism, I would like to point out that most anarchists, past and present, hold the belief that as the state exists through violence, it must be challenged through violence. These unconventional theorists and activists rightly point out that the state uses its police and military to enforce its will, but hold the naive belief that only a violent response can force a government to listen to the objections of its citizens. We would do better to listen to more responsible thinkers like Tolstoy and Ghandi, who show us that taking the moral high ground and adopting the doctrine of passive resistance to violence can bring about far more good in highlighting the unjust actions of any government. Two wrongs don't make a right.
James, Netherlands

If this May Day is peaceful, it will be knocked off the news agenda

Dan Brett, Cambridge
The only reason the media has covered the issues these demonstrators have been promoted is due to the violent actions of a hooligans in the crowd. If this May Day is peaceful, it will be knocked off the news agenda and we'll no longer hear any critique or debate about how to change this world for the better. If the BBC and others were more responsible and concentrated on analysis rather than spectacle, then few would feel marginalised and violence need not be a recurrent theme of anti-capitalist protests.
Dan Brett, Cambridge, UK

I just remind you that protest is not something that you expect to change the world immediately. No immediate gratification, like some kind of quick food. By definition, people are on the streets in protest, because the issues they have in mind have been neglected for years or months. Objectively, protest makes us aware of temporary themes that are the concerns of people including the authorities. So it is not a show of force against the established, but for it. Protest as a spontaneous manifestation and assumes the fundamental truth that the world can go wrong and can be changed. It is the expression of hope and confidence and responsibility that the world as it is belongs to its makers, not to the power. Let's not forget that.
David Yun, USA

There is a body of thought in the US that says that far from ending the Vietnam War, that street protests, composed mainly of middle class children of privilege, pushed the working class, whose children were doing the fighting, to the right and may have even stiffened support for the war in some quarters. Ultimately, the street demonstrations of the sixties and early seventies put many working class families, especially big city Catholics who made up the "Reagan Democrats", on the road to changing their political affiliations. They simply didn't want to be associated with "those people". I agree with those that say that street demonstrations often alienate the very people they are trying to sway or support and the real heavy lifting is best done quietly and without arrests staged for the press.
Gerald Joyce, Chicago, USA

If people didn't demonstrate against apartheid where would we be now? Protests are not going to change the world overnight. But they will get people to look at what they are doing. Shame on all of you for not supporting the ideal that people have a right to live in peace and not have to struggle to have food in their bellies.
Gazy, UK

I participated in one of the several anti-Le Pen demonstrations in Paris today and to my knowledge there was no violence, no clashes with the police, just hundreds of thousands of people exercising their right to speak against a way of thinking they find offensive and divisive. In hard terms, it might not have accomplished anything- it is still up to every individual to choose on 5 May. But remember democracy is not only about the polls, it's about freedom of expression. Street marches remind us all the great privilege we have to live in societies were we at least try protect human rights. Vive la France libre !!
Aniz, France

If it was not for people like these, would we all be so environmentally aware?

Grant Valentine, UK
Good on them. I don't condone their methods or (necessarily) believe in their cause. However, they do help raise awareness of issues the government will not disclose and which we will never find out about in our comfortable middle class lives. It's all too easy to dismiss them and their actions, but if it was not for people like these, would we all be so environmentally aware? There is a deep suspicion of multinationals and governments but these people, for whatever reason, choose not to believe what we are told and aim expose the injustices for what they are. Just because they are not in a suit does not make their message any less valid. It's time governments and big business became more socially and environmentally responsible and we stopped treating world affairs with the apathy we do. And, just remember, governments and multinational organisations have caused much more damage than these protestors ever will!
Grant Valentine, UK

Here in Florida, street protests have had no effect. Open political meetings of our two major parties are attended poorly. A physical gathering of bodies is not how our politics is done not really anymore. Outside of actual votes, nothing happens in the streets or in halls. Even our national party conventions have become TV shows to make official what has already been determined. Delegates have no power to influence much anymore. The virtual world of TV and the internet is not having much effect either. The internet crowds and TV viewers are used as statistical blips. Opinion polling does not measure the weight of an opinion. If one wouldn't get up and go outside to do something, however small, then the opinion is not worth much. Street demonstrations can get counter-productive if conducted rashly.
Tom J, US

Of course demonstrations work, they got rid of Thatcher and the poll tax didn't they? And the only reason the BNP now don't march is because anti-racist groups demonstrated on the streets against them. What's happening in Paris today is positive because it is the scene of a rare counter march against Le Pen.
Antony Savvas, Wales

I have seen city workers throwing champagne and photocopied £50 notes at the protesters

Nicholas Chamberlain, UK
I work for a large bank in the city and have done for the last three years, therefore I have seen these protest first hand and on the whole they have been peaceful and intelligent. The stance adopted by my fellow workers is anything but. I have seen city workers throwing champagne and photocopied £50 notes at the protesters and generally showing a staggering level of ignorance and aggression. Unfortunately the press it seems are intent on ignoring details such as this and are more interested in focusing on the violent minority of protesters and their nihilistic views. I hope these protest continue as many have a legitimate discourse and I wish there can be a more balanced view within the press.
Nicholas Chamberlain, UK

We should rename May Day so everyone can celebrate "Triumph of Capitalism Day" today instead. I'd like to ask everyone to have a McDonalds or drink in a Starbucks today, and show the soap-dodgers how irrelevant they are!
Rob Read, UK

The lessons of the street protests of the last few years, voter apathy and the success of the extreme right across Europe are all indicative of the same thing: that governments have lost touch with the concerns of the people they claim to represent. It's time that politicians took time out to re-engage with the electorate and, crucially, started to represent them. Mainstream politicians arrogantly assume that they know what's best for us, while we, the people, are treated as fools or 'extremists' if we want anything other than what our governments are delivering. Europe needs to become properly democratic once again. That means listening to the May Day protestors AND to widespread anti-immigration sentiment. Whether the politicians like it or not, the will of the people must be heeded and acted upon in a democracy. Lest we forget, that is what democracy is supposed to do.
Michael Entill, UK

The UN and the government and even voting do not seem to make a difference

Tony, UK
Yes, street protests work. Street protests threw Milosevic out of Serbia. The point is that there is much injustice in the world and most of our institutions, like the UN and the government and even voting do not seem to make a difference. Street protests point the way towards a different sort of solution - one in which injustice will be dealt with directly.
Tony, UK

Rent-a-crowd's annual day out, not to protest about anything in particular, but out to cause as much unnecessary disruption as they can. I'm looking forward to seeing the police get stuck into these parasites later on today. While they are smashing up central London in the name of anti-capitalism I'll be working to pay the taxes that fund both their benefits and legal aid bills.
James, UK

Street protests appear to be made up of a few people who understand the issues and have a valid point to make, others who don't really understand the issues or implications, a few who fancy a day out and a few who are out to get drunk and cause some mayhem. Unfortunately it is the latter group who get noticed, while those who have a genuine point to make are largely ignored, and the term "protestor" becomes virtually synonymous with "thug" in the minds of many.
John B, UK

It only gives people a chance to be outlaws for the day

Anthony, London/Paris
I lived in France until a few years ago. There, demonstrations and strikes are almost part of your school curriculum. In 1986 we had a month of student strikes and demos. I am sure not many people who took part can remember why we did it. At the time we thought we won, the bill we were opposing was cancelled and we demonstrated again to celebrate our victory. The truth is the bill was latter passed, in bits. The reality of the whole process is that every so often, people hope to re-enact a May 68 type of revolution. But people are now so used to see to demonstrations, that it doesn't have any effect anymore. It only gives people a chance to get a day off, be outlaws for the day. The only problem nowadays is that there are so many excuses to demonstrate, half the time people don't even know what they are there for...
Anthony, London/Paris

There is only one way of thinking and doing things

They will not achieve much as our democratic governments do whatever they like. We have to understand we are living in a global village where there is only one way of thinking and doing things and any other way is a threat to our existence and values. This one world order has many names and tools and is controlled by the powerful financial institutions and corporate organisations. People will not do a thing to bring about a change, as it would shake up the comfortable lifestyle of the richer countries.

Can anyone can tell me a single change in government policy brought about as a result of these protests over the years?
Dougal McKinnon, UK

Last year I was unemployed and radical, and the prospect of the May Day protests filled me with enthusiasm. This year I'm settled in a job as a web developer, I'm able to pay my bills and live comfortably. Somehow I just can't get worked up about slow bicycle rides and genetically modified foods - I'd rather get to work on time. Perhaps I'm a little jaded and cynical this time around, but I just don't see how the protests are going to achieve anything.
Rob, England

The only way to influence the world is to deal with individuals well away from television cameras and reporters

Anthony, England
As a survivor of the infamous Battle of the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square in 1967, I was really pleased to see myself on the TV and newspapers back in those far off days. However it probably did absolutely nothing to stop the war in Vietnam. I now believe that the only way to influence the world is to deal with individuals well away from television cameras and reporters. One can, over a lifetime, really make a difference as Mother Teresa, Gandhi and many others have proved. But demonstrations - they may be good for your ego and police overtime but nothing else.
Anthony, England

The first rule of public protests is that you need to convince the wider world that you have a case to back up your cause if you want to make a difference. With the way the recent May Day protests have gone, all you will achieve is convincing the public that what you really want is a punch-up with the police.
Chris Neville-Smith, England

Thank heavens that we live in a country where these demonstrations are allowed. I think that whether or not they achieve anything, it is important to exercise this freedom.
Andy Clapham, UK

Do street protests work? Not for the quarter of a million plus peaceful protesters on the Countryside March. But what do you expect after a protest that hardly left any litter much less vandalised buildings and injured police officers?
Susan, UK

The only time anyone listens is when violence is used

Matt, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
I bet the governments can't wait for violence. They only need a bit to plaster it all over the papers, and they will have swept the whole matter under the carpet. I don't think it makes much difference, I'm sure Tony has his master plan already written, and protests will not change it. I wish these protests could proceed without violence, but then they would be tucked away deep in the paper instead of getting the headlines. It would seem that the only time anyone listens is when violence is used, which is sad. In Amsterdam we are too tired to do this I think, we just finished a 24-hour party here.
Matt, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

I am shocked by some of the users of this site. The protests, violent or not, arise from true anger against a global system that maintains the West's power and wealth by disrupting the economies of the 'developing' countries. The ex-IMF president was forced to resign after raising questions over the practices he believes hinders rather than helps countries develop, proving even those who know exactly what is going on dispute the justice in our current economy. 10,000 people die every day from hunger and we live like kings whilst billions are deprived of clean water, living in poverty surrounded by open sewers, diarrhoea being the biggest killer of children - you don't need a PhD in economics to feel incensed. I agree with Matt from the Netherlands - it would be fantastic if these protests could be entirely trouble-free, but would they provoke the same debate or media interest if they were? I doubt it, but that is the fault of the media and not the majority of peaceful protesters.
Jonny, UK

Well, the protestors can have some fun smashing up someone else's property up, maybe get arrested and think they are achieving something. The overwhelming majority of us will get on with our lives as usual and by next week it'll all be forgotten about.
Anthony Jones, UK

What's wrong with spending a day highlighting the fact that the privileged few hold all the wealth? Capitalism has suppressed our compassionate sides and made us competitive and greedy . Anti-capitalists are not all ignorant layabouts. I for one, work hard to make the best of the system forced upon us . The vast majority of people in the world don't think an alternative exists and because of this, it probably doesn't any more. Give the protesters their day, listen to them and think .
Anon, UK

I'll never forgive these people for vandalising statutes of our war dead

Matt, UK
I was hoping it was going to rain today. Then we'd find out how radical these people really were. I'll never forgive these people for vandalising statutes of our war dead. If I was Home Secretary I'd send in the army to police the situation. They'd soon stop their nonsense when faced by the might of a centurion tank.
Matt, UK

Matt: how can you "never forgive these people for vandalising statues of our war dead" and then advocate sending in the army? Wasn't World War II a battle for freedom and democracy? Isn't part of that freedom the right to protest even if a few hundred idiots will attempt to ruin it? Do you advocate banning football matches on the same logic? Perhaps we should halt the World Cup because of a few hooligans? What you are advocating are fascist ideas that I feel would be insulting to anyone who fought in World War II.

Last year and the year before, a few hundred troublemakers caused problems and vandalised the Cenotaph, even though there were thousands of peaceful protestors there. Are you suggesting that we stop these protests with force because of a few troublemakers? I'm sure Hitler would have agreed with you!
Ken, UK

1 May is a workers' celebration

Brian Wakeling, England
The overwhelming majority of people on these marches are people who want to get their viewpoint recognised by the government, and then maybe some action will be taken. That is what democracy means - "the people's community". The protesters are in London today because 1 May is a workers' celebration. Many of them will have taken time off from low-paid jobs to try and get their opinions heard. And Matt - remember Tiananmen Square? When 20,000 Chinese students peacefully protesting against human rights abuses by their government were massacred by the military (including some crushed by tanks). Would you prefer it if our government did something like that? How would your precious statues of Churchill and Bomber Harris look drenched in the blood of peaceful protesters?
Brian Wakeling, England

I sympathise with the cause of people who want to bring our attention to the downsides of fast-growing global companies that damage competition and the environment. But these street protesters are a mixture of all kinds, many of whom don't really understand the issue and are there because it's something to do on a sunny day, or because they like to have a go at the police, or they are just anarchic drop-outs. So street protests will never get sympathy from the majority of right-minded people. Indicentally, I was intrigued to see a group of protesters having breakfast in Burger King this morning, and another bunch having coffee in an EasyInternet cafe. Anti-globalisation indeed!
Steve, England

These "protesters" are a joke. If you dragged in 100 off the street, 99 couldn't even tell you what capitalism is, let alone how the global financial system operates. Most are deadbeats who have had the privilege of growing up in an affluent country whose residents don't waste their time blaming richer counties for its problems. As a result of being mollycoddled, despite being useless or idle, they have the time and energy to protest against something. If it wasn't the current "globalisation" bandwagon it would be nuclear weapons or whatever was making trendy protest material at the time. They should grow up and get a job. Either that or move to somewhere like North Korea or Albania where they can live without the trappings of the rich West.
Pete, UK

You will find most of the protesters are educated people

Christina, UK
Actually I believe nuclear weapons are worth fighting against, the destruction of our planet by a greedy minority is worth protesting about and people like Pete sit comfortably in their middle class homes and criticise these "deadbeats" for having the guts and the stamina to tell the government and the country how they feel about the effects of globalisation. In fact you will find most of the protesters are educated people. Yes there will be a minority of idiots there, just as there are in all walks of life. But I'm glad of these people protesting and getting the message through to authorities. Remember the hippies stopped the war in Vietnam, they do have an effect. Unfortunately I am too involved in work commitments and could not cope with being imprisoned by the police due to physical problems, or I would be there! May people listen! I did not know about globalisation and its effects until the demo last year when I asked what it was about. We don't need a degree in a subject to know what is right and wrong. Maybe our young people are trying to tell us something.
Christina, UK

To Pete, UK: You obviously do not believe in protest of any kind, so am I to infer that you think everything is just hunky-dory? Or maybe you think people should shut up, keep their heads down and know their place? As for anti-nuclear protest being "trendy",where have you been for the last 50 years? I would find it very worrying indeed if in a democracy like ours, street protests were banned. Just for the record Pete, I was raised on a council estate without much money and I do work. Hardly "useless" or "mollycoddled" is it?
John G, London,UK

I agree with Pete, UK. It will be interesting to see if the protestors can top last year's idiots, who on a capitalism march, amusingly all had mobile phones in their hands and firebombed John Lewis, which is a store set up as a workers co-operative in response to the exact things the Great Unwashed were marching against. Nor will I ever forget the banner that had 'capitalism' with two spelling mistakes in it. Half a million people may seem a lot but in reality it's less than 1% of the nation.
Mark, England

I think that many of the people protesting are making valid points - e.g. the so-called free markets of the West are incredibly protected and actively keep Third World countries down. Unfortunately they are all too often labelled (see any posts above) as layabouts and thugs - the "grow up and live in the real world" gang have this excuse to hide behind the fact that they cannot answer many of the complaints that inspire the protests.
Chris, UK

See also:

01 May 02 | Europe
May Day alert in Paris
01 May 02 | UK
May Day protests begin

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