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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.
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.
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.
Of course street protests work. We all have a good laugh as life's failures make absolute fools of themselves.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Street protests are essential, as the
ballot box doesn't work when it comes to addressing injustices.
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".
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!
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nick Smith, UK
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.
Yes street protests do work. They killed the unpopular poll-tax and led to the downfall of Margaret Thatcher.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 !!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Can anyone can tell me a single change in government policy brought
about as a result of these protests over the years?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 .
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!
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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