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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 June, 2003, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
Protest's stunted growth
Gary Connery jumping from Nelson's Column
Column inches: Gary Connery's protest made the papers
It takes a leap of imagination to stage an effective protest these days, as increasing numbers of traditional activists are finding out.

When father-of-seven Brian Haw quit his home in Worcestershire to take up residence on the streets of London it was in the hope he could make a difference.

That was two years ago. Mr Haw is still sleeping rough outside the Houses of Parliament, his pavement shack covered in banners that protest against the killing of children in Iraq and Palestine.

But this one-man demo has had little impact on the world at large. Few people know his name or face. The recent efforts of MP Graham Allen to ban permanent protests in Parliament Square looked like a direct swipe at Mr Haw, until Mr Allen confessed he had never heard of him.

At the other end of the spectrum is Abas Amini, an Iranian asylum seeker who last week staged his own protest at government by stitching shut his mouth, eyes and ears.

The theatre of exorcising a nuclear submarine base made police stand back respectfully - they didn't want to interfere with a 'religious service'
Bruce Kent
Pictures of Mr Amini's tortured face were splashed across the television and newspapers, and two days later his demands to stay in Britain had been met and his stitches removed.

In a media-soaked society which has little patience for traditional politics, those with a grievance are pushing the boundaries ever further to make their voices heard.

It requires a curious mix of abilities, says Peter Tatchell, an experienced gay-rights campaigner known for his headline-grabbing stunts.

"Most of my campaigns are planned months in advance. They draw on the skills of a military theorist, a theatrical director and an advertising PR," says Mr Tatchell.

Abas Amini
Abas Amini's protest is seared in the memory
Risk is usually a good way to guarantee column inches, as proved by Gary Connery who took the perilous sport of base-jumping - parachuting from tall buildings - to the top of London's Nelson's Column last month.

Pictures of Mr Connery leaping from the London landmark, against a backdrop of a huge "Free Tibet" banner, featured prominently in the next day's newspapers.

Sometimes it takes an injury to make the point. Anti-globalisation protester Martin Shaw made the headlines this week after suffering multiple fractures after dangling from a bridge near the scene of the G8 conference in Switzerland. Police cut the rope and Mr Shaw plummeted 20 metres.

One of the most shocking and hard-hitting protests of recent times was in 1999 when Nejla Coskun, a 14-year-old Kurdish schoolgirl, set her hair alight in protest at the arrest of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Novel approach

As she dashed through a crowd of demonstrators in London, the fire melted the skin of her neck. She is now scarred for life and still in pain.

Peter Tatchell
Peter Tatchell talks of stunts as 'guerrilla-style zaps'
Mr Tatchell, whose past protests have included staging a mass "queer wedding" in Trafalgar Square, says media coverage is key to forcing change in society. But that demands a novel approach.

"The old style march from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park has been done to death. Even quite small, under-resourced organisations can have a big impact with a carefully thought out and well planned strategy."

It's telling perhaps that while February's Stop the War in Iraq demonstration in London, which attracted up to one million people, drew massive coverage, subsequent big marches in the capital were ignored by some national media.

But stunts are not a new tactic and Mr Tatchell says he is simply following in the tradition of the Chartists, Suffragettes and America's black civil rights campaigners.

Brian Haw
Brian Haw: 730 days on the streets and counting
Veteran peace campaigner Bruce Kent, who led many a traditional CND march in the 1980s, defends Brian Haw's one-man stand outside Parliament.

"It's a matter of conscience for some people. They don't think there is any chance of a political change but they are still going to make their stand anyway."

But he is also an advocate of innovate stunts and remains particularly proud of his "exorcism" of a Scottish nuclear submarine base in 1973.

"I was still a respected Roman Catholic priest at that time. The theatre of it made police stand back respectfully as they didn't want to interfere with what they saw as a religious service. It's been copied many times since then, all over the world."

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Stitches removed from asylum protester
30 May 03  |  Nottinghamshire
In defence of direct action
02 May 00  |  Politics


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