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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 May 2007, 17:14 GMT 18:14 UK
New face of protest
By David Sillito
BBC arts correspondent

The era of May Day being marked with running battles on the streets of London is over.

May Day protesters
In recent years, May Day protesters have tackled serious issues...

The new face of street protest in Britain features blank placards, disco dancing in suits and ties, and Mr Pig.

The new protests are rather more witty and subversive than the angry mobs of recent years.

Take the "space-hijackers" - aiming to stage a dance demonstration in the heart of London's financial district.

Their method of avoiding detection is to don a cunning disguise - the corporate uniform of suits and ties.

Their purpose? To subvert our sense of what public space is for, to inject a little spontaneity into the grey world of finance and to encourage workers to stop work at five o'clock.

Robyn, the group's spokesman, says it's all because "the nine-to-five job is a myth".

"Just for once it would be good for them to have an excuse to stop."

It's 21st Century morris dancing with political attitude.

Public disgruntlement

They are not alone. The excesses of the anti-capitalist protesters in the past and the clamp-down on protest have fostered a new attitude to banner-wielding.

Laws have changed, the police have got craftier and many feel the confrontation and violence of the past have been counterproductive.

Protests in 2000
...sometimes leading to outbursts of violence

One of the best places to assess this state of public disgruntlement in Britain is outside the House of Commons.

There are those who thought the new law restricting protests outside Parliament would kill off protest.

However, rather than get rid of the one persistent protester who the law was aimed at, Brian Haw, it has triggered a new wave of protest about the right to protest.

The comedian Mark Thomas managed to encourage 2,468 people to post applications to protest on 21 April 2007.

Indeed one of the oddities of the system is that having to queue at a police station and fill out a form has almost added to its appeal.

Pig swap

Take Peter Hooper from Windsor. He has in the past stood as an independent parliamentary candidate and has become disillusioned by a system he feels is weighted towards the established parties.

I think I've reached closure
Peter Hooper

His letters of complaint have achieved nothing.

I met him carrying a two-foot plastic pig and his police letter, a letter that was in effect a permit to protest at the gates of the House of Commons.

It was meant to prevent protest but it has now created a new form of officially sanctioned demonstration.

There was one problem, his permit said he would be bringing "Mr Ram", a plastic sheep.

However, its nose was damaged and he had had to bring a pig instead.

The police agreed to overlook the last-minute farm animal swap and when Tony Blair was whisked out in his police motorcade, Peter Hooper was there, pig aloft.

"So do you think that achieved something?" I asked.

Peter paused and looked at me, "I think I've reached closure" he said.

Silent man

And then there was Dan White. Dan had a blank placard and a determination not to explain what he was doing.

I just bumped in to him and was utterly confused as to what he was doing. But I wasn't half as confused as the police.

We staged a little impromptu demo outside and Richard whipped out his new invention - a quick-release pocket-sized banner

It began with one officer, then two, then a whole van-load arrived.

He was repeatedly asked what he was doing. Was he protesting? He said nothing.

Did a silent man and a piece of cardboard need a permit? Eventually, he was left alone.

He is now planning to return with another 40 or so non-protesters to stage another non-protest about nothing.

He'll then turn it in to an art project.

"It comes down to student awareness and activation," he said.

"There just seems to be a lack of it today. Everyone seems quite content with their student loans, they are quite happy to binge-drink."

Pocket banners

I have a suspicion that this is only the beginning. It will be if Richard Dedomenici has his way.

He is also an artist interested in protest but his projects are rather more practical.

He wants to create new forms of protest and to improve on the placard.

When I met him at Battersea's Pump House Gallery he was leading a banner-writing workshop.

The placards were perhaps not your normal list of complaints - among them was a denunciation of grey shoes, a call for more cats and fewer dogs, and a demand for more people to eat more fruit and veg.

We staged a little impromptu demo outside and Richard whipped out his new invention - a quick-release pocket-sized banner.

It is just what the well-prepared protester needs.

And all are welcome on 7 May in Battersea Park to join them in a May Day frolic and protest.

All you have to do is come armed with a small grievance.

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