The Art of the Protest

This month, Sophie Atherton encourages us to stand up for what we believe in and argues why she believes protesting is good for the soul

Sophie Atherton encourages us to stand up for what we believe in and argues why she believes protesting is good for the soul

I thought we were living in an era of almost institutionalised apathy until late last year when students took to the streets of the capital to protest against outrageous plans to treble tuition fees. In Somerset, people marched through Taunton against the county council’s plans to axe local jobs and services to the tune of �43 million. While media coverage of the London protests focused on a minority intent on getting their point across in a less than peaceful fashion, I can’t help feeling a surge of excitement and pride when I see people take to the streets.

But, in the main, it seems to be an unfortunate part of the English character to take things lying down. Complaining and standing up for our rights is at best frowned upon or viewed with suspicion and, at worst, condemned and prevented. The reality is that far from being troublemakers, those who complain, protest and demand fairness, are doing a great service to others and are not just acting in their self-interest.

The sad fact is that for every protest that succeeds, as many, if not more, fail and people see that as a reason not to bother. If more people did something other than moan, for example getting off their backsides and making their complaints heard, be it in writing, by marching or even by more drastic methods, then maybe we’d live in a fairer society? Whether it succeeds or not, protesting is not only our right but is also good for the soul. The hundreds of people that marched through Taunton and also protested outside a meeting of full council in November did more than put their message across to the Council – they set an example to others. If they can stand together in opposition to spending cuts that are going to affect thousands, so can we – but maybe it depends how much we care?

Nigel Behan, Branch Secretary of Somerset County Unison, says the Taunton protest was in response to the council not having thought through the consequences of the cuts. He says people were angry at the extent of them and that they had been planned without knowledge of the government’s final settlement – post ‘comprehensive sspending review’.

“A lot of employers, and the government, seem to want to encourage demoralisation in public sector workforces, and the main point about marching is to show that although protesting might not always work, you’ve got a better chance of an outcome than if you do nothing.”

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“It shows the value of people working together and having a common objective,” he added – going on to tell me about a newspaper cartoon he’d seen about how people react to austerity measures: “It showed an English kitchen, with people reading about the cuts and making a cup of tea, and in a French kitchen they’re making a Molotov cocktail.” 

Those in power take heed. 2011 could be the year the tide turns and more people become motivated to do something other than complain, and not everyone is going to do it in the peaceful, ordered way of those in Somerset.

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