The Age of Protest

Across the world protest is raging, some desperate and violent, some silent and dignified, all driven by fear and hope for a better world.
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These disruptions are what philosopher Alain Badiou called the event, and what the Marxist thinker Water Benjamin calls messianic time – the eruption of something unexpected and uncontrolled, challenging the monotony of domination. In Edinburgh thousands marched for self-determination, in Minnesota thousands gathered to protest the manchild and his criminal gang masquerading as a government, in Barcelona thousands have taken to the streets against the latest oppression, in Hong Kong hundreds of thousands are resisting the loss of (fragile) civil liberties as post-Maoism meets techno-dystopia, and across the world millions are gathering to demand we avoid Extinction.
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For many people protests are an annoyance, an interruption to their lives of obedient consumption or detaining there arrival at the building where they are a wage-slave. Obedience and unthink are deeply normalised.
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For Extinction Rebellion the issue is simple: “We’re scared” they say:
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“Ordinary people today have risked arrest to show how vulnerable we are. Extreme weather due to the emergency is already leading to increased crop failure, food crisis, and social unrest. As these increase, can we trust that the transport infrastructure will cope with the kind of shocks that are coming? We’re talking about the system that keeps us fed and free to travel. Can we trust that we won’t be facing empty supermarket shelves in the near future?

If a few hundred people can create this much disruption, what is global climate and ecological breakdown about to do? We are the early warning system ringing the alarm.”

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Extinction Rebellion is explicit about some of the problems we face:

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“Once any part of the system begins to break down, there is no margin of error. Very quickly there will be food shortages, no flights, disrupted water and blackouts. The Government has no contingency plan for this terrifying and imminent prospect. It doesn’t want us to know that it is totally unprepared. Parliament’s own Environmental Audit Committee last month expressed deep concern about the impact of rises in food prices on the poorest and most vulnerable people in the UK – and the government’s complacency on the issue.”

They conclude:

“Today’s action isn’t about targets in the years 2050 or 2100. It’s about now. We are all living inside a system that is taking us to a catastrophic fate.

“Extreme weather will tell this truth unless the Government does first.”
As I write in Paris XR France have barricaded themselves inside a major shopping mall in Paris for the last 12 hours and the police keep trying to break in using tear gas. It’s like something out of Dawn of the Dead.
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In London the police kettled a giant home-made Octopus.
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The establishments response is to hound and ridicule the climate protestors.
A Telegraph editorial took up the cudgels, resurrecting an old trope of confusing peaceful protest with terrorism: “The right to protest does not extend to acting like a terrorist”, it assured its readers. But Extinction Rebellion explicitly practices non-violent direct action, the principles of which the group trains its activists in. As police arrest people, they chant that “they love the police”. To confuse the actions with terrorism is completely irresponsible.
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Earlier in the the week the Prime Minister had set the tone. As a fortnight of peaceful protest started in London, Boris Johnson called the Extinction Rebellion protestors “importunate nose-ringed crusties in hemp-smelling bivouacs” at an event at Banqueting House for the launch of the third volume of an official biography of Margaret Thatcher.
The howls of derision echoed across the right-wing media.

Leo McKinstry in The Sun called ER “a deranged fundamentalist religion.” “Extinction Rebellion trades in misery and fear, with suffering as the only route to salvation. Filled with loathing for mankind, there is nothing compassionate about this creed. Its activists warn of climate change disaster, but their own policies would lead to chaos, meltdown and mass unemployment,” he said

McKinstry’s tirade was echoed in the paper’s own editorial, which rather confusingly calls Extinction Rebellion a “Marxist doomsday cult”.

What these people don’t like is that ER is articulating a specific argument: that our economic system is destroying our planet. This is an intolerable message to receive. It’s impossible to process and so the entire weight of the state and its propaganda wing will be brought into play.
In Hong Kong protestors are using “hidden clinics” to avoid being arrested in hospitals as the classes show no sign of abating, nor any sign that a reconciliation can be found.
And if you thought this was a neat clash between ‘western liberal values’ and authoritarian eastern ones, you’d be wrong.

Apple Inc this week removed an app used by protesters in Hong Kong to track police movements, but the move has resulted in anger on social media against the United States-based tech giant.
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Apple says the crowdsourcing app, HKmap.live, violated its rules because it was used by protesters to ambush police, and by criminals who used it to victimise residents in areas with no law enforcement.

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The company had rejected the app earlier this month but then reversed course last week, allowing it to appear on its App Store.
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The incident shows that corporate America for all its CSR and sloganeering will side with oppressive states at the drop of a hat.
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An Amnesty report “Patterns of Repression” tells us:
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“Mass protests arose in Hong Kong in April 2019, worsening from 9 June onward, initially over proposed legislative amendments that would have allowed for extradition to mainland China. The protests have continued at least weekly, and often daily, ever since. In response, the Hong Kong Police Force has frequently resorted to indiscriminate and unlawful use of less lethal weapons, such as tear gas, and has engaged in a clear pattern of unnecessary and excessive force during arrests of protesters. Police abuses appear to have steadily worsened over the course of the protests.

The vast majority of protesters have been peaceful, but protester violence appears to be escalating alongside excessive use of force by the police.   Protests at Hong Kong’s airport turned violent, and protesters have also broken into the Legislative Council Complex and vandalised Mass Transit Railway (MTR) stations. This violence has been seen to increase alongside the government’s failure to address public demands and the police’s consistent use of excessive force.”

“The Hong Kong Police Force has committed pervasive human rights violations as a state actor in responding to the protests and is not in a position to investigate itself and to remedy the widespread unlawful suppression of protests.”

State violence is endemic and can be seen across the globe, as modern capital sells arms and repressive technology to suppress unrest. What we need as citizens and protestors is to bring light to the darkness, bring hope to the fear and strength to the streets. These disparate protests are a cry for help as system collapse increases and manifests itself in different forms across the globe. The state response is violence, as failed elites cling to power using the new technologies to bring to bear new forms of surveillance and repression. We need maximum solidarity, alt-tech support and innovation in political strategies to counter the new authoritarianism.

Comments (23)

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  1. Mark Bevis says:

    I don’t normally watch the BBC, but XR put up a video of Rupert Reid on Question Time recently. It was painful to watch, had to stop twice. The utter garbage perpetuated by the establishment players was astonishing. Having spent too long in the Doomosphere and alternative media, I’d forgotten that millions of people still don’t get it and follow the propaganda. Some “journalist” (or more like a real-life fossil fuel troll) was promoting fracking whilst demanding we look at science (!); the transport secretary was still peddling the lie that the UK is a world leader in reducing carbon emissions, and most just didn’t get it. One panelist was worrying about XR promoting young arrestees having a criminal record as if it will affect their future employment. The establishment line about blocking “good hard-working people” from getting to hospital or being late for school pickup was on full display.

    It’s not the first time Rupert Reid had been willing to step into the lion’s den of neo-liberal fanaticism, and he does hold his ground pretty well, but it must be an onerous task. Meanwhile Jem Bendell was, in complete contrast, at a buddist festival. Now that video I could easily watch. Compare and constrast:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jtKemrEMzA
    and
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QK7DKiKh9_Q

    the Doomosphere is turning out to be a much nicer place than the Matrix. Despite the horror of the scientific truths and projections being uncovered daily, it’s still far better than witnessing the mainstream mania.

    1. Jo says:

      Mark
      That journalist was Julia Hartley-Brewer, one of the most vicious individuals in the media pack. Even by her normal awful standards her behaviour on QT last week was appalling. Not only was she promoting fracking but she repeatedly insulted the gentleman you mentioned and was aggressively in climate change denial mode throughout. She dismissed it all, accused people of scaremongering and had previously also insulted Greta Thunberg. She is a monster.
      Throughout these various rants, the chair, Bruce, did nothing, unusual for her as she usually likes to to take certain types to task. Clearly Hartley-Brewer had the green light to knock herself out. It was disgusting.

  2. Roland Laycock says:

    You are totaly wrong on Hong Kong

    1. Wul says:

      Cheers Roland. I feel I’ve got a much better understanding now, thanks to your post.

      Care to elucidate?

      1. Grafter says:

        Wul

        Try reading the article in Off Guardian (11/9) by Andre Vitchek re Hong Kong before making smart ass comments.

        1. Jo says:

          Wow! Spooky, Grafter. I just dropped in to mention the same article!

          https://off-guardian.org/2019/10/11/why-is-hong-kong-losing-out-to-mainland-china/

          I’m not entirely at ease with Mike’s take on the HK situation. I haven’t been at ease with the protests for many weeks now after seeing protesters hurling petrol bombs, various other dangerous objects and deliberately wrecking buildings. Alas, we in the west are happy to romanticise events like this. There’s always a prepared narrative. It’s depressing to say the least.

          I found the OG article tonight and found it very interesting.

          1. Did you read the Amnesty International report Jo?

          2. Jo says:

            Mike

            On HK I’m talking about what I’ve seen with my own eyes on live news footage.

            I’ve read the Amnesty quotes you’ve included here and find them highly unsatisfactory to be honest. They utterly skim over the violence seen from some protesters. I repeat, they were using petrol bombs. No one, particularly AI, should be seeking to excuse that. Clear messages are needed on that sort of behaviour.

            Tiananmen Square is still vivid for many of us and having witnessed those events I was immediately convinced that China would not tolerate such carnage in HK. I’m glad I was wrong.

            I’ve tried to read different sources on the situation and in some quarters I’m reading that this action isn’t supported by all HK civilians.

            I’m no expert on HK but I found the article from the link I posted earlier really informative. British resentment over handing it back still lingers strongly, no doubt about that!

            What concerns me most is that even on alternative media the old ways can raise their heads…pre-set opinion being one. I think that’s foolish at best and, at worst, dangerous. I know that Trump claims the term “fake news” for himself but it doesn’t mean we’re not bombarded with it …particularly from our very own state-funded broadcaster, the BBC!

            Politicians disappoint me all the time but I think dishonesty is part of their profile. But these days, for me, there is a worse group. Journalists. They have more to answer for because they’re meant to get to the facts and hold politicians to account. Alas, too many are themselves contaminated by their close association with politics, with Government and individual Parties and politicians. In short, they’re corrupt. It’s that simple.

  3. Derek Henry says:

    France ?

    Ignored by the liberal left who see working class populists as their enemy. Just as easy as they turned a blind eye to Greece

    http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=43362&cpage=1#comment-65001

  4. Angus says:

    This is simply an exercise in ‘narrative heuristic’. Are you seriously conflating Hong Kong with Scottish independence (I’m sure there was a fully unhindered democratic vote to remain in the UK and I’m pretty sure (given the Supreme Court decision) that Scottish legal autonomy is alive and well. Also last time I checked the rule of law across Britain prevails as opposed tot he rule ‘by’ law in China – are there any reeducation gulags in Lincolnshire or Dorset? And due process exists . This kind of deluded hysterical nonsense puts so many off the Indy movement. In fact, many No voters and those outside the UK see Scottish Independence as ‘part’ of the wave of authoritarian populism (Merkel in particular is no fan) and debasement of democratic norms along with Brexit, Trump et al. Substance does not negate systemic! And as for conflating Scottish independence with Extinction Rebellion and climate change… plllleeeeeaaassee!

    ‘In Edinburgh thousands marched for self-determination,’

    Point of fact about International Law and of president under the United Nation: There are 2 conditions of self determination. Con 1. The right to cultural association, legal autonomy, and full and complete democratic rights for the individuals of minority groups – within the wider state apparatus. Con 2. The right to succession.

    ONLY when condition 1 is not met does International law and the UN recognise the latter. The right to self determination is NOT the same as the right to succession. Both Scotland and Catalonia (according to the EU and UN) meet the conditions for 1. Hence the reason there is silence from both organsiations.

    Now I support Indy, since Brexit. But I don’t think this nonsense helps.

    1. Angus says:

      Hence the reason why Plan B among the smarter elements of the SNP was rejected as if they acted without UK constitutional approval, then a new Scotland would not be internationally recognised. This means no trade deals, and no passport recognition at borders (Scots would be treated as stateless legally speaking, etc.)

      Now there’s a very good reason for this and that’s because nearly every ‘nation’ or ‘state’ in the world are comprised of older ‘countries’ and minorities. If the ‘Right to Self Determination = The Right to Succession’ then there would be constant fragmentation and perpetual conflict.

      Hong Kong, Tibet, South Sudan, Western Sahara, Timor, etc are recognised as having the right to succeed due to failing the right to self determination criteria internally.

      Incidentally, it’s why the UN doesn’t fully recognise the Falkland Islands as British (depsite a 98% vote to remain so) and upholds Argentinian claim to territorial sovereignty.

    2. Hi Angus – not conflating very different circumstances no, as I make clear. These are all very different responses to very different points of the crisis in different parts of the world. Even within Europe the state has different tactics and cultures. But the point I was making is that the same states act with solidarity (in swapping technology,trainings and weapons expertise) for eg. If you look at the west buying-in facial recognition tech for example, or as I pointed out the western companies colluding with the Chinese authorities we can say more of this. Clearly Scottish citizens are not as repressed as Catalan citizens or many others from a far wider spectrum.

      1. Angus says:

        Okay. Fair enough. More reasonable. I should read slower.

        By the way, this outlines the Right to Self Determination vis a vis Right of Succession. Although the UN site has it pretty clear also.

        It’s a god debating point – what does the Right to Self Determination entail with regards to the rights of others. I do believe Woodrow Wilson himself lamented the conflation.

        https://www.asil.org/insights/volume/22/issue/1/self-determination-and-secession-under-international-law-cases-kurdistan

        1. MBC says:

          You reveal your ignorance when you confuse secession with succession. It’s the right to secede, not to succeed.

          1. Angus says:

            I also say damp squid and tender hooks. Point remains. If indy is to proceed it needs to be legal or it will not be recognised internationally if successful.

  5. Derek Henry says:

    Italy is not going to end well.

    It is incredible the lengths the neoliberals go to, to destroy nation states.

    The EU empire must carry on regardless.

    An excellent summary of what is happening in Italy.

    https://www.spiked-online.com/2019/10/04/the-revenge-of-the-elites/

    It is tragic the Scottish left think the EU is on their side.

    1. Derek Henry says:

      Reading that accurate summary of what has happened in Italy.

      It should send shivers down the spine of any person from the left.

      I just can’t understand if it is stupidity, denial or cognitive dissonance that makes the Scottish left actually believe the neoliberals are on their side.

    2. Ah – the Koch-funded Spiked! Brilliant Derek.

  6. J Galt says:

    I’m old enough to remember much the same things being said in the late 60s when they really knew how to do “demonstrations”, 1968 and all that. The new generation are going to save us all, the oldies don’t understand etc etc.

    Well that generation of rebels are now the old bastards accused of the same crimes.

    Guess what? It was shite then, and it’s shite today!

    There’s nothing new under the sun.

    1. What was shite then and what is shite now J?

      1. florian albert says:

        I have similar memories to J Galt, though I would use different language.

        The late sixties- early seventies were a previous ‘age of protest.’ It did not amount to that much. The radicals, like today, were mostly committed to the destruction of capitalism. Within a few years, most of the leaders had made their peace with capitalism. Think, Gordon Brown, Vince Cable, Robin Cooke and John Reid.
        It was not just the leaders, the foot soldiers lost their radicalism. They fitted comfortably into what has been called the ‘exam passing class’ This mattered hugely when, at the end of the seventies, Industrial Scotland collapsed. This class suffered few redundancies. (I remember my own good fortune in that respect.)
        Industrial Scotland has been replaced by a new dispensation, with a huge Higher Education sector. Here, the exam passing class and their offspring have continued to thrive materially – at least in comparison with the left behind areas of post-industrial Scotland.
        Will this time be different ? I doubt it; it rarely is.

        1. Everything in the past was better. The End.

  7. Daniel Raphael says:

    Tweeted to as many as I could tag. Please continue the excellent analysis and commentary.

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