I was in London yesterday, and I’d been debating whether or not to finish work early and go and support the Climate Camp. I didn’t, because by mid-afternoon the headlines were already written.
‘Baton charges as protestors break into RBS branch’ – Independent
‘Man dies as violence explodes on street’ – the Mail
‘Man dies as bottles thrown’ – The Sun
‘Demonstrator dies and 87 arrested’ – Telegraph
‘Police attacked as they helped dying protestor’ – Times
Let me draw your attention to the top corner of this unpleasant photo:
Aside from the camera that took the photo, there are at least seven people taking photos or videoing the protests. Some are professionals, others are just riot tourists, out to prove they witnessed some action. Check the background of any of the photos of yesterday, and the same is true – a handful of people making trouble, surrounded by hordes of tourists, photographers, cameramen and twittering ‘undercover’ journalists.
If I’d gone along yesterday, my voice wouldn’t have been heard. The media had already chosen who they wanted to listen to – the people who smashed the RBS branch or threw bottles. One man with a gash on his head is a better picture than a thousand people dancing. Violence is glamour, danger. That’s news.
I wonder, in fact, if the effectiveness of protest action and media sophistication are inversely proportional. The faster the response, through digital photography and live updates, the more the bigger picture is obscured.
Big protests are great for motivation, for getting everyone together and creating momentum, letting people know they’re not alone. In terms of seizing attention and communicating a message, they seem to be increasingly ineffective.
What do you think? Are protests still working?