By Keith Flett
Perhaps for several understandable reasons the reality that 2020 has been a year of worldwide protest has been rather missing from the numerous media summaries of the last 12 months.
After all, a deadly pandemic has seized the world and led to illness and death, particularly in neoliberal economies that put profit ahead of people.
Yet protest there has been and its global nature has been dictated in part by lockdowns restricting to an extent physical protests.
Events like the killing of George Floyd in June by US police officers and the toppling of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol got not only worldwide coverage on an array of social media but also then sparked global protests.
The death of Floyd led to people taking the knee in solidarity, most visibly in sporting events.
Meanwhile the toppling of the Colston statue led to a whole range of campaigns to remove statues of people who had profited from slavery.
Some high-profile companies, such as brewer Greene King, owned up to their historical links with the slave trade and agreed to make reparations.
Climate change and its impact remains a very significant matter and Extinction Rebellion and others have managed to keep the matter in the public eye and continue to demand action not just words.
Underwriting all of this have been the various campaigns around the impact of Covid-19 itself on the NHS, on jobs and on people’s wider lives.
None of these campaigns were actually new in 2020 though, even if they took new forms this year.
Black Lives Matter brought together and amplified a myriad of existing anti-racist activities, while Covid-19 focused already present anti-austerity movements.
None of the protests existed in a vacuum but in the context, for the most part, of governments operating a profit system where protest is tolerated at best.
How such governments see protest was probably best summed up by Sir Keir Starmer who, resisting any thought of defunding the police, suggested that Black Lives Matter was a moment not a movement. Perhaps it was a slip of the tongue — but a relevant one.
The Tories see protest as a nuisance at best. Tory ministers have not taken the knee in protest against racism and Johnson suggested that some police officers who did so in the summer were “forced” to do so by protesters.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden intervened to prevent the removal of a slave trader from the front of the Museum of the Home in Hackney even though the change had community support.
Just as the toppling of the Colston statue was a result of frustration at never-ending efforts to address the matter, now it has gone, another quite possibly endless process is under way to determine what might be done with the empty plinth.
In fact the only change to a statue in 2020 that got official approval was agreement to erect a statue of Margaret Thatcher in Grantham.
Governments hope that by endlessly frustrating protests and ignoring demands for change people will simply get fed up and give up.
That is why the movement not the moment will be so important in 2021.
Peterloo in 1819 started a long battle for the vote that saw a first success in 1832 and further progress with the 1867 Reform Act. It was a matter taken up in each decade and in succeeding generations until it was finally won.
Just because a new year is dawning it won’t mean racism or austerity or climate change have somehow stopped being issues. Organisation and resilience to keep on keep in’ on are essential. (IPA Service)
Courtesy: Morning Star