What is the objective of protest? What is the point of going out, holding placards and banners, marching through the streets and shouting outside parliament? Generally people march because they are unhappy about something and they want it changed. Changing policy means either changing the minds of the politicians and officials that are enacting that policy, or replacing those MPs and officials.
Changing someone’s mind can work in two ways that I can think of. The first way is to debate with them, to present arguments and facts, and hope that they will be convinced. The second way is to get enough other people to apply pressure and force them into changing their mind out of embarrassment. The second method requires convincing people that you are right so that they apply the pressure, so we come back to having to debate and persuade. Removing someone from office basically comes back to the same thing too.
So from the point of view of an anti-cuts campaigner, the problem that we face is in convincing other people that there actually is a problem at all, and persuading them that they should care enough to do something about it. Protesting and marching does raise awareness of the issues, and disruptive protest can cause embarrassment to politicians and draw even more attention, but it often doesn’t inform people of the full extent of the problems or the reasons why they should give their support.
Part of the problem with persuading people is that they simply don’t believe what they are told. We say benefits are being cut, they say don’t be silly, of course the government will look after the disabled and that it can’t be as bad as that. We say that services are being sold off, they say that this won’t be a problem and private enterprise can’t be as bad for services as we tell them. We say that the police are over-reacting to protest and are causing violence, they say that the police would never use too much force and there must be something we’re not telling them which justifies their actions. This blog post shows a typical response to many of our arguments.
Even when presented with unedited video footage showing statements or actions that prove a case, people apply their own filters to the information and refute the claims. When David Cameron repeated the line from the police that a police officer was pulled off his horse and beaten, I posted a video on YouTube that showed the only horse-riding police officer injured that day being thrown from his own horse and then kicked by it before being dragged away quite violently by his colleagues. No protester involvement. Yet people still won’t admit that the police and the prime minister lied about it. When I posted several videos showing the arrests of protesters and activists ahead of the royal wedding without cause or charge, someone commented that “Someone videoing a particular incident at a protest has been/is being influenced by all sorts of factors and is therefore not videoing something else which might tell a different story” with the implication that because other situations that maybe show protesters in a bad light had been missed, these videos have diminished relevance in the debate about policing. When someone posted a video in which Nick Griffin showed us his real views on race, the response from one BNP supporter was “iwas Totally under whelmed by the video. Was it filmed by kargaroo court productions? I could post hundreds of damming Islamic videos here.”
So there is a real chasm between the thinking of protesters and of other people. Many people are oblivious to the changes, more think that the cuts can’t be as bad as we are saying because the government wouldn’t do that, and even more think that it won’t affect them and is therefore somebody else’s problem. Most people are convinced of the idea that Labour left our economy in a mess, even though there was a worldwide recession caused by worldwide greed for money. Most people believe the lie that our national debt and the deficit in repayments is a bigger problem now that it has been when in fact the opposite is true. (The welfare state, NHS, pensions and more were built when our economy was in a terrible state.)
Public opinion seems to be turning against the sick and disabled which is all to the good of a Tory government, as it means they can use the opportunity to sweep away benefits, remove income, and take us all the way back to the Victorian age. The tabloid newspapers and in fact many broadsheets too have been instrumental in helping the government make scapegoats out of public services, benefit claimants and disabled and sick people. This just shows how important public relations and management of the media and of public perception are.
Our battle is to convince people that things ARE that bad, and that cuts will affect them. We have to convince enough people to put pressure on the government so that politicians become embarrassed enough to step down or change their policies. A comment left on this blog recently makes this point for me.
“Conclusion: it’s not just about getting your message across. It’s about portraying your position in a way that appeals to those who don’t already naturally agree with you. Talking about it in a way that _you_ think would convince any reasonable person is absolute the wrong thing to do. You need to get into the heads of those who remain unconvinced.
I can’t quite get my head around how you would do this, but then, it’s not my job. However, if that article is correct (it discusses it WRT the AV referendum, but I think the argument is even more relevant and important in the current context) then the absolute best thing that disability campaigners could do would be to hire someone who gets this, and to get them talking to the press.”
I dislike spin doctors and publicists, but he’s got a very good point.