Monday, 30 March 2009

That's a good question and I'm glad you've raised it

Protestors - what in the name of Mike do they want?

I volunteered for a while at Schnews, a Brighton-based newsletter for the protest movement - They were a funny lot. There was one very intense woman who was taking a forestry course in Lewes purely so that she could obtain a chainsaw license (crikey). I didn't gain a lot of insight while I was there, but I do remember being shaken by the depth of their loathing for Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth - I suggested contacting them for some help on a story. I might as well have shat in the fridge. There was a distinct flavour of the Judean People's Front about the place. Eeee, happy days.

I'm pretty sure there is no codified set of aims or beliefs associated with this movement. However, the most unifying theme is probably anti-capitalism. Mainstream environmental/development pressure groups tend to either accept or embrace capitalism, and work within its confines. The protest movement genuinely wants to participate in an old-fashioned revolution, in which for-profit economic activity will be shut down, international economic institutions will collapse, national governments will fall, and people across the globe will return to pre-lapsarian agrarian subsistence lifestyles, albeit with any modern technology that can survive in a non-profit model.

I think they know that this would result in extraordinary levels of upheaval and bloodshed in the short-to-medium term, but they believe that the long-term outcome (sustainable lifestyles and an end to economic inequality) would be worth it.

I do have a sneaking sympathy for their reasoning. You don't have to look far to find evidence that the governments of the West are motivated by nothing but self-interest, and that the obscenity of global inequality is only ever addressed as an afterthought. Capitalism can't prioritise the needs of developing countries - that's not what it's for.

Anyway, if you look at that Schnews link you'll see a pretty cogent explanation of their aims.


  1. protestERS!!! I think they've replaced you with a blogbot. the REAL pw would never make such a schoolgirl error..

  2. Oh my goodness Kate, you are absolutely right (this is Justabout calling, BTW). I am shocked and disappointed. But then I am reassured by the fact that policywonk is called Rowan. No one evil or incompetent could go by the name of Rowan, surely? :-)
    I think that this blog could surely be recast as a sort of anti-establishment protest from within. Surely? Somehow? Like, against the experienced clique of bloggers who run the World Bank?
    And is PW the only blog-woman there?

  3. True enough about governments of the West only being motivated by self-interest, but, equally, you don't have to look far to find that the governments of other parts of the world are equally motivated by self-interest, it's just that often they have less capital/cash to finance that self-interest/argue their position at the table.

    Not at all convinced by the protestERS' arguments meself; I don't think they are interested in a non-profit environment so much as an anti-profit environment. And while I'm by no means a raging capitalist and I think the biggest problem we have as a planet is denial about the fact that resources are finite, I don't see anything positive in these people's arguments or values, not for the majority of people (either in the West or elsewhere).

    (I'm a friend of Cumulus btw; she mentioned your blog).

  4. Sorry for dreadful error. Was going to edit it out but you've all scuppered me on that one.

    Interesting point about anti-profit rather than non-profit. Do you mean, antagonism (physically) towards those who make profits/represent profit-making orgs? Not sure I understand the distinction but then I am extremely over-wound.

    One thing I'd say is that you can't lump them all together. There are some very thoughtful people within the protest movement who would never use violent methods. Then there are tooled-up lads who want to start fights and use this as an excuse. Somewhere in between, there are people with a genuine ideological conviction in favour of anarchism or revolution.

  5. Er, I'll email LM and ask her what she means. Bit above my head. Not surprised you are over-wound.

  6. Hi Rowan,

    Yes, I think that's what I meant. Was having a hard time articulating it, but it does seem to me that there are people who are opposed to profit-making (and who I'm categorising here as "non-profit") but there are other people whose goal is far more anarchic and who are really anti-money at all; they're the ones I'd define as "anti-profit" mostly because I haven't got better terminology.

    But agreed, there are many thoughtful people in the protest movement(s) though I'm not sure that they've made effective connections between their various strands of protest: 3rd world development, better healthcare, tax regulation in the west, vs. protectionism - which is effectively what messages like "no outsourcing" or "British jobs for British workers" (substitute your nationality of choice in there - French, American, etc). Some of the connections between disparate causes seem tenuous to me.

    Then again, there are the anarchists who are out for violence and smashing things down and whose tactics really just demonstrate a lack of respect for other people/their lives/property. I suspect they're largely young, disillusioned & have masses of testosterone because their behaviour reminds me more of things like anti-abortion and animal rights extremism or even football hooliganism, than of peaceful, informed, intentional/positive protest. By which I mean: protest with a goal of making the world a better place, rather than just smashing down what currently exists (which seems to me to be more a demonstration of nihilism than anything else).