I am a non-violent person. The idea of physically harming someone else is deeply alien to both my personality and beliefs. From my experience of radical left-wing militancy, I have reached the conclusion that often young male militants see in violent behavior something heroic and intimately manly – somehow, a way to stress their virility. I do not share this attitude, as well as I do not share simplistic “fuck-the-police” views, for they do not contribute to anything but ghettoizing the movement.
And still, on Wednesday I sided with the women and men who have participated in the Millbank protest (aside from the idiot who threw the fire extinguisher, of course). For a very simple, and sound reason: they are defending, and asserting, democratic values. They are asserting these values not only for themselves, but for the generations to come – their younger siblings, their children, their nephews and nieces. They are asserting these values not only for students, but for all those groups - women, ethnic minorities, unemployed people, disabled people, and many others - whose rights are now under threat. They are asserting these values not only for the sake of Britain, but of democracy itself, beyond any national border.
Democracy means much more than going once every four year to the polling booths. Democracy means having an open, creative, fair society, where all of us have the right to fully express themselves, to improve themselves, and to dissent. Democracy means providing everyone with free education, free health care, and everything we might need for our well-being.
Nowadays, in Britain, and more generally in Europe, democracy is under serious threat. Selected elite of white, adult, male, upper-class people are making any effort to recast the fabric of society, replacing all democratic values with one watchword: unrestrained profit.
How democratic is a society where the new generations are burdened with scores of thousands pounds of debt without having any voice in the decisional process?
How democratic is a society where hundreds of thousands of working class people will be forced to move out of their neighborhood by the government?
How democratic is a society where unemployed people are dubbed by a Secretary of State as “sinners”, while bankers without any kind social conscience are supposed to be the benefactors?
The psychological and moral strain that these policies exert on young people is intolerable. Young people are asked to passively accept the perspective of living in a future world which looks less and less democratic, less and less fair, more and more unhappy. Anxiety, uncertainty, if not proper dejection, are widespread feelings among the new generations. The only answer to this is radical, collective action for change – as happened last Wednesday.
This is why I side with the protest at Millbank on Wednesday. At the moment, institutional politics is utterly unable to provide an answer to the just, democratic demands of young people. On the contrary, institutional politics can be perceived as a source of oppression for the younger generations. The only answer to this situation can come through grassroots, direct action from civil society.
The Millbank protest was nothing but a way for young people who do not feel represented by politics to assert their presence in the public space. It was not occupation, but repossession of a political space to which the majority of young people (unless they are white, male, upper class) are denied access to. It was not an irrational gesture, but a way to protest collectively without abiding by the rules that the political elite want to impose from above. It was a truly democratic act, in line with a tradition of British dissent that stretches back to the age of Ned Ludd.
Nowadays, true democracy lies not within, but outside Parliament. We have to say this clearly, we have to say this loudly, we have to say this collectively. If this generation of young people will be able to turn individual, impotent anger into collective action for democracy, radical change can come about. This can be a historical turn after three decades of neoliberal attack on people’s rights, on the idea of a fair society. Another world is not only possible, but urgently necessary!