Acts and images of protest
The coverage was almost entirely predictable. It was predictable because it was in important respects stage managed by the police…. The state seeks to manipulate the media in order to protect the status quo from serious challenge. (Dan Hind, VersoBooks.com)
I do think this focus on police infiltrators risks overemphasizing the agency of the state, and concomitantly underemphasizing the possibilities for resistance. First, it overemphasizes the ability of the police to produce “the extra-parliamentary left they want.” Mark Kennedy was undercover for years, but as far as we know didn’t manage to persuade anyone to be violent; can a couple of undercover agents joining a breakaway march of between 500 and a couple of thousand people really have had that much influence on what these demonstrators did?
Second, and maybe more importantly, the model of an active state “stage managing” a supine media misunderstands what’s wrong with the media. It’s a mistake to think that the media needs actual violent demonstrators to run with their “violent demonstrators” story. Just as a matter of maths, there will always be something on a demonstration that counts as “most violent,” even if its just someone dropping litter, and that will always be reported as “violent demonstrators.”
Third, images of violent confrontation are much more polysemic than this argument allows. Sure, they can be used to support a narrative that protesters are violent thugs who don’t need to be listened to, but they also send a message that police have lost control (which can itself be bad – leading to calls for more police powers – and good – encouraging further militant protest), and make visible, to those who are angry but haven’t acted, that they are not alone in their anger. And it’s this third point especially that leads me to agree with Dan’s conclusion:
If we want to do something about this, then we have to become more communicative. We need to start talking about our experiences and try to explain to others how far removed from reality media coverage can be. And we need to start the conversation about political economy that the country needs and that the political class is hellbent on avoiding.
Part of that conversation should touch on reform of the systems of communication on which we rely and which, as at the weekend, so regularly betray our trust. March 26th matters for many reasons. For one thing it reveals to those who were there the gap between reality and the news agenda. It is up to us now to explore that gap and to take steps to close it.
This is true, and it’s at least as true for those involved in black blocs and occupations as for those who remained on the permitted march.