I recently had an exhibition at Pranah Cafe in Newtown, Wellington on the subject of political dissent. This was a collection of images from various protests occurring in the UK between 2008 and 2010. A selection of the images from the 2009 G20 protests has also been accepted for an exhibition currently on-going in Melbourne’s Federation Square, as part of the Strip Billboard photo-essay project, The Long and the Short of it. http://www.stripbillboard.com/current-projects.html
- Using civil disobedience as the weapon of choice, two climate change activists dressed as clowns prepare for a weekend of protests at the EON coal-fired power station at Ratcliffe-on-Soar. UK October 2009.
The second largest coal-fired power station in the UK, producing up to 150,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per week, became the focus of a number of environmental campaign groups in October 2009. Under the banner of “The Great Climate Swoop”, campaigners, activists and concerned citizens gathered at the EON coal-fired power station in Ratcliffe-on-Soar, to highlight the damage to the Earth’s climate system caused by the burning of carbon-rich coal.
- The cooling towers of the EON coal-fired power station at Ratcliffe-on-Soar, are reflected in the window of a police car during a weekend of climate change protests. UK October 2009.
Dissent allows for the creation of politics from the bottom-up, giving people the power and opportunity to make changes in opinions and behaviour at the individual and local level, collectively circumnavigating the political rhetoric and stalling of national governments on committing to international issues.
- A young girl stands on top of the 20 foot high perimeter fence of the EON coal-fired power station at Ratcliffe-on-Soar during a demonstration highlighting the dangers of climate change and the continued growth of global carbon emissions. UK October 2009.
Protest, civil disobedience and direct action, are expressions of political dissent, and serve as a tool for the passionate and disillusioned to collectively make their opinions heard.
- The English Defence League (EDL), chanting racist slogans and throwing cans and bottles of beer, confront lines of police officers during a protest march against Islamic extremism in Nottingham, UK. December 2009.
Dissent can also evolve out of ignorance and fear, fuelling prejudice and hatred, with minorities often becoming the scapegoats for burgeoning social ills. The EDL, a working class movement against Islamic extremism and the Islamisation of the UK, have been protesting in towns and cities across the UK over the past two years, inciting racial hatred as they go.
The EDL have grown into a far right street movement reminiscent of the National Front in the 1970’s. Since their formation in 2009, the discordant rabble, not only composed of football hooligans, nationalist, racist and the disenchanted working class, are untied by racial hatred, violence and some common threads of misguided truth.
- A man wearing a Jewish skull-cap or Kippah, attends an English Defence League (EDL) protest against Islamic extremism in Leeds, UK. October 2009.
With their roots and influence in past fascist movements, the EDL have been offering their support to Israel and Jewish communities in the UK, in a bid to increase the organisations reach. In an ironic twist, many of its supporters, out of ignorance or arrogance, often perform the Nazi “Sieg Heil” salute, while tragically appealing to people who were themselves victims of an extremist ideology.
- A member of the left-wing campaign group Unite Against Fascism participates in a chanting match with members of the English Defence League (out of frame) during a protest against Islamic extremism in Nottingham UK. December 2009.
Counter protests are a common form of dissent when groups with opposing ideologies express their views in an attempt to influence public opinion or government policy. Elements from both ends of the political spectrum exhibit forms of extremist behaviour, inciting violence and causing civil disturbance. The latter itself a form of protest which is typically associated with major socio-economic problems.
- Members of the English Defence League (EDL) chant aggressive slogans and spout racial abuse while they are penned into their designated protest area by police during a protest against Islamic extremism in Nottingham, UK. December 2009.
Protest and civil unrest can also be the result of other social issues such as economic stagnation, unemployment, and inequality. The disadvantaged, through lack of education, social apathy, and misinformation may have their anger and frustration easily exploited.
Over the past several years, Europe has seen a resurgence in far-right political parties gaining ground in local and national elections. Spearheaded by a vehement nationalism that singles out minority groups as a growing threat, both far right political parties and street movements like the EDL, are on the rise as the global economy and participation in traditional politics, falls.
- Protesters “kettled” by police in London’s financial district at the G20 summit protest, express their frustration and discontent with governments, world leaders and bankers, by scrawling graffiti over the walls of the Bank of England. London April 2009.
Approximately 35,000 people, supporting a number of disparate campaign groups ranging from anger over the collapse of financial institutions to climate change, took part in coordinated protest marches across London, timed to coincide with the G20 summit.
Five thousand protesters were contained by police using a crowd control tactic known as kettling. Dressed in riot gear, police blocked roads around the area of the Bank of England, keeping protesters confined to a small area for 9 hours without access to food, water or toilet facilities.
- Frustrated protesters at the G20 summit protest outside the Bank of England face a line of riot police (out of frame) forming part of the “kettle” on Cornhill in London’s financial district. London April 2009.
A legally planned protest was “kettled” by police using the pretence of the potential threat of violence and criminal damage. The kettle was in place and the protesters contained as early as 10am. By 7pm, they were slowly released from the area, one-by-one, with a police escort.
The tactic of kettling is controversial given that people have a legal right to protest in an open and democratic society. Kettling can also be the cause of associated violence and disorder, rather than the effect.