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On 16th October 1968 Tommy Smith and John Carlos’s controversial demonstration stunned the world. Yet it wasn’t the only black protest on the victory rostrum. And nor was it spontaneous. 1968 Olympics: Black Power Salute
The black power disciples Tommy Smith and John Carlos, the Olympic 200 meters gold and bronze medallists, have been suspended by the United States Olympic Committee and given forty-eight hours to leave Mexico. BBC Good Morning Mexico news report 1968
Thousands in a tightly packed column marched through the streets in the centre of Amsterdam while the Germans circled round them in tanks. Of course the demonstrators weren’t armed, yet they found a weapon in marching and singing. Gerben Wagenar
They shall not pass. Protest of anti-fascists against fascist march in East London
On October the 4th Oswald’s fascists organised a march through the predominantly Jewish areas of the East End. A deliberate act of intimidation. But Britain’s anti-fascists were ready and waiting ... It became known as the Battle of Cable Street. Andrew Marr, The Making of Modern Britain, BBC 2009
The Case of the Mangrove 9: August 1970 a street demonstration against the repeated raids on the Mangrove [restaurant]. It wasn’t a very big one, about 150 people left this restaurant to march around local police stations which were heavily defended by hundreds of police. Violence flared and demonstrators were grabbed and thrown into the back of police vans. In the end, nine demonstrators including Frank Critchlow, including Darcus Howe, were charged with incitement to riot … It was the first judicial acknowledgement of racial prejudice by the police during the Elizabethan age, but it was not the last. New Elizabethans with Andrew Marr I: Building a New Society, BBC 2020
December 1982: 30,000 women linked arms around the entire site [Greenham Common]: Embrace the Base. New Elizabethans with Andrew Marr II: A Brave New World
One hundred thousand people demonstrated for peace. Jeremy Paxman, Britain’s Great War: War Comes to Britain, BBC 2014
The vast demonstration against Bush on 20 November once again opened wide the increasingly intolerable contradiction on the British left. These demonstrations in 2003 were far greater than anything in the 1960s or indeed at any other time before or since, yet when the crowds have dispersed, there is so little sign of any political result. Paul Foot, article ‘Left Alternative: Beyond the Crossroads’
Great disparities of wealth in society, however, restrict freedoms every bit as much as restrictions on voting. Everyone is ‘free’ to send their children to private school, to have tea at The Ritz, to gamble on the stock exchange. These ‘freedoms’ are defended far more vigorously than the freedom to vote, yet they are in fact restrictions on freedom. For every one person who can have tea at The Ritz, there are a hundred who cannot do so because they have not got the money. If 10 per cent can send their children to private school and secure for them a straight route back into the privileged class from which they came, 90 per cent cannot do so – are banned from doing so – because they cannot afford it.
Thus the ‘freedom’ handed out by capitalist society is more often than not the opposite of freedom. Yet the idea of freedom still prevails, because the prevailing ideas of any society are the ideas of the class which runs it.
So the people who fight against these ideas – whether in strikes, demonstrations, popular protests or just in argument – are always, or almost always, swimming against the stream. They are the minority. But this minority, unlike the passive majority, can involve other people far outside their immediate orbit. And once involved in struggle against the old society, people’s ideas can change decisively. Paul Foot, The Case for Socialism chapter 6
Thirdly, in 1987 the Tories were re-elected on a manifesto based on their ‘flagship’ – the poll tax. Four years later the same government, which made no new pacts and still had a parliamentary majority of nearly 100, withdrew the poll tax. Had they been terrified by the parliamentary opposition? Not at all – they were contemptuous of it. What changed their minds and abolished the poll tax was a mass campaign of civil disobedience, whose climax was probably the biggest demonstration since the war, which turned into a full scale riot. These huge political shifts in our direction were all set in motion from below. They were almost unaffected by what was going on in parliament, or even by which government was in office. The pace of events was determined by the ebb and flow of the struggle between the classes – when they win, we lose, and vice versa. Paul Foot, article 1992, ‘Why Labour Lost’
Shelley’s first long poem, Queen Mab, is a ferocious and sometimes magnificent diatribe against the social order. In Ireland he wrote and attempted to circulate his ‘Address to the Irish People’, in which he argued for an Association to campaign for Catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform. When three revolutionary workers were executed after the Pentrich uprising in Nottinghamshire in 1817, Shelley wrote a furious pamphlet scornfully comparing their unnoticed deaths to the public hysteria about the death of a young princess. In the same year he wrote another pamphlet urging the sort of demands for parliamentary reform which appeared on Chartist banners 20 years later ...
He utterly refused to bend his opinions. He was resolutely revolutionary all his life – but his confidence ebbed and flowed according to the ebb and flow of popular movements and uprisings. After his move to Italy in 1818 his best revolutionary poetry, especially the Ode to Liberty and Hellas, were written in tune with the European revolts of the time – in Spain, Naples and in Greece. But when there was not much happening, especially when the news from England was all bad, he wrote more and more lyric poetry. His political passions were never forsaken, but they were often buried deep in lyrical metaphor.
But the anger burned furiously, never far beneath the surface. Every so often it erupted like the volcanoes he was always writing about. The most extraordinary example of this is his poem about the massacre at Peterloo – The Mask of Anarchy. The demonstration in August 1819 in St Peter’s Fields, Manchester, was at that time the biggest trade union gathering ever organised in Britain. In spite of the Combination Acts and all the other government inspired measures to do them down, the trade unions were growing in strength and influence. The main speaker at the Manchester demonstration was Henry Hunt, a working class agitator. The huge crowd came with their families as though to a picnic. It was like a miners’ gala of modern times ...
When news of this day’s work reached Shelley in Italy he was literally speechless with rage. He plunged into the little attic room he used at that time as a study. In five days he never appeared for conversation or recreation. He wrote the 92 verses of The Mask of Anarchy, without any doubt at all the finest poem of political protest ever written in our language. It has been quoted again and again in protests ever since. The Chartists revelled in it, and reprinted it. Gandhi quoted it when agitating among the South African Indians in the early part of this century. More recently it was translated and chanted during the students’ uprising at Tiananmen Square, Beijing.
The most powerful element in the poem is Shelley’s anger. The horror of Peterloo had fanned the flames of the fury of his youth. Somehow he hung on to the discipline of rhyme and metre. The poem is in many ways the most carefully constructed thing he ever wrote. The parameters allowed by poetic licence in a long and complicated poem like Prometheus Unbound are very wide. In The Mask of Anarchy, Shelley confined himself to the rhythm of the popular ballads of the time. Paul Foot, article 1992, ‘Poetry of Protest’
We should be able to demonstrate and protest and bring our grievances to the centre of political power in Britain without a policeman’s permission. Henry Porter
American campuses exploded. The American Experience: The Presidents: Nixon II: The Triumph, PBS 1990
Angry protesters returned to Washington ... That night, protesters circled the White House with chains and candles. ibid.
What’s important is the people who have come on this march. We have built relationships with Muslims, Jews, Christians, blacks, whites. We want to dismiss the idea that it’s a religious war, which it isn’t. Tony Benn
The baby boomers want an end to the Vietnam War and they take their protest to the streets. America: The Story of the US: Millennium, History 2010
1970: there’s been thousands of anti-Vietnam war protests. Kent State University, Ohio: the National Guard are ordered in to control five hundred protesting students. Television is here watching. Four students are shot dead. ibid.