The Branding of Protest

Thursday, 11th October 2007 at 12:35 UTC 3 comments

Reflecting on several protest events and incidents over the last few years, I’ve realised just how much branding (or logofication as I kind of want to call it) has permeated the culture of protests and protesters. Suddenly, anti-war marches are becoming Stop the War Marches (capitalisation intended), and its all about brand management and deciding who is and isn’t within the brand.Even Climate Camp is falling down this pit, and while its usage of this has not clouded its effectiveness in most cases, it does create some of the same issues. Brands tend to have hidden managers and visible faces, and for a non-hierarchical non-entity, this is really pretty difficult to deal with. Suddenly people start to worry about what things will do to the image of the ‘group’ (sic), rather than going out and effecting change.

But for Stop the War, this is a really big issue. Marches must pass off flawlessly as if they’re manicured presentations. If people are prepared to divert from the pre-arranged course, this might upset the image, and it might prevent people from hearing the speeches of those who have made themselves faces for a movement which would have done better without them. Yes, its all about Galloway’s ego, but its also about Nineham’s ability to go chat with the Met and make nice arrangements, as if we’re there for a show rather than something which will actually allow people to go beyond their own individual abilities.

This has not been more visible than when groups of people, not satisfied with the ‘turn up, march, go home’ routine have instead decided to sit down to make their point, keeping roads closed for longer, or lengthening the time when noise could be heard inside a venue where something (a Labour conference, as it happens) is going on. Where Stop the War might strategically have gained from the delay caused, instead, they complain bitterly because people missed some of the speeches. Even when direct action was mentioned on the stage, it was always as something that other people might get up to.

Climate Camp maintained its newsworthyness because it actually did something, rather than simply turn up, shout and go home. But I’m beginning to get curious about the tendency to ask “Where next for Climate Camp?”, even though I’m pretty much complicit in it. Sure, the Camp provides an excellent gateway for people to get involved in a movement which actually can effect change, but to keep asking about Climate Camp, rather than, say, direct action against climate change, is to assume that we are simply working build up an organisation, which is obviously a complete falacy.

“Organisation before Issue”, “Party before Policy”, “the Ends justify the Means” or whatever you call it, its still a really bad way to work, which is designed to fail, to recreate and reinforce hierarchies and to place a barrier between people and change. Instead of deciding based upon the outcome, we decide based upon our organisation.

Instead of benefiting others (in the sense of ‘the poor’, ‘the dispossessed’), we start to benefit ourselves, and then we start to do whats best for the leadership, and then even the leadership start doing what is best for the organisation, on the pretence that they will benefit from not rocking the boat, that the current approach is serving them well enough.

Political parties are dying because people are realising that they simply do not, and will not, benefit from serving the interests of a flag, a brand, an ideology that is defined by grand slogans and not open to be redefined over time, developed and built upon. Maybe someday soon, people will start to see action as more important than which brand you go with.

I’m amazed by how much I still find the little things which go on during anti-war marches inspiring. I turn up knowing that there will be boring speeches, really nasty stewards, cops who want the stewards to do their job for them (and usually this happens well enough), and that I will be handed leaflets by conspiracy theorists and leftist authoritarian parties alike. There’s a time for speeches, but really, a cold saturday afternoon in central London with a crowd going cold, physically and emotionally, isn’t the time or place.

What I tend to find, through simply being alert and having a bit of an instinct, is that there are still people who show up at these events who haven’t been moulded to this way of doing things. They still believe, perhaps a little naively, that they can make their protest effective. Some, sadly, will here the ‘reasoning’ of the stewards shouting at them to get up and move along and go listen to the speeches at the end, but many are far more interested in showing (often youthful) determination. Some will get put off, some will meet the right people and discover what they’re looking for, some will just get consumed, but the thing that really inspires me is that, at the end of it all, there are still people out there, not even die-hard activists, just ordinary people, who want effectiveness rather than to simply conform to what an organisation tells them to do.

I started writing something which was meant to be hugely theoretical, but ended up as an explanation of why I still do route marches. Oh well. I’m sure there’s something really meaningful about how I did that.

Thoughts and ideas floating around in this post should probably be attributed to Naomi Klein, who’s book “No Logo” is still essential reading.


Entry filed under: Activism, Participation, Politics.

I found the catch… An Inconvenient Winner?

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Greg  |  Thursday, 11th October 2007 at 23:17 UTC

    The first half of the post (So I assume that’s the bit which is about the subject you intended to cover) is really interesting. I keep intending to write something about the ‘ethical’ meta-brand that some manufacturers and parties manage to fit into, to the exclusion of all others. I tend not to like the meta-branding that goes on (whether it be a STW brand or an ‘Ethical Shopper’ brand) because these meta-brands want to sell you a big raft of ideas in one go, and I tthink I suffer a worse case than most people of agreement with some and disagreement with others of these ideas! (to give an example, I’d prefer to be someone who rides critical mass for my own reasons than someone who appears to go along with some anarcho-green agenda which can lay claim to ownership of the ‘Critical Mass’ brand.)

    Of course, I suppose that sounds quite like the way a lot of people today feel disenchantment with party politics, and I’ll usually defend a vote for the least worst big party. So am I being pragmatic, or inconsistent?

    Anyway, I’m rambling so I’ll shut up.

  • 2. Jonathan  |  Monday, 15th October 2007 at 11:31 UTC

    On a related subject, you might find this interesting: Stop the War Coalition has banned Hands Off the People of Iran and Communist Students from affiliation, seemingly due to both taking a particularly critical view of the Iranian government.

  • 3. Graham Martin  |  Monday, 15th October 2007 at 13:17 UTC

    And on a related subject to your post, I have another one coming up soon on a similar subject. Didn’t see your comment in time though. Oh well.


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