Phone Hacking: a crisis of agency for the rest of us
The unearthing of a hacking scandal at NewsCorp and the massive media circus of Murdoch ‘on trial’ before the commons select committee provided a spectacle that held what felt like the whole population in some sort of trance. It felt as if the whole of the establishment was just about to cave in on itself. The problem, and the reason I found the whole episode so difficult to deal with, was the impossible task of finding a way to do anything.
Lets put this in some kind of personal perspective. Apart from the Free Frank Fernie campaign, my activist ‘get up and go’ pretty much vanished around the time of the hacking scandal. It was more or less impossible to figure out what else to do. The scandal was too big to ignore, and yet something about it also made it largely impossible to find any route to intervention.
Interventions surrounding virtually every other crisis this year have been pretty easy to find. I regret not making it to London for last week’s “North London Unity March”, an overtly political stand against the division of the community into looters and good citizens, and defiantly naming the cuts agenda as the elephant in the room. By all accounts it was a brilliant atmosphere as people got tough on the destruction of homes and the underlying causes. The Birmingham event which utterly failed to address any issues got much more coverage, perhaps because the tough questions were glossed over.
With Norway comes the clear need to reinvigorate the campaign against the EDL, and to do so in a way that follows the Norwegian lead – more democracy, no curbs on the right to protest. The opportunistic calls of certain campaigns to ban the march through Tower Hamlets seems very at odds with the position taken by Norway; at least I know where I’ll be moving when Climate Change makes Britain uninhabitable.
I counted just two interventions from ordinary folks living in Britain. The first, a small protest outside NewsCorp’s London HQ, was a bit of a disappointment, even though a Friday protest was never going to draw huge crowds. The second, a single-person action was commendable in its refusal to let the ruling class get away with an entirely safe coup. Jonny Marbles may have made for some awkward discussions between activists about the efficacy of an action that could so easily have backfired, but an acceptance of exclusion from the issue this was not.
For the rest of us (and I was present for the former of the two protests), there was a massive blank wall of exclusion from the issue. It was impossible to work out how to stick the metaphorical crowbar into the crack provided by the scandal itself and wrench open a crack in history, to borrow some imagery from the Zapatistas. The cracks were visible, but from the other side of a glass wall and upon a stage, much like an opera for which there is definitely to be no audience participation.
It may sound like some kind of strop from the terminally juvenile. After all, its a trademark of activists that we refuse to grow up and accept the world as it is. But this goes much deeper. A crisis that could so easily have boiled over on to the streets of almost any other country (see the Indian anti-corruption uprising) was passively watched over by everyone, from the terminally passive to the persistently active.
One possible cause was the timing in the natural cycle of protest movements. We seem to manage a decent upswing about every three months, and this hit pretty much the weakest intermediate point in the whole year. Half of those who so often end up doomed to lead out the action were actually on holiday. None of us were working together. And so silence. And with silence, a real sense of emptiness. And with that, a real struggle to keep focused.
The media is both a curse and a blessing to activism, and often its easy to get caught up in chasing every media story for some kind of crack. In the end, it was probably the Socialist Worker Party and their friends/foes who had it easiest: write a new headline on the weekly paper and shout louder when on the streets trying to sell it. For the rest of us, it was a complete crisis of agency, of ability to intervene with even the most tenuously effective action, into what, in other circumstances, would have been the scandal of the year. After all, a crisis of legitimacy does not make a collapse of the ruling order all by itself.