There were a few seconds when my heart stopped. As two protesters stood with their banners and shouted during an event I was attending, several ideas ran through my head — none related to the power of positive thinking.
The episode occurred at the FT Weekend Festival while I was moderating a panel on the British Labor Party. The main guest was parliamentarian Rachel Reeves, “shadow” Minister of Finance —responsible for overseeing the position—, who I had just asked about her recent decision to rule out a new wealth tax, when two protesters spoke out. .
After the panic and inappropriate thoughts, questions flooded my mind. How can I speed up the end of this outage? Who are these people? What kind of rich protesters can afford the triple-digit ticket price to get into the FT Weekend Festival?
I was saved by my own irritation. After all, I had just asked the question they wanted to ask. I asked if they would like to hear the answer or if they just wanted to scream. Seemingly surprised, they hesitated before realizing they wanted to scream. The hesitation proved fatal, and we continued until the festival staff arrived, at which point they fell silent and meekly left.
Afterwards, however, my main emotion was contempt. These were useless protesters. There were too many words on his banner, and even now I can’t remember the name of his organization. Worse still: they surrendered at the first sign of authority. I’ve seen more energetic resistance from my children when we ask them to help us with household chores.
Maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe there was something in the cooking or arts tent they didn’t want to miss, so they made a quick protest and then rushed to the wine talk.
For a certain type of activist, politics has been reduced to a form of performance art. Two minutes of interruption, a video and a press release are taking the place of any attempt to win hearts and minds.
If this is the path protests take in the future, perhaps we can come to an agreement where we delay the start of any event by two minutes so that some protesters can get some footage of themselves shouting the slogan they came up with while drinking a glass. by Casillero del Diablo.
This politics of gestures has always been present, but what is striking about so many demonstrations driven by social media is the lack of any underlying political strategy. It’s as if performance was the only goal. There is no plan to persuade, and in some cases — especially climate protests that block roads — there appears to be a conscious effort to alienate ordinary people and lose support, although at least those blocking roads are willing to be arrested and tried.
This boils down to throwing orange confetti at a former politician at his wedding, an act so senseless that performance is the only possible goal. You get attention, but if there’s no plan to convert that attention into support that politicians have to take seriously, you’re just another attention seeker.
Just like hashtag activism on social media, many political campaigns seem to be about the activist rather than the cause. It’s about a photo for your Instagram feed. It’s the kind of policy that doesn’t change anything, but makes you feel good about yourself. It’s a campaign for those who want to consider themselves activists, but aren’t really willing to take it further.
On the other hand, as someone who attends public events, perhaps I shouldn’t complain. This is the type of low-impact intervention that appeals to everyone.