Protests: When's it time to go home?

 
Protests

London's Parliament Square has been cleared of protesters after a decade-long battle, activists also face eviction from a camp by St Paul's Cathedral and in the US, Occupy protests have been cleared. Is there a time protesters should pack up and go home?

The aim of a protest is usually to change something. Or keep it the same. To pass a law. Or overturn one. To draw attention to a cause. Or show how much support that cause has.

Protests can be symbolic, but more often than not they aim to disrupt - to picket, to blockade, even just to embarrass.

The protesters want to keep on getting their message across until their goals are achieved. The authorities often want them to stop as soon as they've had their initial say.

So in a democracy there is always a tension between affirmation of the right to protest and the desire for normal life to continue.

Prime Minister David Cameron said in October of the St Paul's protest: "I don't quite see how the freedom to demonstrate has to include the freedom to pitch a tent almost anywhere you want to in London."

Greenham Common protest camp The protest at Greenham Common lasted 19 years

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg criticised the Occupy protest in the city's Zuccotti Park for "making it unavailable to anyone else". He said: "New York City is the city where you can come and express yourself. What was happening in Zuccotti Park was not that."

On Monday, anti-war protesters at the Democracy Village camp in Parliament Square were removed by police seven years after a law was passed which enabled the clearance. On Wednesday, the City of London Corporation won the right to evict Occupy London protesters outside St Paul's Cathedral.

And in the US, Occupy Wall Street protesters were removed by police from a range of sites at the tail end of last year.

The Occupy movement says it is fighting corporate greed, and the protesters at St Paul's have argued their aim is not disruption, insisting that worship can continue easily and that the highway is not blocked.

But what is clear is there is a long line of activists who have wanted to stay until their point was made. Many Protesters in Egypt's Tahrir Square stayed until Hosni Mubarak was deposed on 11 February, but others held on for all their goals to be met.

"I believe there are moments when the desired outcomes of a protest are achieved, a point has been made and going home is the only option," says activist Shahinaz Nabeeh.

Fuel protests The fuel blockade ended after a week in 2000

"But after spending two weeks in Tahrir Square in Cairo during the July sit-in, when many felt the spirit of the original protests was returning, I realised that leaving the square on 12 February shouldn't have been an option until the full demands of the revolution were met."

In Tiananmen Square in 1989, protesters had been there several weeks before the troops moved in and massacred them.

And in democracies, staying power can also be a big part of swaying the undecided.

In the early 1990s, lengthy campaigns tried to disrupt work on new roads in the English countryside. The Earth First! group organised camps and "tree sits" in places like Twyford Down to prevent the M3 extension, outside Newbury to stop a bypass, and Fairmile in Devon, where Swampy became an unlikely celebrity in the battle to stop the widening of the A30.

All of these attempts failed to stop the new roads. But by the late 1990s, after years of protests, government policy had moved away from new motorway building. How much of that was down to the protesters, and how much because of research suggesting that new roads simply created more traffic, is hard to say.

Of course, for many people, hindering lawful action like an approved development is not a legitimate form of protest. Tolerance can have a shelf life.

Bobby Sands mural Bobby Sands' protest ended in his death

The fuel protesters who blockaded British oil refineries in 2000 initially enjoyed overwhelming popular support. But after a week, essential services were being disrupted and the inconvenience of not having petrol began to elicit a different response.

The public mood shifted and within days the blockades had ended. The protesters had made their point, but it was time to pack up and go home.

The women of Greenham Common who camped outside the US Air Force base in Berkshire to protest against the deployment of cruise missiles carried on a vigil for 19 years, continuing even after the missiles left the base.

Again, the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands is remembered because his protest was carried through, resulting in his death.

Dr John Price, a historian of public protest at London's Goldsmiths University, argues there are four key elements that help determine when the job of protesters is done. "For a movement to be successful, worthiness, unity, numbers and commitment need to be demonstrated and maintained."

Indeed shorter protests are just as effective as longer-term occupations but in a different way, according to Price. "A very large, slow-moving march is about showing numbers and unity and is influential in communicating ideas to a large number of people."

Shorter protests can quickly grab attention and put a cause in the spotlight, as with the current US Tea Party movement, which aims to reduce taxes and make government smaller, and intends to echo a long tradition.

Shahinaz Nabeeh Shahinaz Nabeeh in Cairo's Tahrir Square

"In America's history of tea parties, they have always been perceived as fun and quick 'events' that are an effective platform for getting attention," says Joseph Cummins, author of Ten Tea Parties: Patriotic Protests That History Forgot.

Joan Smith, a columnist and human rights campaigner, thinks protesters can undermine their cause by staying too long.

"The St Paul's protesters have ended up getting into an irrelevant argument with the Church of England, which is a diversion from their original critique of the Stock Exchange.

"Once you've met your aims, it's crucial to take your cause forward and I'm not sure continuing to stay outside St Paul's Cathedral takes these protesters' political objectives any further."

In many cases, of course, the issue will be decided by the authorities moving in with an eviction notice.

So the "how long" question that the protesters must answer might be how long before the police move in, or "how long" before public sympathy wanes.

 

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 396.

    @FrankLund
    And I should believe one group over another because?
    With this 'event' I am going by what I saw there.
    I found the number of religious nutters and homeless people ranting against the occupiers really funny as obviously they couldn't tell them to go away :)

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 395.

    394.opaqueentity
    Just now
    @Little_Old_Me
    I've watched them 'welcome' homeless and street people. With fear and 'oh my god we can't get rid of them and they are mental' looks on their face.




    General Assembly minutes make interesting reading

    http://occupylsx.org/?cat=22

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 394.

    @Little_Old_Me
    I've watched them 'welcome' homeless and street people. With fear and 'oh my god we can't get rid of them and they are mental' looks on their face.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 393.

    391.Little_Old_Me
    22 Minutes ago
    389.Frank Lund


    What is with you & convieniently choosing to ignore facts that undermine your arguement?

    A great many homeless people have welcomed at the camp with open arms, giving tents to sleep in & hot, healthy food to eat.....





    I've asked the question many times, you are the first to claim that they are Doing What Jesus Would Do.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 392.

    391.Little_Old_Me
    7 Minutes ago
    389.Frank Lund


    What is with you & convieniently choosing to ignore facts that undermine your arguement?

    A great many homeless people have welcomed at the camp with open arms, giving tents to sleep in & hot, healthy food to eat......



    Why are homeless giving tents?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 391.

    389.Frank Lund


    What is with you & convieniently choosing to ignore facts that undermine your arguement?

    A great many homeless people have welcomed at the camp with open arms, giving tents to sleep in & hot, healthy food to eat......

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 390.

    Overlong protests, like overlong sermons, stop making an impact. I would think the longest a sit-in protest is going to keep in the public eye is about two weeks. A series of shorter protests - a few days to a week - with high public impact, as a front for a major campaign to gather support for change allied to a citizens thinktank, aimed at getting improved legislation through would be effective.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 389.

    388.Little_Old_Me
    18 Minutes ago

    The WHOLE point of this protest has been to raise awareness of the need for something to change



    We were aware of bankers' greed BEFORE Day 1. Campers could have done something about the inequities of their buying overpriced food and drink and having cosey tents while others in London rely on bins and cardboard boxes.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 388.

    387.Frank Lund - you really don't get it do you?

    The WHOLE point of this protest has been to raise awareness of the need for something to change.....not to provide a flat packed ready to go alternative but to get society talking about the issues so we can collectively come up with something different......it has been very successful in that regard.....!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 387.

    386.Little_Old_Me
    5 Minutes ago

    If you think that you are simply not listening to what they are saying & only seeing what you want to see. It's what Psychologists call "Confirmation Bias" - look it up, you might learn something, even the PM is talking about responsible capitalism now




    All the campers do is talk, they don't do the WWJD bit by which they pretend to be led.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 386.

    385.Frank Lund - "......The "protesters" would be more believable if they gave direct help rather than just running a mutual admiration club."

    If you think that you are simply not listening to what they are saying & only seeing what you want to see. It's what Psychologists call "Confirmation Bias" - look it up, you might learn something, even the PM is talking about responsible capitalism now

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 385.

    384.Little_Old_Me
    33 Minutes ago
    And how long before wider society realises there won't be so many in need of help if society was just a little bit more equitable in the first place........




    The "protesters" would be more believable if they gave direct help rather than just running a mutual admiration club.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 384.

    364.Frank Lund - "..............How many need to protest before the self-indulgent campers go and help those in need instead of just preening for the media?"

    And how long before wider society realises there won't be so many in need of help if society was just a little bit more equitable in the first place........

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 383.

    When the protesters feel that it time to leave.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 382.

    "Is there a time protesters should pack up and go home?"

    yes, at the point where the debate is taken on board by the government and becomes subject to the democratic process.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 381.

    I think most of the arguments in this article are spurious. There is a clear attempt to crush the occupy movement by sweeping them out of sight. It is anti-democratic in the extreme. The established order was well aware these camps were acting as beacons for more support. When this support grew, instead of fading, the decision was clearly taken to remove them at all cost.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 380.

    And yet all the focus on this...the BBC failed to report on Wukan Village which had 40,000 people protest because of the death of a man and the theft of land.This Occupy protest did more harm than anything by wasting air time on something that was largely unobtainable and letting the CCP get away with murder

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 379.

    The question of whether the St Paul's protest, as with Occupy Wall Street and elsewhere, continues in its present form is largely irrelevant. The defining element is that the scale of corporate greed, financial recklessness and political corruption worldwide is now increasingly finding its way into public awareness. The full implications of this, as austerity bites ever harder, remain to be seen.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 378.

    I think these people should shift focus from banks to the courts that allow the legal rendition of British people to the US even though they have committed no crime on US soil. It's a grosse infringement of human rights our governments are happy to tolerate in the name of 'security'. The point has been made well clear now move on.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 377.

    359.marie -" .. we need to see a breakdown of where money is spent"

    The Govt does publish it's Annual Accounts in great detail, available from the Office for National Statistics,(known as the Blue Book)
    The Blue Book is difficult to digest so it's easier to look at Sites such as this, as long as they give their Sources

    http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/total_spending_2011UKbn

 

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