What has become known as the ‘student movement’ was born out of the protests over tuition fees last year. The lasting legacy of these protests was not a u-turn from government in response to a mass of pressure, but rather a new understanding of how a collective could organise without permission from figures of authority or dominant voices stifling debate. When students were severely let down by those who had been democratically elected to represent their interests, it does not take a leap of imagination to understand why for many the tools of anarchism became the only way to express a voice.
Direct action was used in the form of university occupations where consensus based decision making was the norm, a far cry from the single vote you receive every five years In what is far too forgivingly termed a ‘democracy’, but is all too often an excuse for governments to introduce ideological policy changes regardless of the opinion expressed by the public.
How insulting is it therefore to find that the ‘counter terrorism focus desk’ of City of Westminster police saw fit to essentially criminalise all of these students and every other person who have become disenfranchised with a limp democracy by instructing the public that “Any information relating to anarchists should be reported to your local Police.” This was nestled between other counter terrorism warnings, including a report on the terror attacks in Norway and warnings about a flag “Often seen used by Al-Qaeda in Iraq” which should also be reported to local police.
Yet, this representation of anarchism is not surprising when you consider how it is often reported in mainstream media, particularly before large scale protests. The Evening Standard for example ran a piece with the headline ‘Anarchists plot to wreck Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding celebration’ and used information obtained from a so called ‘anarchist organiser’ to reveal plans for disruption at the Royal Wedding that to most anarchists I know were simply laughable. But all too often media coverage such as this seems to come as a precursor to violent policing which is justified justified and ignored by the press as otherwise hoards of violent anarchists may have run rampage. This narrative, which has largely gone unchallenged, leads to a public image of anarchists as nothing more than a ‘black bloc’ that needs beating into line.
However, as the anthropologist and anarchist David Graeber describes in his article ‘Are you an anarchist? The answer may surprise you!’, to be an anarchist takes little more than examining your daily life and recognising that much of how we already behave and think is anarchic in nature. He asks ‘If there’s a line to get on a crowded bus, do you wait your turn and refrain from elbowing your way past others even in the absence of police?’ The answer is common sense and yet when the concept is applied to how we organise ourselves politically, it is suddenly labelled as a terrorist view point which we should be vigilant for.
What exactly would we be reporting? That a group of friends decided on where to go for dinner collectively rather than someone making a authoritative decision? That some people are playing a game like Ultimate Frisbee without the need of a referee? Or perhaps that people think politicians are greedy and don’t listen to public opinion? These aren’t alternative views after all, and certainly not those of terrorists, but very mainstream thoughts held by many. If it wasn’t hilarious to think, we may worry that the millions who decided not to vote in the last general election would end up in jail for fear they were anarchists. Would it be criminal to think that with so many refusing to take part in our democratic process, perhaps that process may well be flawed?
It is, at best, misleading to portray anarchists as a terror group that needs watching and at worst propaganda designed to discredit a legitimate political ideology for fear that the view may become more widely accepted as many suffer through austerity.