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The Anarchists' Travelling Circus

Saturday, 16th June, 2001

Glancing through the news sites last night suggested once more to me that maybe I should run off to join the circus.

Not the traditional kind of circus, you understand, but the popular new sort that seems to be in vogue. Tony Blair described it as an 'anarchists' travelling circus', after a bunch of people stopped him from eating out in Gothenburg a couple of days ago, and the description is as good as any.

It's a new form of work, granted, but I'm guessing that the pay is good and certainly the inclusive travel arrangements are unparalleled. Yesterday Gothenburg for the EU Summit, tomorrow Belgrade for the Bush-Putin Talks, maybe next week I could be sailing down to New Zealand on the Rainbow Warrior. I might even manage to get my face on the news, caught in the classic pose of throwing a molotov cocktail at riot police while simultaneously turning towards the camera to mouth 'Hi, mom!'

I need to look up protestation agencies in the Yellow Pages. There are so many different protest groups nowadays that it would be unworkable to apply directly to all of them. I also believe that variety is the spice of life so chopping and changing groups would be fun. There are so many different types of protestors nowadays that I'd get to work with a pretty wide slice of society. Over time, I could always specialise, once I find the groups that I feel most at home with. After all, the pro-lifers are probably very different from the eco-protestors or the anti-globalisation bods.

If I got a couple of protests behind me for experience, I'm sure that they could keep me in work. Maybe I should study for a while first though and get some professional protestation qualifications under my belt first, to ensure that I could command a solid wage. Inclusive world travel is wonderful, of course, but it would be even nicer to be able to bring back souvenirs for the family.

Qualifications might even help me progress up the ranks quickly from the boring placard-carrying posts to the more media-friendly instant riots. If I'm really lucky I could land one of the personal attack positions. Those have to be the most rewarding and certainly the most noticed. Canada is the place to be for that, of course, as they favour the cream pie as a weapon with which to attack politicians. Tomatoes seem so passe in comparison.

This is all meant to be satirical; but the more I read in the news, the more I wonder how accurate it all is. Just as the neo-Nazis who torched immigrant housing in Germany were funded and organised by the military, and the football hooligans that plagued England through the 1980s worked from powerful information networks, what's to say that Blair's comment was more accurate than he intended?

It's certainly a growth industry. My quick search through online news sites last night found no end of protests. The EU Summit was plagued by violent protests, forcing delegates to cancel trips into the city and stay within security boundaries at the summit venue. These were anti-globalisation protestors, who hit their peak worldwide every 1st May. Those protesting at the meetup between Presidents Bush and Putin had environmental concerns. In London, thirty thousand protestors gathered to advocate the legalisation of cannabis. Falun Gong members protested against comments by the Taiwanese leader; the National Front and the Anti-Nazi League clashed in Oldham; animal rights protestors threw tofu pie at Calvin Klein.

Here a protest, everywhere a protest. I wonder how many people must be involved at any point in time in protests globally. It must be a pretty substantial number, and one that seems to be increasing with every year that goes by. Why are people protesting more anyway? As far as the EU Summit protestors are concerned, Tony Benn points the finger at the inflexibility and the unaccountability of modern government, and he could well be right, but how does that affect eco-protestors or the animal rights movement?

Special interest groups, formed to protest a single issue, have been de rigeur in the United States for many years, quite naturally for a country that often seems like the land of the free and the home of the opinionated. The trend has long since crossed the Atlantic and spread out worldwide to encompass more special interests than most people could comfortably imagine. It just doesn't seem right to see a politician arrive anywhere to speak without the requisite number of placard-carrying protestors waltzing up and down outside the building.

Here in England, we've had a long tradition of protest ever since the Suffragettes, but it's mostly centred around two core claims of indignation: animal rights and environmental issues. Both attract protestors at every level up to and beyond both the criminal and the insane.

It used to be difficult to wander through a town centre that didn't have a bunch of tortured animals portrayed on stickers up and down lampposts everywhere. I don't like the idea of animals being used as test subjects by the cosmetic industry, if indeed any still are; but if one quickens the search for a cure for cancer, then I'm not going to cry foul. I'm certainly not going to download a list of employees at Huntingdon Life Sciences and pick one to firebomb. This isn't protest, it's insanity.

The same applies to those who take it upon themselves to break into mink farms and release all the animals. You may not like the idea of people breeding mink for their coats but I don't like the idea of people releasing them into an alien countryside where they will die slowly and horribly because they are not used to hunting their own food.

It's a base irony to see animal rights protestors kill animals, however unintentionally; just as it's a base irony to see pro-lifers kill doctors. How wrapped up in a single issue can you be to lose sight of all logic? The eco-protestors do the same thing. Every time they strap themselves into trees to prevent the bulldozers driving through and razing the area for some bypass or other, they end up destroying the trees themselves. Maybe we should start protesting about educational standards instead. We could set up a Free Education for Dumb Protestors protest group and parade up and down outside 10, Downing Street.

Maybe we should set up a counter-organisation called Protestors Against Protestors, just to be contrary; or a Euthanasia for Trees group that advocates their right to die. The sad thing is that someone probably already has.

My belief is that if we're going to be a fair and open democracy, we aren't required to report on every incident involving a thrown brick. Let's follow instead the precedent set by the topical news show, 'Have I Got News for You', which brought on the eco-protestor Swampy to be a contestant. Only a few days before he had been living in a tunnel somewhere underneath the proposed new terminal at Manchester airport, with explosives strapped around his body to help dissuade the police from removing him.

You want to hear his ideas? Forget the news bulletins; put him on a game show. After all isn't that what the 90's were about or did I miss the point?

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