Street Artefacts of the 2020 Lockdown: Hull

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Murals thanking healthworkers have cropped up all over the world since the coronavirus epidemic began. This one in Hull city centre is by local artist Hull_grafitti (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

In my last blog post, I wrote about the streetscapes of Hove and Portslade during the 2020 coronavirus lockdown. Once the lockdown started, people began to place artefacts in their windows, gardens, and streets in an attempt to connect, entertain children, or just make each other smile. I recently travelled up to Hull (it was an essential journey, I wasn’t just testing my eyesight!), and whilst I was there I got to see how Hullensians used the streets to express themselves during the lockdown. The neighbourhoods where I spend most of my time in Hull, the Avenues and Newland Avenue, are pretty creative anyway, so I had high hopes for the city’s lockdown streetscapes. I wasn’t disappointed!

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Window displays like this one have become increasingly common during lockdown, perhaps as a way of reaching out at a time when many of us are feeling isolated (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
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Over the last few months the rainbow has become a symbol of gratitude for our NHS and keyworkers. This has led some in the LGBT+ community to fear that their association with the rainbow flag is being overwritten (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Whilst some trends, like the rainbows, are common across the UK, some things are more localised. Coloured ribbons like this one are not something that I have come across in Brighton, but they are quite common in Hull (Photo: Tricia Awcock).
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Here, the rainbow and the ribbons have been combined (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The floral displays along Newland Avenue are changed frequently to reflect important events and holidays such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Remembrance Day. During the lockdown, they have been used to celebrate the NHS (Photo: Tricia Awcock).
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Creativity has shone through during the lockdown, and this drawing certainly brightened up the waterfront on a particularly dreary evening (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
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These are lyrics from the Maroon 5 song “She will be Loved” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
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These stickers can be found all along Newland Avenue. It is not uncommon to find stickers of all kinds in this area (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
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There is quite a lot of street art in Hull. One area you can almost always find some is the Fruit market, which is where I found this unicorn impaling coronavirus (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
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I almost felt like an intruder reading this, but Miss June and Mr February clearly wanted to commemorate this important moment during lockdown (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

We Are Many Review

Rise, like lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number!

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you:

Ye are many—they are few!”

The Masque of Anarchy, Percy Shelly, 1819.

We Are Many Landscape

Many of you who has ever been to a protest will be familiar with at least part of the above quote, the final stanza of a poem written by Percy Shelley after the Peterloo massacre. We Are Many, a documentary film that tells the story of the Stop the War protests on the 15th February 2003, takes it’s name from the final line of this evocative poem. The film is not unjustified in borrowing such powerful words; it is a forceful and effecting documentary.

Directed by Amir Amirani, and first released at Sheffield Doc/Fest in 2014, We Are Many tells the story of the global protests against the imminent Iraq War on the 15th of February 2003. Up to 30 million people in nearly 800 cities took part, many of whom had never been to a protest before. The film uses news footage, interviews with participants, experts, and journalists, footage of protests, and clips of political speeches to tell the narrative of the protests themselves, as well as the events that led up to them, and the political movements they helped to inspire (you can see the trailer here).

Starting with 9/11 and the beginning of the War on Terror; the documentary traces the foundation of the Stop the War coalition; the growing opposition to military intervention in Iraq; the protests themselves; further attempts to prevent Western intervention in Iraq; the war itself; and the Tahir Square protests in Egypt. It ends with the vote by British Parliament in 2013 in which they decided against military intervention in Syria, an indication that, although the Iraq War was not prevented, the protest was not necessarily a waste of time. It is a comprehensive account, and I think it could have benefited from doing less, the last half and hour or so does drag somewhat.

2003 Stop the War March
The Stop the War march on the 15th March 2003 was one of the biggest marches London has seen in decades (Source: Channel 4).

Overall, however, I thought it was a brilliant documentary. The interviews were particularly effective: a US air force veteran who came to oppose the war and US government officials admitting the war was wrong make for convincing viewing. The documentary also featured footage of the interviewees speechless. When the narrative arrives at the 19th of March when the war started, many of the interviewees were lost for words, even after a decade. That was pretty powerful.

When a protest doesn’t result in direct changes, it can be difficult to assess its impact. We Are Many admits that the Stop the War protests failed in their primary objective, and left many so demoralised that they withdrew from political engagement. The documentary does, however, make the argument that the 2003 demonstrations had long-term, positive impacts. It argues that the democracy movement in Egypt in 2011 was the product of the global anti-war movement, and highlights that when Britain faced the choice to invade Syria in 2013, MPs made a different decision than the government made a decade before. It is an interesting attempt to assess the impacts that a protest can have.

We Are Many is a comprehensive and emotive account of the events of the 15th February 2003. The global day of protest is thoroughly contextualised in both the events leading up to it, and the possible impacts it may have had. I would recommend this film as a teaching resource about both dissent and the Iraq War, or for those who are just curious about one of the biggest globally coordinated protests the world has ever seen.

Olive Evelyn Awcock, 1926-2016

My Nan and I at a family Christmas party in 2012 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

At the beginning of December, my grandmother passed away. Olive Evelyn Awcock was stubborn, blunt, and wonderful, and she will be sorely missed by my entire family. Born in nearby Rottingdean, Nan lived in Brighton for most of her life. She married her childhood sweetheart, John, and they were together for more than 50 years. They had two children, Hilary and Graeme, my Dad. I knew her as Nan though, and it was a role she performed very well. Since her passing I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my memories of Nan, and I was surprised to find a lot of connections between her and my politics.

Nan was not one to mince her words, or hold back on her opinions. The two of us frequently differed in our political opinions, although we did agree in not liking or respecting most leading politicians. I mostly chose not to engage her in political debate, because she was my Nan and it didn’t really feel right. We all found her intransigence desperately frustrating at times, but it was one of her defining characteristics and we loved her for it.

My sister Emily and I with Nan at my cousin Ben’s wedding in 2013 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Nan was not what you might call a radical, but I think in her own way she embodied feminist ideals. She was fiercely independent. My grandfather was in the Royal Marines, so was frequently away, and Nan had to look after my Dad and Aunty on her own. This included a two-and-a-half year stint in Malta in the late 1950s, when my Dad was just 10 months old. It must have been terrifying to move to a new country with two young children, leaving behind the support networks that she had in Brighton. She was also keen to have her own income independent from my grandfather, so worked in a local post office for more than a decade before her retirement. She tried to instil that desire for independence in her grandchildren. It was one of her biggest regrets that she never learnt to drive, so frequently had to depend on others to get around. As such, she helped every one of her grandchildren who wanted to learn to drive to do so. These are perhaps not the actions of your stereotypical feminist, and I very much doubt she would have described herself as such. However her attitude was one which I think any feminist would be proud of.

My Dad, my grandparents, and I on a day out, probably some time in the mid-90s (Photo: Graeme Awcock).

Despite my Dad already having achieved a PhD, I don’t think she really understood what one was, or what it entailed. Nevertheless, she had strong opinions on my topic, and never failed to let me, or the rest of my family, know what they were. Nan was more than a little surprised when I decided to study for a PhD on the historical geography of protest in London. She was concerned that it meant I must be a “closet red,” and it didn’t fit with her opinion of me as a gentle, kind, shy young woman. In a way, she was right. I am scared of protesting, and terrified by the prospect of getting arrested. I do go on protest marches, but I have always been too nervous to participate in more daring ways than that. I strongly believe in the need for protest and social movements, and I hope I will someday find a form of activism that I am comfortable with. In the meantime, I feel like studying protest, as well as being enjoyable and engaging, is a way in which I can comfortably contribute to the ongoing struggles and conflicts.

Nan and I shared many traits. I too am stubborn, and like to be independent. I am not as blunt when voicing my opinions, but I think that the elderly, like children, can get away with saying things that most people cannot, so perhaps that is a trait that I will develop with age. Everyone that we love impacts us in ways that are hard to define, and it is through the characteristics I have inherited from Nan that she will remain with me.

Book Review: Revolutions without Borders- The Call to Liberty in the Atlantic World

Revolutions without Borders Front Cover
Revolutions without Borders by Janet Polansky.

Janet Polansky. Revolution without Borders: The Call to Liberty in the Atlantic World. London: Yale University Press, 2015. 

Back in May, I went to a seminar given by historian Janet Polansky organised by the London Group of Historical Geographers. I enjoyed the seminar so much that I got the book so I could read Polansky’s arguments in more detail. And I wasn’t disappointed; I think Revolutions without Borders: The Call to Liberty in the Atlantic World is a very good read.

In the late eighteenth century Europe and the Americas went through a period of political turmoil which saw revolutions “From the Americas to Geneva, the Netherlands, Ireland, the Belgian provinces, France, Saint-Domingue, Guadaloupe, Poland, Martinique, Sierra Leone, Italy, Hungary, and Haiti” (Polansky, 2015; p.2 ). The American and French Revolutions are by far the best known, but almost no country surrounding the Atlantic Ocean remained untouched. Ideas, information, and people circulated back and forth across the Atlantic in an age before the Internet, telephones, even a postal service. Revolutions without Borders is about how these radical ideas and individuals traveled, both adapting to and shaping the contexts that they found themselves in.

Two centuries before the Arab Spring, without social media or even an international postal system, revolutionaries shared ideals of liberty and equality across entire continents. Theirs, too, was an international movement connected by ideas that traveled.

(Polansky, 2015; p. 3)

Polanksy structured the book by source material- each chapter is devoted to a different method of circulation such as official decrees, rumours, letters and travelers. Overall, I like this unusual approach because it brings archival research to the fore, which a lot of history books tend to gloss over. Different sources contain different kinds of information, and the structure of Revolutions without Borders highlights this. However, structuring the book in this way does necessitate some jumping back and forwards in terms of time, which did prove a little confusing on occasion. There is a Dramatis Personae and a Chronology, which may alleviate the effects of this confusion for some.

Sometimes when you read a book it resonates with current events. I experienced this whilst reading Revolutions without Borders. Chapter 9 focuses on itinerant revolutionaries, individuals who traveled the world during the revolutionary period, sometimes running from failed revolutions, sometimes running towards budding ones. Many of these people, including Benjamin Franklin, who lived in London for two decades*, had high hopes for the future of cosmopolitanism. They dreamt of universal citizenship, where a traveler would be welcomed as if returning home wherever they went in the world. Unfortunately this dream was not to be, and as the 1790s progressed travelers returning to America from Europe were shunned as dangerous radicals. The dream of universal citizenship struck a chord with me as I was reading this book, in the aftermath of the EU Referendum, and I couldn’t help but think that Benjamin Franklin would be disappointed with the result of the referendum. Universal citizenship seems that much further away now.

Revolutions without Borders is well-written and accessible. Relevant to both historians and geographers, I think it would also be enjoyable for those who read for leisure.

*The house where Franklin lived whilst in London is now a small museum, to which I would definitely recommend a visit.

Book Review: This is London- Life and Death in the World City

Front cover- This is London.jpg
This is London by Ben Judah.

Ben Judah. This is London: Life and Death in the World City London: Picador, 2016. £18.99 

This is London: Life and Death in the World City is the latest in a long line of books that try to say something new about one of the most written about cities in the world. Ben Judah does this by trying to get to know London’s immigrants, the people who make up almost half of the city’s population, but who only ever get talked about with scaremongering statistics and dehumanising metaphors. It takes all sorts to make a city, and Judah talks to all kinds of people in this book; the wife of a Russian oligarch, a Nigerian policeman, a Polish builder, Filipina maids, a Polish registrar, Afghani shopkeepers, a Nigerian teacher.

I was born in London but I no longer recognize this city. I don’t know if I love the new London or if it frightens me: a city where at least 55 per cent of people are not ethnically British, nearly 40 per cent were born abroad, and 5 per cent are living illegally in the shadows. I have no idea who these Londoners are. Or even what their London really is.

(Judah, 2016; p.3)

This is London starts in the same place that many European migrants arrive in London; Victoria Coach Station- “our miserable Ellis Island” (Judah, 2016; p.1). It ends where some of the city’s one million Muslim inhabitants (according to the 2011 census) end their lives; the mortuary of a mosque in Leyton. It covers a large number of major life events and experiences in between; marriage, birth, employment, illness, faith, and recreation. The book has no introduction or conclusion, which I think is fitting. This is not a story with a nice neat beginning and ending, it is not even a single story. When I review books about London, I try to find a quote in which the author summarises London. I couldn’t find one in This is London. London is complex, multiple, and heterogeneous, it is almost impossible to sum it up. Ben Judah doesn’t offer any solutions or grand plans, he tells stories, and allows the reader to interpret them.

Unfortunately, I have some serious issues with This is London. The biggest is Judah’s ethics and attitudes towards his interviewees. On several occasions he lied to the people he was talking to about who he was, covering up the fact he is a journalist. When he visits Harlesdon Road to try and talk to some of the customers of London’s 1773 betting shops, he has little success until he pretends to be conducting a survey for William Hill (Judah, 2016; p.294). As an academic, I am horrified by the prospect that some people were trusting Judah with their stories, some of them highly personal and traumatic, without knowing what he was going to do with them. Maybe journalists don’t care about informed consent, but I do.

There are other points where Judah seems to relish his power over his interviewees in a way that made me feel very uncomfortable. In the first chapter he follows three recently arrived Roma women from Victoria Coach Station all the way to Hyde Park because he wanted to talk to them. He continued to follow them even once they realised they were being followed. Judah eventually forces a Romanian busker to talk to him, saying “I know he wants to leave but I won’t let him. I have power over him for a few seconds. And I want him to speak” (Judah, 2016; p.8). Later on, he talks to some prostitutes in Ilford Lane, paying them to talk to him. They sit in his car, as one woman, Diana, talks about another woman who was murdered there. He seems to enjoy forcing the second woman to talk; “I know she does not want to talk about this. That she would rather I just fucked them both- or hit them, the way some of the men enjoy doing- than ask about what happened to Mariana. But I don’t care. And I gesture. I want you to talk now” (Judah, 2016; p.370). He exploited the women’s vulnerability in a way that I find completely unacceptable.

I have conflicted feelings about This is London.I really enjoyed the stories the book tells, and reading about parts of London that are completely unfamiliar to me. However, I cannot condone Judah’s methods in obtaining some of these stories; he was unethical, insensitive, and exploitative. Because of this, I think there are other books out there that do similar things to This is London, better. For example, Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now by Craig Taylor (London: Granta, 2012), provides snapshots of what it’s like to live and work in London without making me feel deeply uncomfortable. I would recommend it much more highly than This is London.

Capturing the Moment: Photography and Protest

A few weeks ago, two things happened that got me thinking about the relationship between photography and protest. My fellow Royal Holloway Geography PhD students Noeme Santana and Bergit Arends gave a wonderful seminar called ‘Industrial Photography Performed: The Struggle for Energy from Modernism to the Cold War’, about photography and industry in the twentieth century. The second thing was a great article published by The World Post in celebration of International Women’s Day, which featured 60 photos of women protesting around the world over the last 25 years. This combination got me thinking about how photography has been used to record and document protest, and the ways in which protesters have used photography to help get their message across.

Photographers at Protest-Ecuador
Multiple photographers are a common sight at modern day protests, like this one in Ecuador (Photo: PABLO COZZAGLIO/AFP/Getty Images).

There are often large numbers of photographers at protests now, both professional and amateur. As time goes on cameras get increasingly more affordable, so a sophisticated camera is now relatively cheap. As media and communication technologies have developed, so has protest and dissent. The printing press allowed texts to be disseminated far and wide, and the practice of reading aloud meant printed material was even accessible to the illiterate. More recently, the internet has allowed activists to communicate instantly across huge distances. Whether these technologies changed protest, or merely facilitated processes that were already going on is a debate for another day, but there is no doubt they had an impact. Photography is no different; it meant that protests and activists could be seen by people who were not immediately present. It is not in itself a new technology; I have written before about Christina Broom and her work photographing the suffrage movement in the early twentieth century. But it has changed drastically since it was first invented, and as it has evolved, so have the opportunities for capturing protest.

Tank man
This image of a man standing in front of tanks in Tienanmen Square, Beijing, in 1989 is iconic. Visual imagery can be a powerful tool for protesters (Photo: AP).

Activists also use photography themselves to help communicate their ideas. Photographs are often perceived as accurate, objective, representations. Although this is not actually the case, a photo is still an effective method of persuasion. They are often used by protesters on leaflets, posters, and stickers in order to try and convince people of their point of view. A recent example of this is the London housing activist group Focus E15, who are frequently in conflict with Robin Wales, the Mayor of the London borough of Newham. They have a photo of him being held back during one confrontation in July 2014, where he lost his temper with members of the group when they tried to approach him at the Mayor’s Newham Show. His behaviour was later found to have broken the borough’s code of conduct. The image of a public official so close to violence is a powerful one.

Robin Wales held back
Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham, apparently being held back after being approached by members of FocusE15 in July 2014 (Photo: Evening Standard).

Photography does carry some risks for protesters. If you are photographed doing something illegal, then it can be used to help get you convicted. Police have been known to use photography to document activists and help them identify ‘troublemakers.’ In addition, photography arguably favours the dramatic, and not every form of protest is visually engaging. The boring, but very important, elements of social movements like fundraising and network building can easily get overlooked in a world that thrives on the dynamic and exciting. Social movements have very little, if any, control over how they are represented in the mainstream media, which is reflected in the frequent use of alternative media, controlled and operated by activists themselves (Feigenbaum, Frenzel and McCurdy 2013).

Violence at Millbank
Images of violence during the 2010 tuition fee protests were commonly used by the mainstream media the protests’ aftermath (Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA).

Photography is a double edged sword for protest movements. It provides a fast and effective way of capturing protests and spreading their message far beyond what would otherwise be possible. However, photography also poses a risk for protesters who act outside of the law, potentially providing evidence that could get them convicted.

Introducing the Turbulent London Map

London has been the subject of an untold number of maps over its long history, and now there’s one more. Maps serve many more purposes than getting you from A to B, they can also educate, entertain, and look good, as the maps featured below demonstrate. As a geographer, it’s basically compulsory for me to have an interest in maps, and I have always enjoyed looking at, and thinking about, them.

London simplified map
This map won’t help you find your way around London, but it does make a point, effectively and comically (Source: Nad).
london-borough with album covers
This map depicts the London boroughs using album art and photos of musicians. Again, not very useful, but it looks good! (Source: Moore Wilson).
London rent map
This map shows the average price of renting a 1-bedroom flat within a kilometer of each stop on the London Underground. Its purpose is to inform, and perhaps persuade people that something needs to be done about affordable housing in London (Source: Thrillist).

I have been thinking about the potential of mapping protest events and protest stickers for a while now. It can help build up an image of how protests and stickers are spread out across the capital. If you can identify areas of concentration for example, you can begin to think about why that might be. Unfortunately I haven’t had the skills to put this idea into practice…until now.

So without further ado, I would like to introduce the latest innovation in the world of London mapping: The Turbulent London Map! It features the location of every London protest and protest sticker featured on the blog. Purple pins are protest events, and orange pins are protest stickers. Click on the pins for more information and images.


The map is far from complete; to map every protest that’s ever taken place in London would be a gargantuan task that I cannot feasibly do alongside a PhD (although it might make a good post-doctoral project!). I will keep adding protests as I mention them in the blog. Also, the spread of the protest stickers is biased to reflect my own personal map of London; I have more pictures from locations that I visit most often, and no pictures from the places I haven’t been to (or the places I went to in the dark- my camera phone has not always been up to scratch). Again, it would be a huge project to map protest stickers across the whole city (another post-doc idea!), so here I’m asking for a little help. If you’re out and about in London and see a protest sticker, please take a picture, take a note of the street you’re on and the date, send it to me, and I’ll add to the map. I would really like to start building a more complete picture of protest stickers in London.

Reading the Riot Act 2: Luddites and Micks

Last year, I wrote a post about the protest-related origins of the phrase ‘reading the riot act,’ amongst others, and since then I have been on the lookout for other phrases which also have their origins in periods of strife. What I’ve found are two terms to describe people. If you have ever called someone, or been called by someone, a ‘Luddite’ or a ‘Mick’ (to describe an Irish person, not someone who’s name is Michael), then you have been referring to Britain’s long history of dissent.

An engraving of Luddites destroying a weaving machine (Source: Wikipedia).
An engraving of Luddites destroying a weaving machine (Source: Wikipedia).

A Luddite is a term frequently used to refer to someone who disapproves of new technologies. For most people, it is an insult, but others embrace the name with pride. If the origins of the term were more widely known, perhaps more people would be proud of the name. The Luddites was the collective name given to English textile workers who protested against the mechanization of their trade between 1811 and 1816. The new technologies of the Industrial Revolution meant that textiles could be mass-produced by unskilled, low-wage workers, forcing skilled artisans out of work.

The (probably) fictional leader of this movement was called General, or King, Ludd, and reportedly lived in Sherwood Forest, the home of another mythical champion of the people, Robin Hood. The name may come from Ned Ludd, who allegedly smashed two stocking frames in 1779.  The Luddite protests began in Nottinghamshire and quickly spread through the midlands and North of England. The demonstrators sent threatening letters to employers and broke into factories to destroy new machines. In 1812, machine breaking became punishable by death, and 17 men were executed the following year. Obviously the Luddites were unsuccessful at halting the march of the Industrial Revolution, but they made such an impression that their name is still used, 200 years later.

A comic mocking modern-day Luddites (Source: htmlgiant).
A comic mocking modern-day Luddites (Source: htmlgiant).

‘Mick’ is a derogatory word to describe an Irish person. There are several explanations for the origin of the term, but my favourite comes from London’s contentious past. Michael Barrett has the dubious honour of being the last person to be publicly hanged in England. In May 1868 he was executed for his role in the Clerkenwell Outrage on the 13th of December 1867. 12 people were killed in a bombing outside the Middlesex House of Detention in Clerkenwell, shocking Londoners and turning them against the cause of Irish nationalism. Michael Barrett’s name became synonymous with all Irish people.

The bomb was a failed jailbreak that went disastrously wrong. Prominent Fenians Richard O’Sullivan Burke and Joseph Casey were being held in the Clerkenwell prison. A barrel of gunpowder was placed against the wall of the prison’s exercise yard and set off with a firework, with the aim of blowing a hole in the wall so Burke and Casey could escape. Far too much gunpowder was used and the blast damaged a row of tenement houses on the other side of the road. 12 people were killed and up to 120 were injured. The prison authorities knew something was being planned, so the prisoners were locked in their cells instead of exercising at the time of the bombing, and Burke and Casey failed to escape. Although Michael Barrett was charged along with several others, he was the only one who was actually convicted of the bombing.

Engravings of the Clerkenwell bombing from the 'Illustrated Police News'.
Engravings of the Clerkenwell bombing from the ‘Illustrated Police News’.

The English language has many phrases which, when you actually stop to think about them, appear to be absolute nonsense. But when you start to trace it back, you often find a great story that explains it, and offers a tiny window onto Britain’s chequered past.

Sources and Further Reading

Anon. “Luddite.” Wikipedia. Last modified 7th June 2015, accessed 12th June 2015.

Anon. “Michael Barrett (Fenian).” Wikipedia. Last modified 17th December 2014, accessed 23rd June 2015.

Anon. “Mick.” No date, accessed 12th June 2015.

Webb, Simon. Dynamite, Treason and Plot: Terrorism in Victorian and Edwardian London. Stroud: The History Press, 2012.

Protest: What’s the Point?

When I posted a link to Reddit about the End Austerity Now demonstration in June I said it was a ‘big success’. Several comments reacted to this rather sarcastically with one asking if austerity is now over. Whilst I didn’t appreciate the tone of the comments, I realised that ‘what makes a successful protest?’ is a perfectly valid question. It is true that protests rarely bring about large scale change, but they serve other purposes too, such as raising awareness, recruitment, demonstrating solidarity and boosting morale.

Some of the comments I received when I said on the website Reddit that the End Austerity Now demonstration in June 2015 was a 'big success'.
Some of the comments I received when I said on the website Reddit that the End Austerity Now demonstration in June 2015 was a ‘big success’.

It can be difficult to find examples where protest has directly led to wide-scale change, although the 1990 Poll Tax Riots is one case where protest significantly contributed to change. It is much easier to find examples of protests that have led directly to small-scale, local change. For example, housing protest groups like FocusE15 and Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL) have managed to prevent an increasing number of evictions and long-distance relocations by London councils over the past few years. Looking further back, the female workers at the Bryant and May match factory in Bow, East London won themselves better working conditions and helped to kick start New Unionism when they went on strike back in 1888. These examples demonstrate that protest is not always as ‘unsuccessful’ as it is perceived to be.

Even protests that do not lead to direct change can be ‘successful’. For example, a protest can raise awareness of an issue amongst those who witness it and the wider public via media coverage. Fathers4Justice are a group that know how to garner publicity, as their tactic of scaling landmarks dressed as various superheroes demonstrates. As well as dramatic or comic stunts, violence can also increase press coverage, as happened in the student tuition fee demonstrations in London in late 2010. It’s a risk though, as violence can often alienate would-be supporters. On the 13th December 1867 the Irish Republican Brotherhood attempted a prison breakout in Clerkenwell by blowing up the prison wall. They used too much gunpowder however, and the explosion killed 12 people. The event became known as the Clerkenwell Outrage, and support for the Fenians in London, which had been quite strong up to this point, evaporated. Nevertheless, regardless of exactly how you go about it, protest can be an effective way of raising the profile of an issue you care about.

Fathers4Justice certainly knew how to get publicity for their cause.
Fathers4Justice certainly knew how to get publicity for their cause.

Linked to raising awareness, protests can also help with recruitment. Put simply, you can’t attract new recruits if nobody knows who you are. Protests get people talking, and provide the opportunity to win people over. After the publicity resulting from the fourth anniversary demonstration of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in 1936, which has since become know as the Battle of Cable Street, BUF membership spiked. Membership in London almost doubled, jumping from under 3000 to around 5000 (Tilles, 2011). Whilst this is not a positive example, it does show just how effective protest can be at attracting new activists to a cause.

Solidarity is a crucial concept amongst protest groups and social movements. Holding a protest, or attending someone else’s, is a good way of providing both practical and emotional support. The work of Lesbians and Gay Support the Miners (LGSM) during the 1984-5 miner’s strike, popularised by the 2014 film Pride, is a good example of this. The actions of LGSM not only raised money for the miners, but let them know that they were not alone. In return a delegation of miners led the 1985 London Pride parade, and voted for gay rights motions at Labour and TUC conferences (Kelliher, 2015). Protest can help build and maintain ties between diverse groups.

Miner Dai Donovan (played by Paddy Considine) explains his definition of solidarity to Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer), founder of LGSM, in the film Pride (Source: Pride, 2014).
Miner Dai Donovan (played by Paddy Considine) explains solidarity to Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer), founder of LGSM, in the film Pride (Source: Pride, 2014).

The final purpose that protest serves isn’t easy to pin down, but I think is best described as morale boosting. Being active in a social movement can be difficult and draining. It often feels as though you are putting in a lot of time and effort for very little return. Protests can provide a sense of accomplishment, of getting something done. They can also be fun; protests often have a carnivalesque atmosphere which provides the chance to relax and let go. Chanting a slogan at the top of your voice surrounded by tens, hundreds, or thousands of others who share your frustration and anger can be a wonderful feeling. It can be hugely helpful to be reminded that you are not the only one who feels the way you do, and this is rarely more obvious than at a protest.

There are several ways in which protest can be successful. It may well be that protests frequently fail to cause change, but this does not mean that they fail as a tactic for dissent. Protests also serve to raise awareness, recruit new activists, show solidarity and boost morale, and at these tasks they are very successful. Austerity may still be in place after the End Austerity Now demo, but I stand by my statement that it was a big success.

Sources and Further Reading

Kellier, Diarmaid. ‘The 1984-5 Miners’ Strike and the Spirit of Solidarity.’ Soundings 60 (2015): 118-129.

Tilles, Daniel. “The Myth of Cable Street.” History Today 61, no. 10 (2001): 41-47.

Experiences of an Inexperienced Blogger

To celebrate one year of the Turbulent London blog, I thought I would put together some of my top tips for blog-writing. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but over the past year I have learnt a few things about blogging. I have found it a really enjoyable and beneficial experience, and I want to encourage as many people as possible to have a go for themselves. So with that in mind, here are my top 5 tips for writing a blog:

  1. People ARE interested in what you have to say. One of the biggest problems I had when I started blogging was that I didn’t believe that anyone would actually want to read my writing. But the longer I’ve been blogging, and the more compliments I’ve had, the more confident I’ve become. Which is also great for my PhD, and my life in general. So if you’re hesitating about starting a blog due to a lack of confidence, don’t!

    Turns out people find protest quite interesting actually. This photo was taken at London Pride, on the 27th of June 2015.
    Turns out people find protest quite interesting actually. This photo was taken at London Pride, on the 27th of June 2015.
  2. Keep it short, stupid! Blog posts are not generally something people are willing to commit a lot of time to reading. I try to keep my posts to between 500 and 700 words. That way, they take less than 5 minutes to read, and you don’t get people not reading your posts because they’re TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read).
  3. Play to your strengths. I take a lot of pictures, and read a lot of books, so I use a lot of photos and review a lot of books in my blog. It just makes sense to do this kind of thing, because it saves me time, and I enjoy it! Think about whether there are any elements of your life that you could incorporate into your blog. If you’re doing a blog based on your PhD, there should be a lot of overlap anyway.

    I am a keen amateur photographer, and I use that as much as possible in my blog posts!
  4. Think about when to publish. I generally publish a blog post every week on a Thursday morning. I have a list of ideas for potential posts so I rarely get stuck on what to write, and I try to have a ‘back-up’ post ready in case I have a busy week and don’t get a chance to write anything. This way I can post regularly, which I think is more important than posting frequently. I try to publish my posts at about 8 in the morning, so that people will see the post when they are checking social media on the way to work/university, and read it whilst they are travelling. I know of at least one person who reads my blog on their morning commute, so it’s worth considering.
  5. Publicise! A blogger’s job is not over once a post has been written, it’s important to promote your blog if you want lots of people to see it (and trust me you will, the WordPress stats page is addictive!) I publicise every post I write on Facebook and Twitter, and I put links to specific posts on other websites depending on their contents. Think about who might be interested in reading your work, and how you can make them aware of your blog.
Turbulent London's daily viewing stats for June. Trying to improve your viewing stats can become addictive!
Turbulent London’s daily viewing stats for June. Trying to improve your viewing stats can become addictive!

So there you have it, the top 5 lessons I have learnt during my year of writing Turbulent London. Perhaps I’ll have another 5 tips for you in a year’s time!