I realize that I am now on my third post about yesterday’s protest, which seems a bit excessive. But really, my life here provides fairly little exciting writing material—I read a lot of books—so when something dramatic happens, my mind starts racing. I have to put thoughts on (electronic) paper before I can go back to focusing on a fourth book of ethnographic research methods.
I’ve been to enough mass political rallies to be familiar with their inevitable script. The organizers pass out signs, and we march around, all the while yelling a lot of semi-clever call-response cheers. We end our trek at some major landmark—in this case, Trafalgar Square—and listen to an array of journalists, pundits, second-rate (but socially conscious!) musicians, and minor politicians deliver nearly-identical speeches about how big the crowd is and the unstoppable nature of people-power. We all feel inspired. Then we go home.
The nuances of being in a foreign country, as always, make things that seem stale in America exciting to me. “Socialism” is not quite the dirty word in Britain as it is in the states, evidenced by the ridiculous smorgasbord of political “parties” represented at the rally. There was the Socialist Worker’s Party, which has critical differences from the British Socialist Party. And no one would dare compare them to the Revolutionary Communist Party, which in turn had what I am sure are very significant ideological differences from the Communist Party Union of Marxist Leninists.
Personally, I can’t help but find it a bit amusing: someone actually asked me whether I saw myself as an orthodox Trotskyite or a neo-Trotskyite. At the same time, though, I came the rally with Oxford’s socialist group, not because I’ve been reading up on my Mao but because their group focuses on a wide array of issues that I care about. Frankly, after working on things like environmentalism and animal rights for a few years, it’s refreshing to hear people talking about wages, unions, and economic empowerment (even if it means I also have to listen to an occasional excurses on dialectics of material production).
And, of course, everything just seemed much cooler because, well, I was at an anti-war protest in London England. The route of our march was straight through the historical heart of the city, and the juxtaposition of an anti-war rally and monuments celebrating the great military victories of the empire was, to me, interesting.
The warm sense of community I felt from being among the activists, and my enjoyment at my exotic surroundings, was still not enough to make me forget that what we were doing was a tragic response to a tragic situation. During the rally, we chanted about how taking out the troops would “free” Afghanistan and would “stop the killing”; but, to be honest, I have no illusions that this would actually be the case. Withdrawing from Afghanistan would be a horrible thing, that I am sure would sentence millions of people to languishing under a theocratic and oppressive regime. Still, though, I grew up hearing my parents memories of the Vietnam era, and so I realize that sometimes the worst case scenario is unavoidable, and all you can do is acknowledge reality and save as many lives as you can. And that, sadly, is why I marched.