On an afternoon sometime in 1969, I took part in a march down Piccadilly in support of some cause I have now forgotten. But I have not forgotten that one of our chants was directed at those on the pavements:
Hey, Hey, Bourgeoisie, Hurry Home It’s Time For Tea
It did not occur to me that this might be the dream chant of an agent provocateur, aiming to deprive us of as much public support or sympathy as possible. No doubt there were bourgeois on the pavements of Piccadilly, but there were also – as there always are – shop and office workers, bar and restaurant staff, shoppers who had come into town, tourists, off-duty nurses and doctors … the list can go on. But we were sufficiently blinkered not to realise that the pavements were crowded with people no more privileged than ourselves and, in many cases, no doubt less so.
I did soon enough begin to have my doubts about demonstrations. Most of them came to seem to me pointless or perverse. Ineffective in achieving their objectives, even modest ones, and a waste of time for those who participated. Clearly, demonstrations make some people feel good. The same is true for nights in crowded nightclubs where you can’t hear anyone speak.
I am impressed by imaginative, alternative forms of protest, occasions when - for example -Greenpeace hangs splendid banners off high cranes. But marching up and down busy streets, causing general annoyance to people - except to the police who are counting their overtime payments – no, that’s strictly for idiots.