The Occupy London Stock Exchange movement is gaining a following despite the relatively ‘more newsworthy’ stories that have taken precedence. Similar protests have cropped up around the world with London now joining in. We all know that voting is not the only way to take part in politics, with joining a non-government organisation, writing a letter to your MP and boycotting goods all being examples of political participation without having to go to the ballot box.
Protests are arguably the most high profile form of political involvement independent of voting, with a smorgasbord of protests taking place over the past decade. These include the 2003 march opposing the Iraq War, the Make Poverty History demonstrations of 2005, and last year’s student protests. Although these protests aroused fervent interest within the general public – the march against the Iraq war was the largest peacetime protest in the UK – all are noted for their eventual failure. Unfortunately we did go to war in Iraq, there is still widespread poverty, and students are facing tuition fees of up to £9000 next year. This is hardly a great outlook for the campers at St Paul’s Cathedral, yet there they are, determined to stay and get their justice for the ‘99%’. What I want to know is what makes an individual partake in something that seems so futile?
I would argue that it is hope. Many citizens have lost faith in government, the political system and even religion, so have now turned to hope in the human condition; that pulling together for a common cause can achieve just as much that any government can do. Besides, there are some protests that have worked. The Poll Tax Riots of 1990 brought an end to the unpopular tax and the Fuel Protests of 2000 gave the government the fright of their lives. Although the Occupy London protests lack as clear an objective as previous ones, only time will tell if these protests will be the latest in a long line of letdowns.