I was there too
For many of us, the past month has been a time of looking back. There are loads of we soixante-huitards
keeping our teeth in a bedside glass and our minds in memory's mirror. Whether we still retain our youthful values is a matter of conjecture.
As Geoffrey Wheatcroft wrote
in the Guardian: A full "where are they now" catalogue of soixante-huitards would be most amusing, if unkind. Dany le Rouge is today an MEP unpopular with his fellow Greens for supporting military intervention in the Balkans and Afghanistan.
And many of our student revolutionary leaders are now on Labour's frontbench and staunchly defend the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, which I think may definitely be called an unforeseen outcome.
I didn’t know Dave back in 1968, but I do remember being, in March of that year, part of a massive demonstration of 10,000 people outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square which turned violent. I went with an old college mate, last heard of heading up the UK’s Charity Commission, and I got cleared out of the Square by a mounted policeman, which swept up Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull at the same time..
I took part in the much quieter Vietnam Vigil also in front of the US Embassy. This was the longest continuous demonstration that had yet been seen in the UK - way over a year. Folk dropped in, and wandered off to work, returned and again had their portrait taken by the resident CIA staff photographer on the roof. I’m convinced that this is one reason why I couldn’t go to the States, where my sister was nursing, until 1983.
I took part in many demonstrations during my time(s) in London. Anti-Apartheid, Anti-Nuclear, Pro-A Woman’s Right To Choose (Abortion), Pro-Civil Rights, Pro-Union, Housing For All, and yet more, and enjoyed the solidarity and repartee.
I recall only the one turning violent. Others were good-natured. Here in Indonesia, like Rip Van Winkle, many have awoken from slumbers to take a look back at what were once hopes and dreams. The country has been 'celebrating' 100 years of National Awakening, whose progenitors can have had no idea of how much their dreams have have turned into nightmares. Still, those of us who were here a mere 10 years ago probably harbour faint hopes that the cry of 'reformasi
' may still have some relevance.
We are now again witnessing demonstrations in Jakarta. I may not necessarily agree with the protests against the reduction of fuel subsidies, but, hey, I have to agree with the rights of the citizenry to demonstrate their commitment to a cause. Editorials which criticise the burning of tyres as if causing traffic jams is a new phenomenon in Jakarta are plainly self-serving and hypocritical.
However, I do wish that students would use their imaginations when trying to capture public support for their causes. Do the students erecting barricades of burning tyres and, regretfully, hurling molotov cocktails at police forces have a sense of their possible impact on local history?
It is also disappointing that certain student groups are adopting cliché-ridden language. The National Liberation Party Of Unity (PAPERNAS), in their blog
, include Anti Neoliberal-Imperialism and four 'Movements', along with International Solidarity, as subjects they write about, in good English I must say.
Protesters need to put a smile on people's faces if they are to capture public support for their causes. This happened this past week in Surabaya where, in protest at the fuel price rises students lent bicycles to passers-by. Nice one.
The question is, of course, will there be a couple of old Indonesian fogeys in 2048 reminiscing about the demos they took part in this year. The following are some of my memories.
In January 1974, homeless protesters occupied Centre Point to highlight the housing crisis in London. The 35-storey tower, built on Tottenham Court Road between 1963 and 1967, remained empty and unused for years after its construction. Intended as office space, the building stood for many as a symbol of greed, since the owner kept it empty waiting for a profitable single tenant rather than letting it out floor by floor to commercial or residential users.
A high-profile campaign to re-house the local residents lasted 17 years. The Georgian houses surrounding the square were threatened with demolition, and the residents with eviction, to make way for office property developments. The campaigning involved tenants, squatters and community groups against Camden Council.
On 30 April 1978, thousands gathered in Trafalgar Square for an anti-Nazi rally. People were responding to a rise in racism that had been encouraged by such organisations as the National Front. The crowd marched from the West End through to Victoria Park, Hackney for a concert staged in the name of 'Rock Against Racism'. Performing there to an estimated 100,000 people were The Clash, X-Ray Spex, Steel Pulse and Tom Robinson.
(I recently reminisced about being there.)