Will these political sentences backfire?

Posted on August 8, 2011 by | Comments Off

Two weeks ago a friend of mine went into York town centre to help collect petition signatures for Frank Fernie. He said it was a tough sell. Yorkies were sceptical.

Yesterday, I joined him on the first demonstration proper for Frank, and helped him with the petition. This time support came fast and easily. Things have moved on, and fast. This is good news for Frank; and for all of us. And I think it tells us something important about what stage our movement is at in the UK.*

The support I saw was intelligent and diverse. In the way they do, passers-by stopped being anonymous pedestrians and revealed themselves to be not little old ladies but old trade unionists; not vacant tourists but French activists on holiday; not wee scally neets but Frank’s old schoolmates; not steroid-pumped tattooed thugs but steroid-pumped tattooed concerned citizens with certain strongly expressed views regarding the police. Thus can a campaign over an individual engage a different cross-section through local community than one over a political idea.

I’ve not been campaigning long enough to see things reach this personalised stage before; but I wonder whether this is a universal pattern in the way a revolution brews. After an initial wave of unrest, activists who have been picked out by a politicised justice system galvanise exponentially larger circles of support.

The traditional disinclination of authorities to create martyrs is less a matter of politicial mysticism than of statistics. Say that for a purely political issue, the chance that someone I tell about an issue will go on to tell someone else is .2; so on average, interest in the issue peters out and activists have to keep driving it. But if a combination of personal and political drivers raises that chance to over .5, the issue promotes itself and interest naturally expands through the apathetic or unaware cohorts. In a small town like York that could mean literally everyone comes to engage in it; and with the local paper having taken it on as a cause, I think we’re getting near .5.

This is important for the wider campaign. If this chain reaction takes place, the entire population of York would, willy-nilly, have become engaged in altermondialist campaigning. And this is happening in towns and cities all over the UK.

So I now wonder whether the judges who hand down exemplary and politicised sentences really know what they’re doing. When calm and normality reigns, the population accepts the judge’s prerogative, or is at least impotent against it; but calm and normality do not now reign. The sentences are not cowing but inflaming. Crown Prosecutor Alison Saunders, dismissing the charges against the vast majority of the FM145 protestors, perhaps showed a better instinct for regime survival. When the second round of defendants appear in court on the 19th August, a wise prosector will be thinking of appeasement.

*Or in England, at least.

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