Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Review of 'We are Many'

A nice but over-long documentary about the anti-war demonstrations of February 2003, dwelling on how big they were and how amazing it was that there was coordination so that multiple demonstrations were held across the world. Lots of talking heads from people that were there and helped to organise it, some nice footage of the demonstrations themselves, and a bit of analysis.

There was recognition that all this effort didn’t stop the war, but a sort of happy ending in that the strength of the movement made it too hard for Cameron and Obama to organise bombing of Syria in support of…who? Several talking heads were allowed to say that if only there had been more demonstrations – if we’d come back every week – then we would have stopped the war.

As with the demonstrations themselves, I ended up feeling flat and a bit despondent. I don’t really buy the Syria argument. I think there was a clear motivation for invading Iraq but there was a much weaker motivation for intervening in Syria, and that the West was relatively content with carrying out a weaker, less purposeful intervention. Also funny that Ed Miliband, who went out on a bit of a limb in opposing the bombing, gets no credit whatsoever in the film.

And I also think that in celebrating so much the size of the march, the film fails in explaining what marches are and aren’t for. Not just a failing of the film, of course, but of the entire non-Parliamentary movement. Going on marches is occasionally uplifting and gratifying (it’s nice to find out that there are lots of other people who feel the same as we do, and there is the sheer pleasure of being in a purposeful crowd, as there is for football supporters), but rarely effective. It bears saying that the most effective protests are those that trigger disproportionately violent crackdowns by the state, particularly when that becomes a PR or political disaster. And even those only lead to something when the political context means that the state cares how it’s perceived – the US during the Cold War was embarrassed by the way that southern police forces repressed Civil Rights marchers, for example, while China didn’t much care what anyone thought of what it did to the protesters in Tienanmen Square.

A well-planned peaceful demonstration that is arranged and co-ordinated in advance with the police, which causes minimal disruption to traffic and shopping, is not going to stop any wars. Complaining that politicians don’t pay any heed to them just sounds like whining. 

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