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When protests hit the news bulletins, the victim becomes the aggressor

cuts demo by Andrew Moss Photography, file at http://www.flickr.com/photos/andymoss461/5165679050/sizes/s/in/photostream/Our media portrays a strikingly Orwellian picture of dissent. The images on our TV screens betray only immediate physical violence; memorably, that of students launching themselves at the Treasury in the autumn of 2010. The comparatively marginal violence of the weak, with their makeshift tools that are unable to touch the foundation of even the symbol of the strong, is played on repeat, devoid of context; and rendered terrifying.

The tenacious structural violence (that inflicted through institutions), that precipitated such a reaction from the individuals it affects, cannot possibly be communicated via the neat packages of the six o’clock news. This far more potent violence, therefore, goes completely unrepresented. The real and severe harm it does is easily dismissed by the cheap soundbites of politicians, who talk of “mindless criminality”.

The “hordes” of students with scarves wrapped over their noses and mouths, in the dark afternoon news shots, will be seen as threatening and scary. But in fact, they are not the source of a threat, but the victims of one. Protestors cover their faces in response to dedicated police units’ routine databasing of protestors, a practice confirmed when The Guardian disclosed police attempts to spy on students at the University of Cambridge*.

Yet this reality does not lend itself to striking visual imagery. And rarely is it mentioned. Through the selective use of images, the victim is transformed into the aggressor, the aggressor seen as nearer to a victim.

It doesn’t stop here. Protest, and particularly violent protest, is often disregarded through the use of language. “Anarchist” is a term used to dismiss both the group and its members, transforming individuals with grievances into a braying mob of thoughtless, hate-filled automatons. “Anarchists”, intent on destroying everything the British public hold dear.

The media gives not the smallest nod towards the complexities of anarchism. “Anarchist” could never be a perspective on state power within political science. It is instead a word that serves to make the individual it is describing an inconceivable, strange, alien “other”. One who stands outside of consideration, rationality and civilisation. Plastered, with spitting venom, like a red flashing sticker over anyone who becomes too difficult, it delegitimises whichever group it touches condemning, not methods but, the very mindedness of their action.

As I prepare to attend today’s #copsoffcampus demonstration in London, I feel quite the cynic. Experience has led me to have no hope or expectation that my companions and I will be fairly treated by police. Nor can I contemplate the media (a) giving time to any unfair treatment, (b) documenting police incitement to disorder, or (c) giving the protestor’s side of the story.

I am demonstrating because of the violent crackdown on students’ rights to protest. I believe that protest must not be marginalised and outlawed; that freedom of assembly must remain, and the recent bail conditions handed down to multiple student protestors represent a slide into political censorship. That apparently arbitrary mass arrest as a means of crowd control is unethical. And that punching people in the face and throwing them to the floor is, at the very least, disproportionate.

Our cause is highly unlikely to be well represented in the media, but this is no reflection of its value.

Sophie T. Rayworth is a student, writer and activist.

*In one of the video clips featured in the article, the police officer asks his “informant” (Guardian mole) to record the names of those attending demonstrations.

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