Protest! Stories of Resistance

Thursday 25th May 
Written by Emma Hulme

Protest! Stories of Resistance. 

The title of the book is enough to start a debate. Let alone bringing together 20 well known writers and historians in one book, each with a story of protest to tell. This event saw three of those writers read some of their work and answer questions afterwards. It’s hardly shocking that the Q&A provided some lively discussion. However, maybe what is shocking is how our notion of protest has changed over the years. 

Stuart Ever’s story The Blind Light was about The Aldermaston Marches, we heard from Jacob Ross about the New Cross fire of ’81 with Bed 45 and Martyn Bedford read from Withen about The Battle of Orgreave.

As all good writers do so well, all three gave a human insight into their chosen field of study. Jacob Ross challenged the perception of BME communities writing from the perspective of a black female doctor treating the victims, immediately fuelling the fire in my belly about the injustices those young people faced. Bedford and Evers did the same captivating a small audience in tight room on a sweltering evening in May. 

Maybe it was the heat that tipped the debate from gentle discussion into fiery counter arguments. Or maybe it was Ever’s point about how he still joins protest marches even though he feels they change nothing. I agreed, but was then reminded sometimes it’s about the long game. I couldn’t help but feel these stories were about incidents that happened before I was born. That’s not to contest horrific injustices haven’t been faced since the mid-80’s just more that I don’t appear to have learnt about as many or the protests that followed. Of course, there is Hillsborough, knowing about that feels like part of my DNA but I struggle to think about many more. 

The media, or lack of it, also seems a huge thread throughout all the stories. Maybe that’s why now the noise protest makes can be drowned out so easily by all these countless outlets we have to fry our brains with nonsense. Maybe this is one of the reasons I feel I’m missing something, that change really feels so distant. 

That brings the debate back to the idea of physical protest and the audience discuss the biggest recorded protest march, Stop the War, against Britain going into Iraq. ‘What did it change?’ seems to be a question bandied about but I think that’s the wrong question to be asking. Maybe it should be where were the media? Or what did it enable afterwards? Or who felt empowered? I’m not sure. 

However, what I do know is that there is something about the ‘collective’, about people coming together, the downtrodden and the wronged rising up to fight against the powers at be. And it is that human element that these writers encapsulate so easily. The feeling of empathy was present in all these stories (along with anger too of course) and it made me realise how important Protest is. The coming together of people to fight against what they believe to be wrong. The search for truth and justice. Perhaps we are all protesting daily, maybe some of join the marches, some of us even riot but, in our own way, we all protest.