A little over a year ago, there was a feeling of momentum within what can loosely be termed as “the protest movement”. It was global, it seemed. The winds were blowing in our favour, and perhaps the underdog would finally have its day.
As we marched through London, we expressed this sentiment with a chant:
London, Cairo, Wisconsin! We will fight them, we will win!
At the time, we looked gladly towards our friends in far-flung countries. We allowed hope to rise in our hearts over the seeming revolution in Egypt, having watched the people struggle to overthrow a tyrannical government and succeed. We felt joy as we watched protesters occupy the Wisconsin State Capitol, thousands of people in a mass mobilisation against right-wing economic policy.
We felt solidarity. If we channelled Cairo and Wisconsin, perhaps we, too, could win.
A year later, how the tides have turned.
Egypt is a military dictatorship, with elections on the way which are unsatisfactory to many. Things are getting worse for many, particularly women who are subjected to “virginity tests”; regressive attitudes towards gender are on the rise. There’s still some fight in the women, thankfully, but these are battles they should no longer need to fight.
Meanwhile, the occupation we so admired in Wisconsin has now become a brand. We do not occupy space, we Occupy™ a tucked-away corner in a tent. As this happens, politicians pass laws signing away protections for vulnerable workers: Wisconsin’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act was quietly repealed with barely a peep.
And what of London? A lot has changed in a year. The summer riots were capitalised upon to expand the state’s ability to use violence. London is being carved up and plunged into an authoritarian nightmare in the name of a sporting event. Not a day goes past without news of another callous act by the government, so many that sometimes they will cover up one callous act with another, slightly lesser callous act.
London, Cairo, Wisconsin… all is lost.
We seem to have reached the Despair Event Horizon, and will continue to fall forever.
If we were a work of fiction, it would be at this point that a ragtag band of misfits would gang together and make a valiant last stand, and, against the odds, succeed. The music would swell, and the credits would roll as we all hugged each other, ecstatic tears streaming down our faces in slow motion.
In the stark reality of things, everything is as likely to end in tears, but probably not the slow-mo huggy kind. If we’re lucky, we’ll just be crying in frustration. We are confronted by the utter futility of our actions, dashing ourselves against the sheer walls of the cruel system. If history remembers us at all, it will be as a mote of dust causing a mildly irritating squeak in an otherwise slick machine.
Last year is currently remembered in a talismanic fashion: all of these magical things happening all over the world, and if only we could regain some of that vigour. The more savoury aspects are performed in a bid to cargo-cult a revolution that will never come. One by one, these little bubbles will burst until it’s all gone.
Despite all this, I have been conditioned by fiction. My heart still holds out hope for that rag tag band of misfits in our glorious final battle. Surely there must be some way to defeat the beast once and for all?
And perhaps there is. What it isn’t is a tired repetition of parts of the near or distant past. It will be something new entirely, this intangible soaring hope.
London, Cairo, Wisconsin. We are all the same.