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Home > Reviews > Protest: Britain on the March

Protest: Britain on the March

Author Mirrorpix

ISBN No 9780750990721

Review date 10/07/2020

No of pages 144

Publisher The History Press

Publisher URL https://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/publication/protest/9780750990721/

Year of publication 15/08/2019

Brief

Our Review

price

£ 12.99

So often, in history, there is nothing new under the sun, even when things change utterly over time and even well within living memory; and so it is with protest, judging by Protest: Britain on the March, another enjoyable and thought-provoking collection of newspaper photographs from the Daily Mirror archive by Mirrorpix, published through The History Press.

Protesters in past times may have been more formally dressed than their more casual 21st century counterparts; such as Michael Foot with walking stick leading an anti-nuclear march from Aldermaston to London in early CND days; by contrast Arthur Scargill is wearing a baseball cap and an open-necked shirt as a policeman arrests him at Orgreave during the miners' strike in 1984 (pictured). Although the picket line was not as gentlemanly as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Whatever the setting, there's always been a choice the protesters have faced; whether to turn violent, or to use other weapons - such as theatre, humour, even farce, to get their point across. Thus at the very start of the collection, we see a anti-war protest over the Suez Canal in 1956; two people are evidently inside a camel costume, captioned on their side 'The Tories give us the hump'.

The tactics are the same across decades because there are only so many things you can do to protest; seek to make your numbers count in a central place, such as Trafalgar Square; or a 'human chain' outside Greenham Common in the 1980s; to hold a candle-lit vigil (which can make for a striking and intimate photo) or a sit-in or even a fast outside a symbolic site (not as photogenic). Banners on a march make for 'good' (in the media sense, interesting) pictures, whereas a speech does not.

The book brings out the relationship that protesters have with the mass media, because protest movements have known all along that publicity (favourable to them ideally) is important, even paramount, for their cause of get there, especially if it's a minority cause.

On that score, while the photographers are anonymous, the book also gives us a window into the thinking by the photographers; what they are looking for, to take a picture worth printing in the newspaper; it helps if someone famous is on the march; or if someone shows emotion that can be captured. Protesters have been savvy to what the media want for a long time; consider the chapter on the suffragettes, who are pictured in a hot-air balloon with megaphone and leaflets, that they hoped to use to disrupt the opening of Parliament, in 1909. It all begs the question; does any protest make a blind bit of difference, apart from filling news pages, and helping to sell newspapers and gratify the egos of protesters, particularly their leaders?

Whether the causes are political or environmental, the book covers the decades and the issues; Rhodesia (in white minority rule years), racism and civil rights, equal pay for women; abortion (for and against); clause 28 in the 1980s, issues domestic and foreign; and fracking, and Brexit to the near present. Some things have changed drastically with the years; while demos may fall into chaos, police uniforms and equipment have changed greatly. Certainly police looked better equipped by the miners' strike. So have the things protested about, which is salutary to see; for instance, LSE students protested in 1969 against the installation of security gates, 'which they claimed made the school look like a concentration camp'; surely a cause that would not bring a second glance these days.

The book closes with quite a static picture; of prison officers (men and women), who walked out in 2018 over violence in their jail, at Lewes in east Sussex. As that shows, protest in Britain endures, not only because there's plenty to get wound up about, but because protest can be by anyone, not only the 'usual suspects' the young and angry (and angry young).

Also new in the same series: Criminal Britain.