Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Clothes to protest in

" Student protestors are ugly and badly dressed" - Tory Councillor Keith Mitchell

An odd, but extremely revealing comment. Protests offend Mitchell's aesthetic taste. He finds it ugly and in poor judgement.

And yet, I think Mitchell's comments are pertinent on two levels.

Firstly, the appearance of a group of people is important in communicating a cohesive and can amplify a political message. The above image, taken at the anti-Poll tax march is evidence of this, with Katherine Hamnett's slogan t-shirts portraying a distinctive and vocal image. Riot police are known to be chosen for their height and adorned with big helmets and a huge uniform to make them more intimidating. In the 1980s, the working class developed an aesthetic that would stand up to this brutish image- in the form of Doc Martens.

Secondly, Mitchell's comments are a reminder that in protest, the body is our last resort. Hunger strikers of course take this to the extreme. In Hunger, which is an extremely brave and powerful film about of the protest of Irish Republican Bobby Sands in the Maze prison in Ireland is a fascinating testimony to this. In one particular scene, the prison guards make the prisoners wear clown costumes to take the last piece of their dignity as they protested in the prison.

We should recognise therefore the use of clothing in promoting our cause. If, as the media is keen to suggest, the next few years will be seeing a surge of protest in response to the offensive budget cuts, shouldn't we be thinking of how to make our message most effectively seen?

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