In light of yesterday’s disorder during the 12th of July events, Jon Hatch, who recently completed his PhD in Theology at the Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin at Belfast, has written some ‘how to’ reflections on peaceful protest. He has kindly given me permission to post them here as a guest contribution.
One of the aspects that I appreciate about Jon’s post is that he takes the Orange Order’s claims that they want peaceful protest more seriously than the Orange Order seems to do. As he observes, ‘it suits the Orange Order to get shit fucked up. Violence gets you noticed.’
Like Jon, in some of my more depressed and cynical moments, I can’t help but reflect that violence and disorder does somehow suit various leaders/organisations/people within Protestantism/Unionism/Loyalism (PUL): it is a loud and messy way of getting attention (and maybe what you want). After all, who didn’t think that there would be riots after the parades commission decision on Ardoyne and the various calls by the Orange Order and Unionist politicians to protest?
Having said that, even without PUL leaders urging protest, there might have been disorder. I think we also always have to ask just how much ‘control’ the so-called leaders have over their so-called followers in these situations. Which to me means that leaders should watch their words even more carefully.
But over to Jon:
Jon Hatch on Orange Crushed, or: Developing Praxis in North Belfast
So, Here we are again…
Another 12th come and gone, another day and night of serious disorder, and another couple of dozen PSNI officers in the hospital and (just to change things up a little this year) an MP knocked unconscious by friendly fire…
The Orange Order, who urged their supporters onto the streets to protest the rulings of the Parades Commission, has now called off the protests, a day late and a lot of blood and money later.
The Order might reasonably be asking, what went wrong? Had they not called for peaceful protests? Had they not made it clear that civil disobedience was what they had in mind? Had they not told those who wanted to attack the police to stay away?
So what happened?
I’ve been involved with street protest for over a decade now, with the anti-war movement, anti-globalisation and anti-capitalist groups.This doesn’t make me an expert, but I do have some insights from this experience to share.
1: Have a Plan.
Organising an effective protest takes, well, a lot of organising- A LOT of organising. Get a hold of any decent history of the American civil rights movement or any other socio-political movement and you’ll see how much work it takes. What do you want to happen? What, in your mind, will constitute a successful action? What’s the message? Who’s involved with you? Are you all on the same page? Is it a legal protest? If so, do you have paperwork and are the police informed? Are you (or anyone around you) planning- at best- civil disobedience or-at worst- criminal activity? Do you all know the difference between those two things? Do you have a plan if you’re arrested?
Yesterday, the Orange Order had no plan. They called on their supporters to protest the Parades Commission rulings regarding the contentious parade in North Belfast past the Ardoyne Shops. They told their members and supporters not to abide by the Commission’s rulings. But they told them not to break the law or attack the police. What should they do? The Order said nothing specific.
This was never going to end well.
2: Don’t do anything when you’re angry.
Nothing. Zilch. Nada. An angry crowd does one thing and one thing only: fuck shit up. Telling people who are angry- and the Orange Order and every Unionist politician who could get himself in front of a microphone told us over and over how ANGRY everyone was- to get up and hit the streets is never going to lead to anything constructive. Now, lots of historic change begins with civil disorder. But no real social transformation starts to happen until people calm down and start organising (see point 1).
If your people are angry, UNLESS YOU WANT SHIT FUCKED UP,you make sure they stay off the streets. You issue a statement that says:
‘I know everyone is angry, so stay off the streets today and tonight. When we’re not angry, we’re going to plan our next move.’
It’s not very sexy and people who love to fuck shit up won’t vote for you, but unless you want a whole lot of people injured and arrested, it’s what you do.
But I think you see where I’m going with that: it suits the Orange Order to get shit fucked up. Violence gets you noticed. But it doesn’t lead anywhere constructive- certainly not in North Belfast, and if they haven’t figured that out by now, the leadership of the Orange Order is wilfully ignorant, truly devious, or spectacularly naive. On top of that, they were dangerously reckless with the lives and safety of others.
3: What’s the Next Step?
This is related to point 1, but it needs to stand on its own. This relates to one of my favourite things: Praxis. Praxis is an on-going process of reflection and action, followed then by more reflection and then more action. They need to go together. Reflection on its own is just navel-gazing and theorising. Action on its own is just, well, activism, doing stuff. But praxis is how progress happens. Reflection on a problem helps to analyse and crystallise the problem. Out of this, an action can be undertaken. After the action, we reflect again.What was accomplished? What was learned? What happened that was totally unexpected? How can we act better in light of what we originally wanted to accomplish and what actually happened?
If yesterday teaches the Orange Order anything it’s that a.) you shouldn’t reflect when you’re angry, and b.) you sure as HELL shouldn’t act when you’re angry.
But no use crying over spilled milk and wounded cops. They’ve acted, and now they must reflect. How did it go? What went well? What didn’t go well? What was learned? Are we any closer to the stated goal?
It is now 364 days until the next 12th. If the Orange Order doesn’t want a repeat of yesterday and last night, I’d suggest getting started on it soon. By all means, take the weekend, but Monday morning, get on it.
And if they’re interested, I can put together a reading list.
(Image: Woodvale Road flashpoint today at 6.30 am. Taken by Jon Hatch.)