At 16, everything was a protest. We protested the inequality of women with our wardrobes, dresses made of old curtains and charity-shop finds, hair cut with a Stanley knife, shaved our heads instead of our legs, disdained make-up and wore hand-knitted socks. Because it’s better to take control of your own weird, than be stuck with the weird people think you are, right?
At artschool, we wore our weirdness like a badge, alongside “Nuclear Power No Thanks” , “A Woman’s Right to Choose”, and “Paolozzi is God”. We protested enforced conformity, the dull limits of a predetermined future; you can’t trust a policeman, you can’t trust a journalist, you can’t trust anyone over 30. We thought we could change the world by painting it. We reinvented ourselves monthly.
Later, after reality kicked in, we marched, singing, handcrafted banners aloft and Bovril sandwiches in the backpack. We cycled round London protesting the bomb, dressed in radiation suits and Maggie Thatcher masks…
We delivered gigantic valentine cards to MPs, protesting section 28 and demanding the right to love whomever we chose…
We Funked the royal wedding at Clissold Park, in Demolition Decorators Tshirts and the blissful expressions of those who saw no hypocrisy in the street-party beanfeast we had just eaten. We hung red, white and blue underwear, Doc Martens boots and Che Guevara bandanas as bunting, and threw wet sponges at our neighbours, with their heads through holes cut into a seaside-photographer portrait of Charles and Di. Because every good protest is an excuse for performance art, right?
We partied at Pride, marching, whistling, hamming it up for the straight media, Bovril sandwiches replaced now by flasks of Pimms. We morris danced in Michelle Shocked hats and rainbow tshirts, falling down drunk in the women’s tent, falling in love as a statement. We thought we could change the world by making it happy…Party as Protest…
which , somewhere along the line, became party instead of protest. Because we have equality now, right?
Meanwhile: online, in the global village, the village people are asking for our help. But will petitions, rants, angry tweets and satirical videos, memes, and cryptic status updates with secret messages of support do the job? Will Cassette Boy save the world by laughing at it? Can we harness the power of the skateboarding goat and the Polish roadrage man to make us free? Because until we are all free, until every woman, every gay, black, disenfranchised, abused, unregarded…every person is free, then none of us is free.
I miss the marches, the bike rides, the publicity stunts, the grand gestures, the thousands of faces shining with zealous joy, the sense of family. I miss the here-and-nowness, the face-to-faceness of dynamically sharing all that creativity and harnessing it to some social good; I miss the stamina I had. I’m going back out there and take my protest off social media and into the streets. Join me…Because protest is important, but we also need to get our daily exercise, right?
Fin McMorran / Gateshead