The unseen participant is Trenton Oldfield who swam into the line of rowing boats during the yearly river Thames Oxford/Cambridge rowing competition on April the 7th this year and caused quiet a stir with his non-violent direct action. The Diamond Jubilee Flotilla of today would have been yet another excellent occasion for his daring protest swimming, but I failed to spot him in the live coverage by the BBC, yet in my mind’s eye I saw him courageously crossing the path of the ‘ship of state of the United Kingdom’… I am sure that Trenton Oldfield has been put under special surveillance during this River Thames event preventing him from participating. Apart from waving and cheering, the audience at such events is supposed to be not involved in the action.
I had made – in the beginning of April this year – a note of his personal web pages with his extensive somehow confused ‘manifesto’ “Elitism Leads To Tyranny” on the server of squarespace with the URL http://elitismleadstotyranny.squarespace.com/ , but his site had disappeared. If this is because of his own will or that of others, I can not tell. So, because I had neatly documented his ‘manifesto’ web blog (posted before his action on April the 7th 2012), I can reproduce the full text hereby for posterity. It does not mean that I do fully agree with his way of arguing, but as someone who has studied and documented ‘social movements and direct action’ for decades, I try to understand how someone choses a ‘social issue’, reasons his or her intervention, and what are the reactions. Trenton Oldfiled, worked in the tradition of the British ‘suffragette’ movement. The use of his own bare body as a weapon during an elite sport event, links to an historic action back in the year 1913 by the British suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, who threw herself during a Derby attended by the King before the king’s horse, an action that toppled the horse and the jockey and hurt herself so much that she died of the wounds. “DEEDS NOT WORDS” was the slogan of that time of the militant fighters for equal rights of women.
Trenton Oldfield does make a direct reference to the historical – catastrophic – action by Emily Wilding Davidson, he fails – though – to make a good analysis of the different meanings of that action at that time (*) and links it in too few words with the practice of what he calls “anti-imperialism activists and guerrillas” and the sabotage survival tactics of “trans-Atlantic slaves.” Nevertheless Trenton Oldfield was on my mind today and others may have had similar associations seeing the royal pomp of the Brits and thinking about what social realities are hidden by such spectacles and how someone swimming in the pathway of a Royal Flotilla would have been a refreshing addition. That is why I choose this day to republish his somehow clumsy manifesto to honour the River Thames Swimmer Activist of the year 2012.
ELITISM LEADS TO TYRANNY
THIS IS A PROTEST, AN ACT OF CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE, A METHODOLOGY OF REFUSING AND RESISTANCE. THIS ACT HAS EMPLOYED GUERRILLA TACTICS. I AM SWIMMING INTO THE BOATS IN THE HOPE I CAN STOP THEM FROM COMPLETING THE RACE AND PROPOSING THE RETURN OF SURPRISE TACTICS. THIS IS ‘PEACEFUL’ … I HAVE NO WEAPONS (DON’T SHOOT!) MY ONLY FEAR, IS NOT SWIMMING FAST ENOUGH TO GET IN THE RIGHT POSITION TO PREVENT THE BOATS.
PERFORMANCE UPON THAMES
This part of the River Thames is very well known to me having previously worked in the area. I have continued to visit it as often as possible as it is one of the London reaches I became most fond of, mostly because of its unregulated Wooded Tow Path, the expansive foreshore at low tides and the wildlife habitats in the adjacent Leg of Mutton Reservoir. It is a beautiful place, one of the more serene spots in London. Best to visit when it has been dry for a few days as the path can be very muddy and puddled.
Setting aside the compelling natural environment for a moment, this reach is also the site of a number of past and present elitist establishments; Fulham Palace, Chiswick House and St Paul’s Schools and a large collection of other ‘independent/public/free schools’. It is also where Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minster of the Government lives with his family, despite his constituents living hundreds of miles away in post-industrial Sheffield. Most notably and most importantly for today, it is a site where elitists and those with elitist sympathies have come together every year but one for the last 158 years to perform, in the most public way, their ambition for the structures and subsequent benefits from elitism and privilege to continue. (They even list in the programme which public school the rowers attended before Oxford or Cambridge)
The boat race itself, with its pseudo competition, assembled around similar principles of fastest, strongest, selected …etc, is an inconsequential backdrop for these elite educational institutions to demonstrate themselves, reboot their shared culture together in the public realm. It is also inconsequential to the performance that the overwhelming majority of the population continue to remain interested in their own lives and disinterested in the boat race. The boat race, while accessible to everyone, isn’t really advertised or promoted as something for the general public to attend, you know when it’s on because it is part of the social networking calendar. This is a public event, for and by the elites with broader social relations aims. The fact that it happens in the public realm (visible) almost exactly as it has done for the last 158 years also becomes important; the untouched; the unchanged is significant. Most standing alongside the Thames today are in fact the pumped-up though obedient administrators, managers, promoters, politicians and enforcers; functional, strategic and aspirational elites. The transnational-corpo-aristocratic ruling class (invisible) haven’t turned up today and would never consider doing so, despite the best endeavours of Bollinger, Xchange and Hammersmith & Fulham’s mayor.
HISTORY IS A WEAPON
When hasn’t elitism lead to tyranny? When hasn’t the belief of being ‘more’ than another person led to tragedy? Who benefits from elitism? One won’t be surprised to learn the etymology of the word ‘elite’ derives from ‘the elected’ … unfortunately not elected by democratic means, but rather, elected by god. Yup…‘elected’, ‘selected’, ‘chosen’ … by god … inherited. When has this understanding of oneself or by a group of people ever been a good thing? When has this understanding not resulted in tyranny? Is tyranny surely not the inevitable outcome? And in contrast, when hasn’t the pursuit of equality, not resulted in these long passages of tyranny being overcome, even if temporarily?
Everyone will remember some of their history lessons … where people have been taken advantage of by people that believe themselves somehow better, more entitled than another individual or group of people. Most recently this has included the enclosure and eviction from the commons, transatlantic slavery, imperialism and colonialism, fascism, holocausts, genocides and dictatorships and migrant labour camps. It is difficult to grasp, as many of us are still heady and have strong memories of the previous ‘boom’ decade, but we are in the middle of the early stages … or we have just about reached the precipice of another era of mass enslavement and the large scale enclosure of ‘Our Public’. What is happening in the UK, for example, is not ‘privatisation’ but a contemporary demonstration of full scale enclosure of Our Public. Couldn’t happen again … why not? Why wouldn’t something different but similar happen again? What policies, what institutions, exist to prevent something similar from happening again? What evidence is there that this isn’t happening? When did Our Public last experience an injection of its own readily available dose of agency and liberty?
To enclose and to enslave requires the audacity, cunning and daring to take advantage of our natural kindness, our belief in others, our respect for authority, our desire to please, and our apprehension about ‘causing waves’, our hope for all to have a better life, somehow. It also depends on our disbelief, despite having experienced it, that other people would purposefully set out to harm us for their own advantage. More recently we have also been encouraged, though the evidence displays the opposite much of the time, that a whole raft of institutions exists that work to prevent human catastrophes like our right to protest being denied, detention without trial or charge, the monopolisation of industries, and essentials like food and water. These institutions were established to prevent slavery, genocide, indentured labour and groupings of indices of deprivation and poverty from occurring. It is likely many in the western Baby Boomers generation (large percentage of the UK population), who have benefited so much from these institutions, are finding it very difficult to consider that these institutions might now be turning against them, their children and their grandchildren?
Could what is happening in the UK (and around the world); the state of exception with Olympics, the wholesale removal of countless civil rights, the project to create fear and suspicion of others, the transfer of our money into the vaults of a handful of corporations, the ongoing wars, the pomp and ceremony for unelected official anniversaries, the amazingly high unemployment, the devastation to public services such as health and education, the isolation of education due to high fees, the entangled corrupt relationship between the media, police and politicians, the racism, the increasing misogyny, the forced labour in supermarkets, the spying on our emails, skype calls, the control of food production and distribution and the reductions of tax burdens for the richest … could these all be best understood as the process of enclosure? Do we resist now setting out to avoid something akin to slavery and imperialism? Or do we hesitate and find ourselves and our children without agency once again and in a long battle to gain it again? How long might it take and how many lives might this demand?
There is a concerted effort to disintegrate ideas of Our Public; to atomise and divide us. Only yesterday did a British government minister suggest that citizens should ‘shop’ (dob-in) people they know to be organising or attending a protest related to the forthcoming Olympic Games. Along with the brutality the police and military are prepared to use against organised peaceful protestors, it seems it might be time to employ ‘little war’ / ‘guerrilla tactics’.
My swim into the pathway of the two boats today (I hope) is a result of key guerrilla tactics; local knowledge, ambush, surprise, mobility and speed, detailed information and decisiveness. There is no choice but to be apprehended in this action. I know this area very well and have planned the swim as best as I can, taking into account all the local knowledge I have gained over the years. Guerrilla tactics could be summarised as; ‘preparation, creativity, daring and attrition’.The aim of employing these tactics is to shift from being a ‘victim’ … of having things done to one, to being the ones setting the agenda, placing elites more and more on the back foot, increasing their costs, causing confusion, fermenting internal mistrust, creating embarrassment (a Tory’s worst nightmare?), frustration and manifesting a vulnerability. This will provide the time and space for an ongoing development of post-elitism, post-capitalist thought and debate.
Our current disorganisation and indirection is an advantage. In the past, guerrilla tactics have been employed by small groups of people. Today there is the opportunity to also undertake this alone, as an individual. Part of my inspiration for today’s action comes from a protest action that took place 99 years ago – when Emily Davison ran into Epson Derby race. On the 4 June 1913 Emily ran into the horse that the king had entered. She died from the injuries sustained from action. She was demanding rights for women. It was an individual act born of a political and philosophical position. This action is also part inspired by the anti-imperialism activists and guerrillas. This includes trans-Atlantic slaves who not only forced their freedom by revolting but undertook tactics of breaking tools, working slowly, acts of sabotage, feigning illness and maintaining their cultures. They found ways to continually undermine the system in small and large ways.
We all need to make a living and sometimes we do this by taking jobs we disagree with or find out are likely to detrimental to our children’s future. Being in these jobs also provides us with a great opportunity to employ civil disobedience and guerrilla tactics. It is the chance to match the personal and the political. Security guards are possibly in the best position. Examples of actions might include:
· Setting off Fire Alarms in buildings where we work, perhaps at strategic times, when a particular meeting is meant to happen that will agree the cutting of services, for example? (This action seems morally okay as all the emergency services happily deployed vast numbers to participate in the filming of a Bond movie the other weekend on Whitehall).
· If you work in a private company or government department that is helping enclose Our Public perhaps you could work slowly, make mistakes, loose documents, sending large documents to clog up email accounts?
· If you are a taxi driver can you take the passenger the slowest possible and most expensive route?
· If you are a plumber can you ‘store up’ a problem in the office of a conservative think tank office you have been called to?
· If you have a tow truck company can you park in front of Nick Clegg or David Cameron’s driveway, accidentaly? Could you tow their car away?
· If you ride a bike and it’s difficult to find somewhere to lock your bike (as bike racks are taken away), can you lock it the one of the corporate bikes which now litter our streets everywhere?
· If you clean the bathroom of someone that considers themselves elite or is an elite sympathiser, like a right wing professor, can you never put loo paper in their bathroom?
· If you work in a restaurant where elitists eat, can you serve the food once it is cold or cook the wrong food?
· If you are a builder repairing the house of an elitist can you also bug it and share the footage and audio online?
· If you are a pest controller and you are called to the office or home of an elitist or elitist sympathiser can you fail at destroying the pest and possibly introduce new pests?
· Can you take up the time of a ‘VIP’ you work for by arranging time consuming meetings, asking as many questions as possible? Can you make them late?
· If you work in a call centre, can you refund people and find the best discounts?
· If you are a student and attend a talk, can you challenge the professors? Can you take the stage and highlight to the audience the work they have done in contrast to academia?
· Are there networking events designed for the elites and their sympathisers where you could let off a stink bomb?
· If you work in audio-visuals for meetings/conferences could you put up the wrong slides, or turn the correct ones upside down and remove cables, rendering the equipment unusable?
· Could you plan your own government or council made up from people you admire and trust – in similar vain to Football Manager and publish it on the internet?
· Are there events like today’s boat race that you could do something similar to Emily Davison with? Is this possible in the lead up to and within the Olympics itself?
This is a special call to security guards. The elite depend on you the most. Without you they are nothing.
Copyright © 2012, TRENTON OLDFILED.
– The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide, 1866-1928 By Elizabeth Crawford has many references on the complicated history of Emily Wilding Davison and several pages can be read on line via GoogleBooks.
– Another good source is “A Suffrage Reader: Charting Directions in British Suffrage History By Joan Ryan, Laura Ugolini, also available on GoogleBooks.