Thursday 10 February 2011

The Curious Case Of Sukey And The Bizarre Press Release

Activists really like the idea of solidarity, but it's easier to confidently talk about than to put into practice. How, for instance, is it possible to build and sustain solidarity without a common past, a collective memory? Without one it’s as if we’re always drawing a line under previous experience, resetting the clock to zero, starting afresh and then learning nothing.

Sometimes this is just very frustrating: the way, for example, that despite all the noise and fury that followed the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests in April 2009, his grieving family has been all but forgotten about after less than two years; or the impression given by some rightly-indignant student protesters at the end of last year that ‘kettling’ was something new and had been specially dreamt up by the police to frustrate their demonstrations. This lack of collective memory about previous campaigns and protests is clearly something we all share some responsible for, but completely clueless indifference to any sense of a common past is far worse than frustrating, it’s completely infuriating – and it was the people behind the much-publicised ‘protest app’ Sukey who made my blood boil yesterday.

Sukey is a clever idea – an online tool designed to “provide peaceful protesters with up to date protest news”. But in an ill-judged response to a largely meaningless ‘progress report’ on public order policing issued yesterday by the Inspectorate of Constabulary, which offers the far from startling revelation that the police are struggling to adapt to the growing ingenuity and internet-savvy of protesters, Sukey’s creators circulated a truly bizarre press release yesterday morning.

Using language seemingly lifted from the navel-gazing personal therapy movement, it offered to step in to help with delays in extra training for front-line officers by providing (this is not made up) “a safe room in which protesters and the police can meet as equals and work together to enable peaceful protest by sharing information openly and honestly”. It went on to claim that Sukey “coincides entirely with the police goal of preserving public order” and that, apparently, “the best way to prevent trouble on the streets is to restore faith in the ballot box and to restore faith in the police”.

Where on earth did this happy-clappy drivel come from, if not ignorance of anything that happened before the student protests in November? It’s only possible to still see confrontation between police and protesters as largely a ‘failure to communicate’ if you ignore heavy-handed containment tactics, unrestrained brutality and unwarranted surveillance at the G20, Gaza and Kingsnorth protests, or any number of other demonstrations over the last decade.

How else would anyone think that protesters can ever realistically ‘meet as equals’ with a massive, conservative and powerful state institution that can legally use force and coercion? How would you not know that “sharing information openly and honestly” isn’t always in protesters’ best interests If this closes down their ability to manoeuvre or that where it has been tried before (by Climate Camp at Bishopsgate, for instance), it has been the police who have broken their word?

There are a few – a very few – who take part in protests simply to fight with (and get arrested by) the police, but their presence isn’t a reason to try and naively appeal to both sides of the divide. After all, clever online tools like Sukey are supposed to benefit demonstrators and would be completely unnecessary if the police thought it important to keep their promises to ‘learn the lessons’ after their tactics have been repeatedly challenged in court and in the media. Moreover, the interests and goals of the police and of protesters at a demonstration never ‘coincide entirely’ – and to imply otherwise is a failure to wholeheartedly take sides with those who hold the least power.

Evidently I wasn’t the only one who was appalled today – the press release was subsequently retracted and replaced with a substantial (and less fluffy) rewording, although with all the disingenuous wriggling of a professional spin-doctor, Sukey’s Twitter feed claimed that their statement had simply been ‘clarified’. By then, it made already made its way into hundreds of e-mail inboxes and can still be read online.

All of which has made me seriously reconsider using the Sukey app. I wonder whether I really want to share my location details on Google Latitude with people who may be technically brilliant but whose political judgement – and sense of solidarity – seems incredibly immature.


Anonymous said...

Could Sukey even be an elaborate honey trap set up by the cops? Maybe they just slipped up a bit with their latest brand building attempt!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Hey Random

We're a bunch of politically active computer geeks operating on a shoestring budget with a passion for keeping us, our friends and our friends friends out of kettles.

We're not some faceless corporate with spin doctors reading every communication to make sure it can't be misinterpreted.

Kettling is a blunt instrument. And it sucks.

Our take is that the cops use kettling partly because they can and partly because they're so lousy at communication. We object to both of these excuses.

We're saying to the cops: Don't kettle - rather, send your messages out and avoid the escalation. You say you don't want to kettle. If you really mean what you say then prove it. Warn people you're going to kettle and warn them why. (added on edit:) And, cops, don't wring your hands and say we try to warn before we kettle but the protesters don't hear us. That excuse doesn't wash because we're offering you a way of getting your message out.

So far there's been no response to yesterdays invitation ......



Anonymous said...

You've got this one badly wrong.

Looks to me as though you value missunderstandings and lack of communication because they fuel physical confrontation with the police.

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