London’s Protest Stickers: Mainstream Politics

Protest has a complicated relationship with mainstream politics. Governments and political parties are frequently the targets of social movements and demonstrations, such as the recent Anti-government protests after the 2015 General Election. Political parties and politicians often appear as the subject of protests stickers. In London, the frequency of these kind of stickers increased in the weeks before the recent General Election. Generally, the streets of London did not agree with Britain’s voters.

There was a decidedly anti-Conservative tone of many of the protest stickers that appeared in the weeks before the 2015 General Election (Tottenham Court Road,  17/04/15).

There was a decidedly anti-Conservative tone of many of the protest stickers that appeared in the weeks before the 2015 General Election (Tottenham Court Road, 17/04/15).

UKIP also received a certain amount of criticism on the streets of London, although it then went on to win 12.6% of the vote (Gordon Street, Bloomsbury, 17/04/15).

UKIP also received a certain amount of criticism on the streets of London, although it then went on to win 12.6% of the vote (Gordon Street, Bloomsbury, 17/04/15).

This example, more of a poster than a sticker really, directly referenced the election (New Oxford Street, Holborn, 03/05/15)

This example, more of a poster than a sticker really, directly referenced the election (New Oxford Street, Holborn, 03/05/15).

These stickers criticized the electoral system as a whole rather than specific politic parties. They had been removed the next day (28/04/15).

These stickers criticized the electoral system as a whole rather than specific politic parties. They had been removed the next day (Borough High Street, 28/04/15).

A sticker calling for Muslims not to vote. Some argue that voting is polytheism, because no one has the right to make laws except God. The sticker has an official appearance, looking more like a warning sign than a protest sticker (Euston Station, 12/05/15).

A sticker calling for Muslims not to vote. Some argue that voting is polytheism, because no one has the right to make laws except God. The sticker has an official appearance, looking more like a warning sign than a protest sticker (Euston Station, 12/05/15).

This sticker, by the Anarchist Federation, is also calling for people not to vote, although I'm sure the motive was very different. This sticker was located on a bin, which might have been an attempt to equate voting with rubbish. Or it might have been a coincidence (Camden High Street, 20/05/15).

This sticker, by the Anarchist Federation, is also calling for people not to vote, although I’m sure the motive was very different. This sticker was located on a bin, which might have been an attempt to equate voting with rubbish. Or it might have been a coincidence (Camden High Street, 20/05/15).

The writing on this sticker has been removed, but the image of David Cameron with vampiric teeth gets the message across I think! (Borough High Street, 28/04/15).

The writing on this sticker has been removed, but the image of David Cameron with vampiric teeth gets the message across I think! (Borough High Street, 28/04/15).

This sticker, along with the next one, rank amongst my favourite stickers come across so far in London. Avengers: Age of Ultron was released in UK cinemas on the 23rd of April, so the reference is topical as well as humorous. (New Oxford Street, Holborn, 03/05/15).

This sticker, along with the next one, rank amongst my favourite stickers that I’ve come across so far in London. Avengers: Age of Ultron was released in UK cinemas on the 23rd of April, so the reference is topical as well as humorous (New Oxford Street, Holborn, 03/05/15).

Not to be left out, Nigel Farage also gets the Avengers treatment (New Oxford Street, Holborn, 03/05/15).

Not to be left out, Nigel Farage also gets the Avengers treatment (New Oxford Street, Holborn, 03/05/15).

This sticker also criticises Nigel Farage's party, using wordplay to warn of the dangers of complacency (King's Cross, 05/05/15).

This sticker also criticises Nigel Farage’s party, using wordplay to warn of the dangers of complacency (King’s Cross, 05/05/15).

This sticker is another criticism of UKIP, but it has been grafittied, accusing the person who made the sticker of bigotry (Regent's Canal tow path, Camden, 20/05/15).

This sticker is another criticism of UKIP, but it has been grafittied, accusing the person who made the sticker of bigotry (Regent’s Canal tow path, Camden, 20/05/15).

Many people are disillusioned with the current political system, and feel like the current political parties do not offer real choice. They all argue that there is a need for continued austerity, for example. This sticker is referring to that sense of disillusionment (Euston Road, 06/05/15).

Many people are disillusioned with the political system, and feel like the current political parties do not offer real choice. They all argue that there is a need for continued austerity, for example. This sticker is referring to that sense of disillusionment (Euston Road, 06/05/15).

This sticker refers to an entirely different vote, although the issue of Scottish independence was still an important one during the election campaign. This sticker is from the Yes Campaign, that argued for Scottish independence during the referendum in 2014 (Malet Street, Bloomsbury, 17/04/15).

This sticker refers to an entirely different vote, although the issue of Scottish independence was still an important one during the election campaign. This sticker is from the Yes Campaign, that argued for Scottish independence during the referendum in 2014 (Malet Street, Bloomsbury, 17/04/15).

Protest Songs at the Cambridge Folk Festival

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The Cambridge Folk Festival 2014 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This weekend, I went to the Cambridge Folk Festival for the first time. I had a thoroughly enjoyable weekend, but it also got me thinking. Due to my chronic inability to stop relating absolutely everything I do and see to the topic of my PhD, I started thinking about the role of music in protest and contentious politics. Obviously folk music has a long history, and is a time-honoured way of expressing  the whole range of human emotion, including anger, resentment and discontent.

Modern folk musicians play a key role in preserving traditional folk songs. Many bands and artists at the festival performed songs that have been around for a long time, and commemorated some of the more contentious periods in history. For example the Welsh band Calan performed a song about a fierce battle between the red dragon of Wales and the white dragon of England. The white dragon was soundly beaten, the song being a remnant of times when the relationship between the two countries was not quite as cordial.

Performers also used music to commemorate important figures in the history of protest. Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a South African choir, sung a song about the achievements of Nelson Mandela.  Music and song has been used for centuries to memorialise great people, acts, and events, and the tradition continues to this day.

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Pokey LaFarge at the Cambridge Folk Festival 2014 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

However the festival was not entirely focused on the past. Musicians used original songs to voice critique about the current state of society. For example Pokey LaFarge, an American singer, performed a song decrying the state of the American healthcare system. Before performing the song, he said that it was important to him that his opinions on the issue were ‘on record’, and perhaps in several hundred years the song will still be remembered and performed by other musicians like him. This also brings to mind more popular artists like Bruce Springsteen and Morrissey, whose politics permeate their music.

The aural is a factor which is frequently overlooked in human geography, although there are some who are trying to address that imbalance (see for example the work of Anja Kanngieser (http://anjakanngieser.com/). I think the archives are particularly vulnerable to a silent perspective on life, as our ability to capture sound is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the hushed atmosphere of the archive, it is easy to forget the sounds and noises that would have accompanied the events you are reading about. It is important to bear in mind that protest, and life in general, does not take place in silence, far from it in fact. Music and sound play a key role in protest, be it in the form of chants, political song lyrics, or simply just loud, upbeat music to lift spirits and get a protest noticed. The Cambridge Folk Festival reminded me that life is loud and music is powerful, and that is a lesson I will try to hang on to.