Last weekend I was out on the Royal Mile preparing for a Geographies of Protest walking tour for the third year students. It just so happened that I witnessed a protest organised by Extinction Rebellion whilst I was out and about. The protest was in two parts: the first was an animal die-in in West Parliament Square, and the second was a march down the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle to the Scottish Parliament. It is always interesting to witness a protest first hand, and this was no exception.
In the summer of 2019, I was lucky enough to spend 3 weeks travelling around Australia and New Zealand with my sister. As usual, wherever I went I kept an eye out for protest stickers, and the Antipodes did not disappoint. The first city we visited was Sydney. Founded in 1788 by the British as a penal colony, it is now Australia’s largest city.
At the time of writing this blog post in early September 2019, there appears to be no end in sight to the protests which started in Hong Kong in June. The spark which lit the tinder was a proposed extradition bill which would make it easier to transport people from Hong Kong to mainland China for questioning and trial. People in Hong Kong do not trust China’s justice system to be fair and impartial. Under pressure from protests whose intensity seemed to take everyone by surprise, the Hong Kong government shelved the extradition bill. This did not end the protests however, as the bill had tapped into a deeply held fear among the people of Hong Kong. Since being returned to China by Britain in 1997, residents of Hong Kong have enjoyed a lot more freedom than citizens of mainland China do, and they protect this freedom fiercely. For the protesters, the extradition bill was just one part of a much broader attempt to strip Hong Kong of its cherished freedom, and they are not willing to give their special status up without a fight. Over the last few months, protesters have clashed with police around the city.
At the start of August 2019, I visited Melbourne in Australia, and I was quite surprised to find a wall full of messages expressing solidarity with, and seeking support for, the protesters in Hong Kong. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been: Australia has strong connections with China. China is Australia’s largest trading partner, and in 2017 there were 500,000 Chinese-born migrants living in Australia. Melbourne is known for its cosmopolitanism, and the city’s Laneways (alleys) are famous for edgy street art, shops, bars, and restaurants. The most famous for street art is Hosier Lane; it has become a popular tourist attraction. The solidarity wall is at the bottom of Hosier Lane, near the junction with Flinders Street.
The wall is made up of posters calling for support and explaining what is happening in Hong Kong, and post-it notes with messages of solidarity. It feels spontaneous, but it is actually the result of a piece by Chinese artist Badiucao. He created a piece of street art featuring Chinese leader Xi Xingping and Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam, then invited people to add their own messages of solidarity. A box of post-it notes and marker pens has been left so that visitors can add their own messages. This practice has become known as ‘Lennon Walls,’ which have appeared all over Hong Kong during the protests. They are now springing up elsewhere, including Toronto and Tokyo. The original artwork of Lennon Wall for Hong Kong can just about still be seen in the above image: it is the black text on the white background peeking out above the post-it notes.
I spent a little while watching other visitors interact with the wall. Many had little interest, others seemed to be interested in finding out what all the fuss was about, and some, particularly those who appeared to be of Asian origin, seemed quite moved by the outpouring of solidarity. I would be curious to know if this message of solidarity reaches protesters in Hong Kong however: do they know how much support they have in Melbourne?
It is very important to the protesters in Hong Kong that people around the world know about their struggles and understand them, which is one of the reasons they have targeted Hong Kong International Airport over the summer; a controversial tactic which risks alienating travelers instead of convincing them that the cause is just. The Lennon Wall suggests that the message is getting through, however. It gives a strong sense of solidarity and obviously means a lot to people from Hong Kong. It also highlights the obvious overlaps between street art and resistance; a subversive medium to begin with, street art is an obvious companion to protest.
Sources and Further Reading
BBC News. “Hong Kong Anti-Government Protests.” Last modified 3rd September 2019, accessed 3rd September 2019. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/c95yz8vxvy8t/hong-kong-anti-government-protests
Clark, Helen. “Should Australia Fear an Influx of Chinese?” This Week in Asia. Last modified 30th July 2017, accessed 3rd September 2019. Available at https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/geopolitics/article/2100798/should-australia-fear-influx-chinese
Dalziel, Alexander. “Post-it Protest in Support of Hong Kong Backlash over Extradition Plan.” The Age. Last modified 20th August 2019, accessed 3rd September 2019. Available at https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/post-it-protest-in-support-of-hong-kong-backlash-over-extradition-plan-20190720-p5293c.html
Sydney Morning Herald. “Chinese Political Artist Badiucao supports Hong Kong Protesters with Hosier Lane ‘Lennon Wall.'” Last modified 20th July 2019, accessed 3rd September 2019. Available at https://www.smh.com.au/world/chinese-political-artist-badiucao-supports-hong-kong-protesters-with-hosier-lane-lennon-wall-20190720-h1ge99.html
Brian W. Lavery. The Headscarf Revolutionaries: Lillian Bilocca and the Hull Triple-Trawler Disaster. London: Barbican Press, 2015.
Whenever I move to a new place, I like to find out about its history, particularly its radical history. I recently moved to Hull in east Yorkshire, and one of the most famous episodes of protest in the city’s history took place in 1968. In early 1968, three trawler ships from Hull were lost in the Artic ocean in the space of just a few weeks. All three crews were lost, apart from one sole survivor. For some women in Hull, this was a tragedy that could have been avoided with better equipment and more stringent safety checks on the trawler ships, and better training for inexperienced crew members. The women started a campaign which captured national attention, won concessions from the ship owners, and changed government policy. They were largely pushing against an open door, but they did face hostility and criticism, including from some trawlermen who didn’t like women interfering in their working lives. The women became known as the Headscarf Revolutionaries because of their distinctive headwear. In The Headscarf Revolutionaries: Lillian Bilocca and the Hull Triple-Trawler Disaster, Brian W. Lavery tells the story of the campaign, the women involved, and the men who lost their lives on the St. Romanus, the Kingston Peridot, and the Ross Cleveland.
Lily’s Headscarf Revolution may have been a naïve one. But it was a powerful action from the heart that caught the imagination of the world and shamed an industry and a Government into action. Hands that rocked the cradle shook the world and changed it for the better.
Lavery, 2015; p.190
I was not surprised to find out the Brian Lavery has training in both journalism and creative writing. The Headscarf Revolutionaries is incredibly well-researched; it seems like Lavery interviewed almost everyone who is still alive and had any involvement in the campaign. Virginia Bilocca-McKenzie, is the daughter of Lillian Bilocca’s, who kickstarted and was one of the key leaders of the movement. Virginia obviously had significant input into the book; multiple conversations between her and her mother are included. Many sections of the book feel more like fiction than non-fiction; it is much more descriptive that many of the other history books I read. It is an effective approach, particularly the section near the beginning in which some of the men on the crews of the doomed ships say goodbye to their families and head out to sea for what the reader knows is the final time.
There are some elements of Lavery’s writing style that I am not so keen on, however. He has an odd way of using commas that I found irritating. It’s not necessarily wrong, but there are lots of commas in places where I wouldn’t put them, which I found distracting. Also, some details are repeated in a way that felt unnecessary. These are minor issues in what is otherwise an excellent book, and I guess it isn’t Lavery’s fault that I am quite pedantic when it comes to grammar and style; I blame it on all the undergraduate marking I do.
The Headscarf Revolutionaries is about a local tragedy which sparked a campaign which had national implications. It shines a light on both labour and gender relations amongst Britain’s working classes in the mid-twentieth century, and as such has a much broader appeal than those who are just interested in local history.
Since austerity began a decade ago, people in all forms have employment have had to endure a fall in their working conditions. Issues include reductions in pensions, reductions in pay, increased workload, and the rise of zero-hour and fixed term contracts.
There are a number of groups that campaign for improved working conditions and better wages. Most of them are unions, although working conditions and wages are also the concern of campaign groups and social movements. Unions range in size; from the very large and powerful, such as Unite and the National Union of Teachers, to the small and specific. Many unions in the UK are part of the Trades Union Congress, which offers support to unions and campaigns for the rights of working people. Many of these organisations can be found amongst the work-related protest stickers on London’s streets.
To see where I found these stickers, check out the Turbulent London map.
As part of my thesis revisions, I had to read as much academic research on the historical geographies of protest as I could get my hands on. To keep track of it all, I made a database using Zotero, an open-source referencing programme. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Zotero is a wonderful free-to-use (unlike EndNote or RefWorks) referencing software that I have used to keep track of all my academic reading since I started my PhD. It occured to me that I might not be the only person that would find this list useful, so I have made it publicly accessible. You can view the database here. Each book or journal article is tagged with key information such as the time period and location of case studies, as well as key themes, ideas, theories, and thinkers addressed.
I will keep adding to the list as I find more. I am sure that I have missed things out too, so please do let me know and I will add them in. For example, the list is quite Anglo-centric so far, it would be great if we could get some more references about non-English speaking places. Or even some literature that is not written in English! I would really like this to be a resource that lots of people both contribute to and benefit from, so please do get in touch if you have something to add.
The Protest Memory Network is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and brings together archivists, curators, activists, artists, and researchers to think about how memories of protest are preserved, materialised, recirculated, and utilised. The Network is organising three workshops and a conference between 2018 and 2020, amongst other things. I was invited to take part in the first workshop, on the subject of Researching Protest Memory, at the University of Sussex on the 30th and 31st of May 2018.
The workshop was a combination of paper sessions and workshops exploring the methodological opportunities and challenges of researching such a broad and frequently intangible topic. A whole range of research methods were discussed, ranging from the conventional (oral histories, archival research, mapping, social media analysis) through the creative (film making and artistic engagements), to the rather unconventional (embroidering interview quotes onto handkerchiefs and baking them into empanadas). My contribution was a paper on my work on protest stickers.
We had workshops run by: the TAG Lab, (Text Analysis Group), which conducts research into the analysis of text and language by computers, and applies it to social media and other forms of communication; the Business of Women’s Words project, which explores feminist publishing in the UK during the 1970s and 80s; and the Mass Observation Archive, which is a fascinating collection about everyday life in Britain in the twentieth century. The workshop was also supported by the Sussex Humanities Lab, which looks at the ways in which digital technologies are shaping society and culture. Over the two days, I was reminded of just how many options there are when it comes to selecting a research method, and the importance of considering your options when embarking on a research project, rather than just falling back on what is easy or familiar. The workshop was a chance to learn about unfamiliar methodologies in a supportive environment, where I didn’t feel stupid asking potentially obvious questions.
Invariably, it is difficult to think of research methods without also thinking about research outputs. Over the two days, the topic of research outputs came up often, particularly in terms of how to make research more accessible and engaging for those outside of academia. The alternatives that came up ranged from working with cultural partners such as museums and libraries, to creative outputs such as documentary films and even board games. On the Tuesday evening, we were treated to a radical history of Brighton walking tour. It was fantastic, if a little fast-paced, and highly informative; I learnt a lot even though I have lived in Brighton for most of my life. There are a number of researchers who make use of walking tours as a form of public engagement, and I think they are a great way of
I have written before about how much I value the academic communities I am a part of (see Parts 1, 2 and 3), and the Researching Protest Memories workshop was a nice reminder of that. It was much smaller than most of the conferences I am used to (20-30 people), which meant I had a good chance to get to know everyone and their work. I came away feeling like I was part of a new (to me) academic community of supportive, creative, and energetic researchers, and as far as I’m concerned, the more communities I am part of, the better!
I don’t think I would be alone in saying that the Researching Protest Memory workshop was a resounding success. I went home exhausted, but with my head buzzing with thoughts and ideas. I would like to thank the Protest Memory Network, particularly Pollyanna Ruiz, for organising the workshop and inviting me to participate.
For the past year or so, I have been living in my home city of Brighton. As a place with a general anti-authoritarian vibe, the city has a pretty lively culture of radical street art and protest stickers. I have featured Brighton’s protest stickers on Turbulent London before, but now I’m living in the city again I’ve decided to do some more blog posts on the topic. Electoral politics often feature in protest stickers, mostly as the target of criticism. Occasionally, however, stickers are supportive of mainstream political parties, particularly Labour. Perhaps because Brighton regularly plays host to the Labour Party annual conference, quite a few of the protest stickers in the city relate to mainstream electoral politics. Below are some of the stickers that I’ve found on my various wanders around the city.
On my trips to New York City (in 2015 and 2016), I have scoured bookshops looking for a history of protest in the city, assuming that there must be one. After all, there are at least two books about London’s turbulent past. Whilst there is lots of great research about dissent in New York, there has not been an overarching survey–until now. Next year, a book will be published not just about the history of protest in New York, but about the historical geography of protest in the city. Revolting New York: How 400 Years of Riot, Revolt, Uprising, and Revolution Shaped a City began as a project by Neil Smith with some of his post-graduate students at the City University of New York. When he passed away in 2012, Professor Don Mitchell took over the task of editing the collection, and it is finally being published next year. As you can imagine, I’m quite excited about it, whilst also being a bit frustrated that I didn’t get there first!
Last week, Professor Mitchell gave a lecture about the project at Queen Mary, University of London. I went along to find about more about the project. Mitchell used various examples to demonstrate the strength of the relationship between dissent and the material landscape. We tend to view demonstrations, riots, and other expressions of dissent as unusual events, but they are actually very common, particularly in large cities like London and New York. It is actually more uncommon to have a peaceful period.
Mitchell started the lecture with an in-depth look at a decade of bombings in New York, culminating in anarchist Mario Buda’s attack on Wall Street on the 16th of September 1920 (I have written a review of Mike Davis’ excellent book about this bombing’s part in the early history of the car bomb here.) The bombings contributed to the deindustrialization of New York, as the small-scale manufacturing and transport networks that produced and planted the bombs were driven out of the city. Finance, insurance, and real estate came to dominate the city’s economy. In attempting to strike a devastating blow against the bankers of Wall Street, Buda inadvertently helped them tighten their grip on New York.
Mitchell used this narrative, and others, to argue that “landscape is power materialised.” Whilst this is not a new argument, Revolting New York applies it in a new context. Space is produced through social struggle, the result of constant negotiation and conflict between groups with different visions for that space. Protest is just one form that this process takes. As such, protest shapes and reshapes the city you see when you look out the window (apologies to those of you who are not currently in a city!)
The lecture was an introduction to the Revolting New York project, outlining it’s history, structure, and key arguments. It is particularly exciting for me because of its parallels with my own work on London. The book will be affordable too, less than £25 for the paperback, so hopefully it will help bring historical geography to a wider audience. I for one can’t wait to read it!
A common side effect of academia can be moving around a lot. For the first 2 years of my PhD I lived in London, and I am now back in my home town of Brighton, but for a year in between that I lived in Haywards Heath, a semi-rural commuter town on the London-Brighton train line in Sussex. Like Egham in Surrey, it is not the sort of town where you would expect to find protest stickers. It is not the sort of place where you expect to find any alternative politics, to be honest. Nevertheless, I did find protest stickers, although not all of them promoted the left-wing, progressive politics that I normally expect to find.