Ria: Thoughts on protesting

I have a vivid memory from childhood, I am sat at the kitchen table, it’s a Saturday, I’m trying to do my homework, my Mum is ironing and the radio is on. I am 7 years old. I hear a news story about a man who has stolen some money in an armed robbery and he has escaped from the police, he is on the run. I am scared as I listen to this story. I remember thinking ‘if you can’t beat them join them’. I must have recently been introduced to this phrase and as steam rises from the jeans, I sit contemplating the idea of becoming a criminal for protection from other criminals.

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I was, without a doubt, a very scared child; I was petrified about being kidnapped and used to pray that I would make it to adulthood so that there was less chance of me being murdered.  ‘Crime Watch’ sent me into a hysterical hyperventilating mess and my Mum would often have to spend the night reassuring me that I wasn’t going to be murdered by whichever man was on the run that week. Images of sketch drawn criminals filled my head and I would imagine these characters to be hiding in our back garden waiting to pounce.

Jump forward 16 years, I have been travelling around South East Asia, I have sat for 35 hours on the pavement in Bangkok having my hair transformed into ropey dreadlocks. I want to change the world and I am determined that protesting and standing up for what you believe in will make a difference.

Four years on, it’s July 2005, I am in Stirling in Scotland at a protest camp, we are there for the G8 gathering; which is taking place at Gleneagles. The 8 richest countries are meeting to set the agenda for global politics, global markets and the fate of the poorest countries in the world.  I arrive, there are police all around. I park my car and attempt to walk into the camp. The police want to search me and tell me that I have to give them my name because I have a car. Fair enough. I tell them who I am and present my drivering license. The police are quite aggressive and forceful with me; I do what they say because I don’t want to be arrested.

Eventually I get into the camp, my mood slightly dampened, suddenly I feel like I’m doing something wrong. I talk to my friends about it, they say ‘that’s how the police want you to feel, they are trying to make you feel like you don’t want to be here’.  It feels like bullying to me and I feel like a victim, someone says ‘Don’t let yourself be a victim!’  So I think, almost convincingly, “Ok. I won’t.”

I start finding out about creative ways of protesting; I join some friends, we dress as Geishas, we stand in front of the riot police in long white dresses and smile peacefully, I feel uncomfortable.

The next day I’m with an even larger group of friends, we make a plan to sit on the road and stop some of the delegates getting to the G8 summit. We run across a field and as everyone else runs down the hill towards the road, I stop.  I stop because I can see lots of police and it looks scary.  I stop and I decide to climb a tree and watch what happens.

After this experience I decided that direct clashes with the police were not for me. I found a different style of protest, I joined a collective of artists called The Mischief Makers and started to create street performances to engage people with issues.  I went off to circus school where I developed a passion for making devised performances. Now many moons later I feel like I’ve come full circle and, through this, The Smallest Light, I’m hoping to be able to marry my passion for protest with my passion for performance, to find my voice and finally get down from the tree.  Creatively.

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