Michael Chanan's video blog: A Tale of Two Demos

FILM: What the mainstream media didn't show you on Saturday.

 

On Saturday I saw and filmed two demonstrations: the official march called by the TUC, culminating with a rally in Hyde Park, and the unofficial alternative, which spread out across the West End, comprising multiple autonomous groups and blocs.

This is what I saw on the streets, and then in the rushes (there were three of us filming: Philippa Daniel on the Embankment, Kaveh Abbasian in the West End, and myself, starting with the rally, thence to Oxford Street and down to Picadilly. This visible evidence is what has determined the shape of my editing. What emerges is not at all the picture seen in the mainstream media, which highlighted what they called violence (of which there was very little) and failed to report the positions taken by the speakers at the rally.

The difference between the two demonstrations as our cameras captured them is both cultural and political. The vast majority - what Ed Miliband at the rally dubbed the "mainstream majority of Britain" - are trade unionists who retain allegiance to parliamentary democracy. The alternative protestors, a very sizeable minority, are unorganised, disorganised, or self-organised, depending on your point of view, whose politics are a mixture of green, anti-capitalist and anarchist. On the fringes of the former are the old-style Marxists calling for a general strike. Among the latter are the practitioners of direct action, and what they call "creative civil disobedience".

The numbers were impressively huge -- a figure of half a million has been talked of -- and Philippa's Embankment scenes are colourful and vibrant. Hyde Park was thronging. So was the West End, but here the ambience was different. The rally was noisy but relaxed, the streets were noisy and carnivalesque. The common factor was mass noise-making as a form of taking over the space. This video is noisy - but it has to be.

Leaving the rally and walking down Oxford Street, I met a couple of young clowns who unbidden, told my camera why they were there. I missed the Artspace outside BHS, but Kaveh had been there. For my part, I saw a police snatch squad in action, and the big "Trojan horse" in Oxford Circus (which Kaveh also filmed a little later).

I am still trying to work out the symbolism of a Trojan horse carrying the legend 'TUC Armed Wing' being put to the flame, but this isn't violence, it's performance -- a form of street theatre that reclaims public space from the police and the surveillance cameras. If the official event was also of course a reclamation of the public commons, then what we see in the contrast between the two demonstrations, in their different ways of using space, is the state under pressure from different directions at the same time. Wedged in between are the police, who are now also a target for the cuts. What are they to think when a snatch squad provokes chants of "Protect Police Jobs"?

Marching down Regent Street alongside a well-drilled troupe of drummers, their beat echoing off the shopfronts on either side, made me momentarily think that Buenos Aires had come to London (except for the weather). In Piccadilly Circus, single lines of police were surrounded on both sides and didn't know which way to turn. (There's a video on YouTube which shows a bunch of them being kettled in a side street by protestors.) Walking down Picadilly, I reached Fortnum & Mason's just as it was being taken. It was shortly after this that the day turned nasty, as police in riot gear went into action.

What I saw raises a crucial question, and points to a political problem. First, the question of who makes up Miliband's "mainstream" -- does it include the potential voters not in the park but on the streets? In other words, those mainly young people who are not in trade unions and owe no allegiance to parliamentary politics, for whom insouciance and civil disobedience are a cultural as much as a political predilection. But they also have the vote.

Second, the problem of where the Labour Party stands in relation to the TUC, and the positions now being argued within the latter. Brendan Barber spoke of a Robin Hood tax on the banks, Ed Miliband of a bonus tax -- there's a difference. Len McCluskey asked for Labour MPs to join the trade unionists "on the barricades". Mark Serwotka called for "no cuts whatsoever" -- because the cuts are divisive, forcing us to choose between young and old, public sector and private sector, those on welfare and those in work. And he concluded with a call: "Imagine if we didn't only march together, we took strike action together across all of our public services."

This is what I saw and heard and this video tries to reflect, without prejudging the answers that will emerge over the coming weeks. Richard Leacock, the great documentarist and pioneer of direct cinema, who died last week, spoke of documentary as gathering data to try to figure out what the hell was going on. This is what I've tried to do here. I dedicate this little film to his memory.

Michael Chanan is professor of film at Roehampton University. His video blog documents the emerging anti-cuts movement and will lead to a full-length film. You can watch previous instalments here.

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.