Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Spotlight
10 June 2020updated 03 Aug 2021 12:36pm

The power of protest videos

Activists toppling the Edward Colston statue in Bristol makes for moving footage. Better than comfort, it offers hope.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

The world today is a terrifying place. Usually, when overwhelmed, I turn off my phone and turn on a Jane Austen adaptation. For me, they are familiar, funny, safe and cathartic – as Mrs Jennings says in Emma Thompson’s Sense & Sensibility of weepy Marianne: “Better let her have her cry out and have done with it.” Earlier in lockdown, I watched all six hours of 1995’s Pride & Prejudice, blew my nose, and promptly started it again. Cry, rinse, repeat.

Now, retreating into box sets seems woefully inappropriate, as we see daily evidence of the undeniable racism that permeates society, and the brutality shown to those who stand up against it. Comfort watching doesn’t cut it.

But one video has moved me. Better than comfort, it offers hope. It is the footage of Black Lives Matter protesters in Bristol toppling the statue of slave-trader Edward Colston. (Colston played a key role in transporting over 84,000 enslaved Africans – his resultant wealth built many historic buildings in the city; many streets and landmarks bear his name.) Pulling on ropes attached to the statue’s neck, protesters shout with shock and joy as Colston’s likeness clatters down. (It is later thrown in the same harbour where his slave ships docked.) Something that once seemed a permanent monument to barbarism now seems a pathetic relic. Watching the video, we witness the power of collective action in real time. It is a beautiful scene; an ecstatic reversal of lynch mob imagery. In an instant, these protesters have changed the face of Bristol.

Removing symbols is not the same as removing the racist structures that support our society. But I am galvanised by the protesters who defied defenders of racist monuments as “history”, and made history themselves instead. 

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

Content from our partners
How industry is key for net zero
How to ensure net zero brings good growth and green jobs
Flooding is a major risk for our homes
Topics in this article:

This article appears in the 10 Jun 2020 issue of the New Statesman, A world in revolt