Riot, Protest, Demo, Vigil… Words matter

The words ‘Protest’ and ‘Riot’ have been used interchangably by the British news media lately and it’s starting to annoy me. Rioters are not worthy of the title of Protestor, whereas Protestors should not be labelled Rioters.

Then we have ‘vigil’, where people mourn the death of a stranger they never met. These people have every right to express sadness but then along come the ‘others’ who wish to use the occasion to make a point, turn the ‘vigil’ into a ‘protest’.

A ‘demonstration’ is another one. Apparently in Bristol last night, according to some news descriptions rioters were demonstrating. No, rioters riot. It’s demonstrators who demonstrate.

Priti Patel’s Police, Crime and Sentancing Bill has upset a lot of people quite seriously. Ten years in jail for being “annoying” and you’re lumped with a criminal record if you so much as stand with a placcard by yourself without speaking. It is an affront to the values we have spent centuries building. With no protest there’d be no black vote, no female vote. With no protest a lot of good things would have never happened.

Here, I’ve tried to summarise what I see as the distinct meanings of these words. (Disclaimer: There is no qualified source for these meanings, it’s entirely from my own brain).

WordMeaningExample
VigilPeople express sadness in public about an incident that saddens them. Using candles and flowers. Sometimes teddy bears.Clapham Common vigil for female murder victim, March 2021
DemoPeople express anger in public amongst people who agree. Also referred to as a ‘rally’ in some cases. Using microphones and megaphones. Cardboard signs optional.Rallies in towns across the UK in August 2019 when Boris Johson prorogued parliament illegally.
ProtestPeople who agree in their anger about something gather to make their point vocally (soon to be illegal). Using banners, placcards, signs and megaphones. London march,
November 2019
RiotThick people set fire to stuff and break stuff, and hurt people on purpose, and pretend it’s because they’re protesting. Using baseball bats and naked flames.Bristol rioting,
March 2021
Seperating the words

Riots are different

Riots however are different. Riots are a stupidity party for thugs. Riots are excuses for disrespetful nobodies to go out and have fun by kicking in windows and setting fire to cars. Riots are idiotic and crude. Riots do no favours to genuine protestors: in the case of Bristol they play into the hands of the very people protested against.

Priti Patel will be delighted to point at Bristol’s thugs and say look, that’s why I want to crack down on protests. See all the damage they caused! That smirk of hers will go from ear to ear this morning, knowing that support for her Bill will have solidified overnight.

A riot is not a real protest

I had to unsubscribe from a lefty facebook group which claimed “solidarity” with the Bristol rioters. How can you be proud to stand alongside people who set fire to police cars and smash shop windows in your name? Sod that. I’m out.

Real protests aren’t like that

Not so long ago I marched through London against Brexit as one of a million people. It was a somewhat jovial affair, with not one punch thrown, not one window broken, not one violent moment. Peaceful, beautiful, lovely people full of colour and hope shared a cause and waved flags and banners. The streets were occupied non-violently. That’s a protest. That makes a point.

Example of a real protest

But here’s the thing: Those million-people London marches against Brexit didn’t get a fraction of the news coverage of a brief skirmish on a dark Bristol street. One must ask the question, why? Is it possible that “good” protests aren’t convenient for the narrative of a government-steered media, whereas “bad” protests help showcase the authoritarian agenda?

Why the words matter

When news outlets describe rioters as protestors that is no accident; it is intended to paint all outspoken libertarians as thugs, to demonise all opposition as one collective group of wrongdoers. We are not all thugs! The vast majority of protestors I’ve met are cheerful pensioners.

Back to the rioters though. I’d love to understand what those numpties think they’ve achieved by setting ablaze a police van or smashing in the window of Boots, or beating up a police officer. All that’s been achieved is damage to the real cause, the fight against fascism/authoritarianism, and increased fear and division. Actually I don’t think they wanted to ‘achieve’ anything, they just wanted to amuse themselves by breaking stuff. Mission accomplished.

Police are not the enemy

Let’s step back for a moment. The police are good, the police serve to protect us, the police aren’t worthy of any of the abuse they get.

And moreover, in the scheme of things Police officers are puppets, just like civillians. The real enemy is the puppeteer. In other words, the powers who position us against each other to further their own goals. The Home Secretary and Prime Minister, who sparked this conflict, will relish in the violence, using it as proof they were right all along to stamp out our rights, to further justify a fascist-leaning agenda.

Protestors, be safe and be sensible, and don’t give up.

Rioters, have a think about what you’re doing. There are better ways.

Police, thank you, this isn’t your fault.

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