Was The Wave really the “turning point”?

Saturday’s The Wave demo saw crowds of up to 50,000 people coming out onto the streets to demand a result from governments on climate change at Copenhagen. That’s not a shabby number, and the organisers deserve praise for getting people out onto the streets in a season which has been unbelievably filthy.

But we have to be honest: 50,000 is a decent crowd. It’s not an unstoppable mandate for action.

In the history of British demonstrations, 50,000 is a medium-sized demo. In the 1980s, at the peak of concern about Cruise missiles,  CND demonstrations attracted crowds of a quarter of a million. The Countryside Alliance’s strangely unfocussed march in 2002 attracted between 400,000 and one million people. The following year’s Iraq march brought between one and two million out onto the streets.

The Director of Stop Climate Chaos called the march “a turning point”. But really, the size of the crowds The Wave managed only underlines again how hard it is to engage the broader public with this issue.

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Art as a Trojan horse

The latest print edition of Neural Magazine includes a single piece of yellow notepad paper – apparently at least. I haven’t seen it yet. On this sheet, readers are encouraged to write a letter  to the White House. This letter will be then filed away alongside the billions of others.

The special notepaper has been produced by computer artists Douglas Easterly and Matt Kenyon of SWAMP. Each line on the notepaper contains the micro-printed details of civilian casualties in Iraq. By sending it to the White House smuggling the ignored officially-ignored consequences of the Iraq war it created back into the White House. It’s a kind of Trojan horse. Sometimes it’s symbolically important just to get your own back on a culture that has ignored so many of the consequences of its actions.

This isn’t the first SWAMP project to commemorate the civilian dead in Iraq, largely ignored by the media. In 2005 they created their IED – improvised empathetic device, an electronic band worn around the arm. The armband was linked to the website Whenever news of a new US army fataility was posed on the site, the armband would be triggered to plunge a needle into the arm of the wearer, drawing blood and enforcing empathy through pain. “The LCD
readout displays the soldiers’ name, rank, cause of death and
location and then triggers an electric solenoid to drive a
needle into the wearers arm, drawing blood and immediate
attention to the reality that a soldier has just died in the
Iraq war.”

(Which sounds kind of brutal, but it’s probably less painful than the experience of seeing something like Thomas Hirshhorn’s The Incommensurable – yards and yards of photographs of the mutilated Iraqi dead culled from the web – at Fabrica a couple of months ago.)


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