During the past week, British students flooded into the streets of London to protest a dramatic change in the pricing of university education. For those old enough to remember, the scene looked very much like the summer of 1968 when students in Germany, France, and England (among other places) took to the streets to express their anger over Vietnam, their parents’ behavior during World War II (especially in Germany), and other issues.
Rioting has a long history. Prior to the nineteenth century, English riots represented the only way for average people to let their voices be heard. In contrast to what many of us might imagine, rioting was well organized and extremely disciplined. For example, when bread prices climbed beyond a range deemed acceptable, rioters made their way into the street to target specific bakers. They broke windows and baking equipment, but never targeted those not implicated in the increasing prices. Elites accepted the riots and sometimes even punished the bakers whose prices had risen faster than any yeast should allow. To learn more, check out E.P. Thompson’s famous article “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century.”
Today, the Guardian offers a photo retrospective of “The 10 best mass protests.” You’ll find everything from an early Vietnam protest in the United States when protesters placed flowers in the barrels of guns to a 1913 women’s suffrage protest when Emily Wilding Davison threw herself under the hooves of King George V’s horse (she died) to demand votes for women. There’s a nod to Prague Spring in 1968 and coverage of both the Chartist strikes of the 1840s and the British miners’ strike in 1985. The article is well worth a look.
While you’re at it, have a listen to Neil Young’s brilliant song “Ohio” about the Kent State shootings in May 1970.