Protest As Social Mobility - research process

Since 1990, there have been over 1500 deaths in police custody in the UK. I moved to London in August 2014, just weeks after the uprisings began in Ferguson, Missouri, USA protesting the death of Mike Brown at the heads of police.  In an attempt to process the events taking place in Ferguson and understand how that organized resistance might be felt - if at all - in London, I decided to examine the relationship between social mobility and political protests, asking: what new socio-political realities are made possible through the physical and symbolic mobility of political protests? Motivated by the Ferguson protests, I was determined to center my research on antiblackness and its manifestation through state violence. My initial idea was to retrace the route taken by protesters ignited after Mark Duggan, 29, was killed in London by law enforcement in 2011. Following Duggan's murder, there were protests held across London which were renewed in early 2014 after a jury ruled that Duggan was killed lawfully. Considering the similarities between the events surrounding Mark Duggan and Michael Brown's murders, the connections were obvious. Despite how much the murders of these two young black people - and the ensuing circumstances that followed - are linked, retracing the steps of the protests following Mark Duggan's murder for this project felt unsettling for reasons that I still am unsure about. I decided to focus on the the 26 November 2014 solidarity demonstration that took place in London as a show of support to protesters in Ferguson against the non-indictment of Wilson by the Ferguson Grand Jury. This specific protest was colloquially referred to on social media using #LondonToFerguson.

Image 01. The route of the #LondonToFerguson protest held 26 November 2014 outlined in red.

Image 01. The route of the #LondonToFerguson protest held 26 November 2014 outlined in red.

Jaana Parviainen (2010) defines political protests as both physical and symbolic acts. The space created by the protest lingers symbolically even after the protesters have dispersed and the placards have been discarded because of the “values, symbols, rituals and myths that protesting bodies are believed to represent” as well as the impact protesters are assumed to have in their ability to galvanize others toward a particular political action or ideology (p. 313). I adapted this terminology in relation to the physical and symbolic mobilities that were present in the process of creating a space of resistance at the #LondonToFerguson protest.

Images 02-07 (in slideshow). iPhone photos taken during #LondonToFerguson protest march.

Given that I attended the vigil as a participant, I was placed within the realm of the 'researched' to the point where there was little distinction between myself as a researcher/documenter and as a protester. I conducted live sociology, incorporating a wide-range of processes to my research. I performed in this choreographed resistance in the dual role of a researcher-protester; I documented the event through audio and video recordings; I live-tweeted the route of the march; and I kept a journal detailing my reactions to the event immediately following the demonstration as well as throughout the process of reviewing and editing the footage. Applying a participatory approach to the march enabled me to take an embodied position throughout the research process.

Video 01. Place-making by marching, video experiment. Video taken 26 November 2014.

The first edit (Video 01) was created from footage taken in the middle of the protest on Oxford Street. I wanted to share with audiences the ways in which 'place-making' occurred through the process of protesting. It highlights the intensity with which Oxford Street was transformed by the demonstration as we marched east, completely dominating the Eastbound side of the road, halting traffic in both directions. Through this video we are also able to notice the ways in which bystanders engaged peripherally with the demonstration, with many using mobile devices to record and bus drivers honking their horns, seemingly in support.

I chose to highlight one chant from the march, “hands up, don't shoot”, and used a clip of this chant (Audio 01, below) to experiment with the impact audio-only data could have on audiences. This audio is presented over an all black background, and I think it would be most effective if experienced on high volume in a dark room. Taking inspiration from the film Lift (Isaac 2011), I did not edit my voice out of the audio clip, once again placing myself openly within the research. I chose this chant for two reasons: it is political and represents the physical stance Michael Brown took in surrender before Darren Wilson shot him and is the main chant protesters in the U.S. used during the initial demonstrations in August. Therefore, using this chant draws an explicit connection between protesters in the two countries. Secondly, I get chills every time I hear “hands up, don't shoot” and felt it important to amplify and draw attention to this sound image (Back 2012b: 255).

Audio 01. Audio of "hands up, don't shoot" chant presented over black background. Recorded 26 November 2014.

The audio and video data create a sense of what Jason Spinney refers to as “'being there' without actually being there” for audiences (Spinney 2011: 166). The video recordings, in particular, provide a representation of the protest's movement, an embodied form of data which still photographs and text would be unable to produce. Being able to return to the sensory knowledge of the protest through the video and audio recording has provided me a unique capacity to fully understand and interpret the experience and the possible impact(s) this protest will have in creating new futures.

The final edit is a multimedia piece (Video 02, below) that includes photographs from the vigil and an image of the crowd at Parliament Square displayed over the above audio clip. I wanted to experiment with the impact of combining the photographs with the audio, particularly the relationship between the the two mediums and if there is a difference between listening to the audio alone or listening to the audio while looking at still images.

Video 02. Experimental research method - Multimedia piece combining still images with audio clips. Recorded 26 November 2014.

Through this research process, I have attempted to examine the new socio-political realities that are enacted through the physical and symbolic mobility of political protests. The research design focuses on sensory and embodied data and incorporates a wide-range of live-methods.