The statue of slave-trader, Edward Colston, was toppled by the people of Bristol. It has inspired many of us to think about how we could transform our urban landscape with ropes and spray paint. As we emerge from the lockdown, the thrill that comes from destroying symbols of oppression, can re-energise our sense of community spirit. Cleansing our towns, villages and cities from figures of the past, could foster a feeling of renewal. If you were exhilarated at the sight of dancing on Colston’s toppled bronze, but you are new to political activism, this is your guide.
1. Educate yourself
By studying the history of your local area, you will find that life was harsher, crueller and more brutal in the past. In many towns, you will discover that most of the civic buildings, museums and art galleries were built by and named after people who made their money from people working in conditions that would no longer be acceptable today.
In addition, you may be shocked to discover that, in the past, people used to believe that homosexuality was a sin, that women did not play an equal role in life and that those from the more powerful nations exploited those from less powerful nations. Prior to the 1800s, slavery was widespread.
Action: Identify all the buildings, monuments and memorials that were erected by people who do not share our modern values. Join with others to mark them for future demolition.
2. Statue diversity
Our urban landscape should represent the diversity of modern Britain and reflect our current view of ourselves. Our statues and monuments are largely a legacy of the Victorian and post-war era, we must replace them with today’s heroes. The courageous heroism of Greta Thunberg should honoured instead of Winston Churchill. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex display a devotion to duty which eclipses the crusty monuments of Queen Victoria.
However, we can be fickle. People are heroes one minute and villains the next. Cultural trends move quickly and ideas that once-seemed so central to our being, dissipate into thin air. So, we should be prepared to change statues on a regular basis.
Action: Demand that every town and village has a 3D printer to produce plastic statues that can be replaced when that person falls out of favour. People can be selected on the popularity of their TikTok videos or the number of Facebook likes. Parliament Square could erect new statues every day, in response to the latest polling figures.
3. Remove all racist infrastructure
The major roads were originally built by Romans, many involved slave labour, the canals were dug by poor Irish navvies, the railway tracks were laid by exploited workers. As we gaily travel to visit friends or go on holiday, we should remember those who suffered and died for our convenience. Each time we travel, we are treading in the bloody footsteps of oppression.
Action: Refuse to benefit from the blood and sweat of previous generations. Avoid imperialist infrastructure. If travel is essential, throw wreaths from trains as you pass stations and leave ‘sorry’ cards at motorway service station memorials.
4. Believe in history
British imperialism has a long legacy. The last colony to free itself from British control was Hong Kong, in 1997. The people of Hong Kong are now fighting to defend their democracy from the Chinese security state. As China expands its economic dominance in Africa, it also fosters political conflict with smaller Asian nations. However, we must not let ‘facts on the ground’ cloud our understanding of oppression. The British Empire may be long gone, but we must continue to see the world as it was 100 years ago. By focussing on the history of Empire, we can mould our view of the contemporary world into a simple tale of oppressor (Britain and the West) and oppressed (everyone else).
Action: Carefully select examples of injustice which can be linked to the former British empire. This allows you to avoid being distracted by the reality of injustice in the modern world.
5. Atone for your whiteness
The slave traders of the past were largely white. This shows that white people today are actually responsible for the crimes committed by a small number of people who are long-dead. Since they did not feel guilt, white people today must express guilt on their behalf.
Action: It’s time to show contrition for the crimes of people you have never met. In acknowledging the racism of your ancestors, people will be able to distinguish you from your racist white peers and know that you are ideologically on-side. Bend down on one knee, then put down the second knee, lean forward so that your forehead touches the pavement and beg for absolution.
6. Make history
In the olden days, historians identified historic moments retrospectively. The significance of an event became apparent over time, once its legacy could be evaluated. Thanks to the power of the internet, we now have the ability to craft instant history. History is made in a moment, as long as you put it on Twitter.
Action: To ‘make history’, simply film yourself and your fellow activists as you spray-paint walls and pull statues off their plinths. Share videos on twitter to garner the support of broadcast media. Once a journalist says the phrase ‘this was a historic moment in the struggle against oppression’, your work has been done.
7. Bypass democracy
So often, great historical movements lose momentum because many people remain indifferent to or oppose the changes. The majority of the population may oppose your actions to replace their familiar environment with the one that you construct for them. So, to drive through changes, it is easier if you avoid the need for public discussion and the process of democratic decision-making. By simply questioning the motives of those who do not support revolutionary change, you can shame them into silence.
Action: If someone challenges you, as you topple a statue, simply point at them and shout “racist!”. Alternatively, the selective use of “slave trade defender” or “murderer” usually has the desired effect. No-one likes to be falsely accused and your accusations will induce either shame or anger. Either way, you will incapacitate any opposition.
The Great Cultural Cleansing Revolution has started. By destroying the symbols of age-old oppression, modern society can be purified.
When your grand-children ask you what you did during the Great #CulturalCleansing, you can proudly say that, armed with a rope and a placard, you pulled your weight.