Spurred on by the early morning chill, we walked steadily over the sands towards the pier as a whirl of chatter buzzed around us in English, Polish and Arabic. With one of our number waylaid with a stiff limp, we let the crowds of Santas, elves and penguins shuffle passed in a snaking procession that stretched all the way from Bournemouth to Boscombe. This was our first Christmas Day in Dorset, and we were feeling decidedly under-dressed.
Sleepy looking teens swigged from what must have been extremely cold cans of lager, whilst the slightly more dignified older set sipped from hip flasks and steaming cups of cocoa sold by an opportunistic – but charity minded – road-side-vendor. Families in various states of undress, spilled out of the beach huts lining the route, playfully jostling for a few more minutes’ shelter as they waited for the off.
There were thousands of them, most there to watch, but many – like us – were preparing to sojourn into the freezing cold sea in the name of fundraising and foolishness. Sending the camera-wielding-invalid of our group onto the pier to snap some photos, we took our places on the sand amidst scores of scantily-clad antler-wearers and watched a plump-breasted Santa signal go with a wave of his white hanky.
At the time, there was something decidedly different about the event that we couldn’t quite put our fingers on. It wasn’t the litany of glamorous grandmas dressed up as Pamela Anderson, or the fact we were in a strange new town for Christmas, or even the overarching oddness of it all. It was something more elemental, and it wasn’t until a few weeks later, when most of us were back in London that we worked out what it was.
It was a Great Protest. You Wouldn’t Believe How Great it Was. We Do the Best Protests. Strong!
Now, we’re not hardcore activists or anything, we’ve marched on occasion, turned out to show our support to a number of causes, and protested against things we thought it was important to protest against. So, when we were invited to the women’s march the day after Trump’s inauguration, we went along to lend our support and see what people had to say.
It was a fairly sensible affair, no burning effigies, plenty of families, and tens of thousands of people all calling for equality, fair treatment and a broad spectrum of humanist ideals. The sort of stuff you couldn’t really argue with… until of course, the arguing started. Within a few hours there were more negative social media posts about the event than there were people at the event. It all got very nasty, very fast.
And when this hate and faux-hate starts, it is quickly adopted by both ‘sides’ and ends up becoming the narrative. This is now the norm. That’s why our shuffle into the sea felt so different. Usually, if we’re part of a large number of people having a crack at doing some good, sooner or later many, many people are going to act like a massive, collective dick about it.
We are living in a world where everybody can easily lend their voice to a range of important issues… and rather than raising the level of debate, we’re choosing to run into the gutter. This is not just confined to the folks who spend their time gleefully ranting about ‘snowflakes’, ‘libtards’ and ‘cucks’, liberalism has also lost its way.
An explosion of vitriol, pandering and shock somehow manages to accompany every social, political and conversational touchstone. Every issue is a red line. We are engaged in a race to either be the most appalled, the most accommodating, or the most rude. It’s no longer about who can make the best argument, but who can make the most extreme noise.
From our side of this global screaming match, there are huge battles that need fighting, serious issues that need to be debated and ridiculous behaviour that needs to be pointed out. As usual, I have no solution whatsoever on how to do any of this successfully… but that’s not going to stop me skipping into the sea at every given opportunity, even though the water’s not particularly pleasant at the moment.