Today I popped along to the protests seduced by nostalgia as much as any legitimate intention to change the world, for you see there was a time that within the truculent mass was where I was at my most happy.
The first protest I attended, I think by accident – I was too high to truly engage in activism, was the Liverpool Dockers protest in 1997. I was lured from a humid underground carriage into a furore of ricocheting protesters and mounted coppers. To me, that day, adolescent and in perpetual internal revolution, the spectacle of a horse galloping up Charring Cross could only have been trumped by the presence of a marauding dinosaur piddling up Nelson’s Column. It was exiting. Afterwards I learned about the circumstances of the protest and the poor treatment of the Unions but my interest was initially piqued by the chaos.
From then I nurtured my curiosity in activism, too personally ambitious to be completely submerged in a culture that eschewed the pursuit of personal stardom but sufficiently idealistic and enamoured of agitation to become hooked.
On Mayday 2001 I found a way to align my attention seeking with the anti-capitalist movement when I stripped off in Piccadilly Circus on the steps of the statue of Eros until, at the point of total nudity, with my Che Guevara Y-fronts about my ankles the Metropolitan Police Force did the decent thing and nicked me. My incentive that day was a combination of youthful idealism and personal exhibitionism – although as exhibitions go it was a bit rubbish until the point I was arrested. It was a striptease with all the erotic appeal of a frazzled bachelor undressing for a prostate exam with the deluded hope that a student nurse might think him a bit beefy.
Once the police folded in around me though the show developed momentum. I was dragged off, feigning an epileptic fit – a tip I’d likely acquired from a leaflet off an anarchist while a crafty plod surreptitiously issued clandestine pinches to my twitching body.
The sincere aspect of my attendance to these carnivals of disobedience is my instinctive mistrust of authority and innate belief that whilst we are different we are all equal and have a social culpability to care for every member of our society. That, ultimately we are one, that separation is an illusion and that none of us can be content as long as there is neglect and suffering among the weaker of our number.
The distinction between the man I am now and the giddy hedonistic whirling slash of febrile discontentment I was the last time I was flung in the back of a police vehicle is two-fold and obvious; firstly, I no longer drink or take drugs and secondly, I am now famous.
On approaching Threadneedle Street I heard the numinous roar. The concerto that’s unthinkingly composed wherever the rowdy congregate, a chant that would be animal but for its wordless articulacy, for no congregation of beasts can emit such raucous harmony. As I met the throng, the incongruous mass that occupied the Square Mile – making it, for once a Hip Mile, I breathed in the banners and chants and the sweet youthful purpose that prevailed from those present regardless of their age – the Sixties refugees all tie-dye and ganja seem younger somehow than the black-block adolescents in their secular hijabs of hoods and scarves.
Brief though the moment was as for every protester now there is an attendant news crew and photographer – I know I had one – but at the Bank of England at noon we were all Puff Daddy – Limos, demos and bimbos replaced with ASBO’s, DEMOS and symbols and as I sought to subtly submerge myself into my former home – the crowd, I was suddenly clad in a full media jacket, like I was the prettiest girl at the ball and I’d just popped a cigarillo between my perfect lips and instantly the air around me is ablaze with Zippos. But instead of flames it was all flash bulbs and microphones and on-the-scene reporters.
An antagonistic prig from Sky ushered me towards his prerequisite idiocy – “You’re live on Sky – what are you angry about?” In my mind I answered “Well primarily being live on Sky and needing a wee.” But I issued naught from my gullet as I didn’t fancy the gig. I overheard him finishing his clunking link “Russell Brand there – unusually tight lipped” in that moment I wished for a language that could incorporate micturation then I’d’ve delivered a streaming gold quotation right into his smug-dish – “there! Cop for that, there’s my opinion splashing across yer brow – I only wish I still ate Sugar Puffs.”
I’ve spent so long trying to distinguish myself from the crowd that now I cannot rejoin it. Except at Upton Park; when the Hammers roll out they’re the only show in town, I could stand in the Chicken Run noshing off Whitney Houston on a Wednesday night against Stoke and no one would mutter a word unless her flailing limbs obscured a corner but today on the precipice of a riot I could not take a step without incessantly legitimising my presence to the inquisitive pack.
Well here it is. Capitalism has failed us. All of us, even people who’ve recently become well off, like me. The system has failed because it’s created disparity and discontent because it is devouring the planet. It is irresponsible and unaccountable and it will forever cyclically fail so we need to look at an alternative.
I’m sure you won’t be astonished to learn that I, Russell Brand, the stand-up comedian have not dreamt up a viable replacement for the Free Market between gigs and joyless trysts but I know all over the world, in the face of incredible obstruction and resistance, people are inaugurating economic systems that are founded on fairness and egalitarianism. Worker run factories, villages without currency and even in Blighty, council estates bulk buying shopping to make benefits go further.
With the support of central government and an accompanying ideology that encouraged collectivism imagine what we could conjure.
This lovely French journalist harangued me as the conflagration heated up – “people over there are being arrested – you should go over and use your fame for good.” Quite. “By the power vested in me by Big Brother’s Big Mouth I command you to release that anarchist.” Of course I’d like to harness my celebrity for altruistic ends but in the field, at that moment I don’t know what legislative authority I have as a result of my appearance in the film “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”. “Officer – I played the part of Mickey the Room Service waiter in the Disney movie Bedtime Stories and as such I command you to let us cross this line”.
Interaction with the police is another troubling aspect of these affairs. Once pressed against the thin blue line in the white heat of a Reclaim The Streets conflict I observed that the accents formed behind the plastic shields and helmets were far more familiar to me than the ones muffled by bandanas. Today I met a Peeler who stopped me as I passed to tell me that he was called Russell and came from Grays in Essex, where I’m from. I squeezed his shoulder in acknowledgement and noted that beneath his uniform he wore body armour like a chunky thick Toblerone between us and I felt worried for the poor fella.
Then there was the other type of policeman that we all know and love, that arbitrarily used his power for a momentary personal buzz and denied me the right to cross a line to use a loo while others freely wandered through, his decision based on a mechanism that I could not perceive as it whirred and clicked in prejudicial bliss beneath his badge. So the Met today in my experience presented one affable chap and one twit which is pretty good odds in a tricky situation.
In the end I prematurely departed, unable to find a place, too conspicuous for the crowd with people wanting interviews and autographs so I left and felt a pang for the anonymous loony I was, the sweet and tender hooligan and inveterate show off who saw these days as a valve for all the maladies accrued up till then.
These protests are important, it thrills me to see people putting aside the relentless tyranny of the self and acknowledging in action community and oneness but more significant will be the umpteen Wednesdays to come, where no direct action is prescribed, a continuing process of change based on simple spiritual principles, more than an outlet for our rage we need a structure for our love.
Tolstoy said everyone speaks of changing the world but no one speaks of changing themselves, ironically given my Olympian solipsism, I am going to have to focus further on myself, on becoming an individual worthy of utopia then, regardless of my notoriety, I will be equipped to participate in our revolution.