To demonstrate is invariably to walk, together. Most demonstrations entail a march to a point of assembly and speech-making, while some consist principally in collective walking. Walking together can become rhythmic, synchronous, the bodily equivalent of the chant (and many crowds chant while marching). In some contexts, notably in the military, it connotes – even creates – discipline and power, in what William McNeill terms a process of ‘muscular bonding’.
Gandhi led the Salt March against British colonial taxation in India in 1930. In China, the Long March of 1934-1935, though a military retreat in front of nationalist forces, was the formative collective experience of Mao’s Red Army and what became the communist party leadership. In the UK, in 1936, unemployed workers marched from Jarrow to London, while annual marches to London from the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston were the focus of CND protest in the 1950s. In the US, key moments in the civil rights movement of the 1960s were the marches in Birmingham, Alabama (1963), on Washington (1963) and from Selma to Montgomery (1965). Cesar Chavez led the United Farm Workers ‘pilgrimage’ from Delano to Sacramento in 1966; walks since have commemorated and raised funds for those affected by HIV/AIDS and the events of 9/11. The European Network on Independent Living has organised Freedom Drives every two years since 2003, initially in Strasbourg and subsequently in Brussels.
Rambling clubs formed in Britain around the turn of the twenty-first century, espousing the benefits of walking for increasingly urbanised populations while also asserting a simple right to walk, a right of access to the countryside. Walking expressed an ideology of movement and becoming, of boundary crossing, in opposition to a static, exclusive conception of land ownership, as testified by the mass trespass of Kinder Scout in 1932.
Similarly, hiking clubs in Soviet Lithuania of the 1960s and 1970s had several goals: ‘study of the country and region, ecology, monument preservation, physical and spiritual training and self-education… And the idea was to speak about real history not the made-up Soviet one, to say how it really was, so that these facts were not forgotten but passed from lip to lip and at the same time organise a kind of education’. The point was to talk, as well as to walk. The walk or march is a space to meet like-minded others; we fall into conversation as we fall into step.
People gather to walk, and then walk together, and the words we use to describe what’s going on mean very different things at one and the same time. Marching has military connotations, but the march is a staple of progressive social movements, too. The parade is a spectacle, put on for an audience, though the military parade doesn’t look or feel much like the carnival parade. The procession is much more for and about its participants. But what difference does music make to walking?
The street musician is treated as a kind of vagrant, and regulated as such. Street music often appears as an outsider activity, and when made among people gathered together often has a celebratory, even liberatory and taboo-breaking feel. Left protest around the world is now invariably imbued with a carnival atmosphere. Yet whether on the right or left, music can make the march seem exclusive and aggressive as well as joyous and inclusive. In Northern Ireland, for example, Protestant marching bands assert the presence and identity of a political community. Older bands adopt a uniformed and disciplined, regimental style, while younger ones might be more raucous.
Sometimes the march breaks into song. Just as often, music works below or reaches beyond words: it makes an emotional rather than logical appeal. It seems to be around us, but also to take place somewhere within us, to dissolve the boundaries between our selves and our surroundings, and between each other.
‘What happens in social movements when people actually move’, George McKay asks, ‘how does the mobile moment of activism contribute to mobilisation? Are they marching or dancing?’
In 2011, around the time Zuccotti Park and other similar spaces in cities in Spain, Greece and elsewhere were taken over by Occupy and related movements, Tel Aviv began to dance: ‘At different street crossings, dozens of activists gathered repeatedly to collectively paralyse traffic for two and a half minutes to dance to Od lo ahavti dai‘.
They were protesting at the social costs and consequences of the Netanyahu government’s economic policies. They were evoking Public Movement’s How long is now? (2007) which took the same 1970s pop song as the basis for guerrilla performances in the street. They drew on the way Israeli pop songs have a dance associated with them, which in turn is derived from Israel’s deliberate construction of a new, synthetic folk culture in the 1940s. They knew, too, that dancing was fun, that there is a physical pleasure in moving together. This was a ‘tactical frivolity’.
At a demonstration in Jordan in 1997, the riot police began to dance. A large protest had been organised against an Israeli trade fair; its slogans and chants were anti-Zionist, an assertion of national identity, especially among Jordanians of Palestinian origin. Protestors accused the police of betraying their country, in response to which the police themselves broke into nationalist songs and traditional tribal dances, arms around each others’ shoulders, something like a chorus line. This was a claim to an alternative, East Bank identity: song and dance gave officers a way of remaining at their posts, and remaining Jordanian.
Toward the end of part 1 of the Battle of Chile, Patricio Guzmán’s film about politics in the time of Allende and the coup which overthrew him, crowds gather for a rally in the centre of Santiago. The camera pans cross a sea of bodies, all jumping up and down and chanting ‘if you don’t jump, you’re a ‘mummy’! (momio, the colloquial term for a conservative).