IDENTITY. Personal branding. Self-expression. Citizenship. Activism. Standing up for your values. Making a difference. USP.
All these things are activated when you when you lose yourself in the crowd of a mass demonstration. You’d think the opposite. You’d think you were there just to increase the numbers, the quantity, but these days you’re there to enhance the quality.
If you look at the banners being held high at the recent women’s marches and anti-Trump demonstrations, you’ll see humour, colour, outrage and above all imagination. You’ll also see a new kind of clarity. This might seem like a detail but a whole new generation have grown up with access to home printers, neighbourhood print shops and design software on their laptops. They know what they want to say and they’ve become design-literate. You’ll still see felt tip slogans scrawled on cardboard, but for some people their imaginations have demanded they go further, they’ve wanted to express how much they care by holding a piece of artwork aloft. We’ve become a marching politicised gallery, and why not?
There’s also a new sophistication to the chants coming from the crowd. “Show me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like”, has a pleasing rhythm to it when thousands do it as a call and response song. You’d think that if you’re committed to a cause you could sustain a monotone chant all night, fired up purely by your drive for justice, but people don’t work that way. And actually it’s a good thing because we want to be seen by the opposition as organised, stylish, vibed-up and ready to fight on all levels.
At the ‘Bridges Not Walls’ demonstration, on the 20th of January in London, I was asked by the organisers to lead a drumming group on the Millennium Bridge. Knowing that the TV people would turn up at 10:30am I made sure that we had some definite rhythms to play and chants to perform for the cameras. The film crews who arrived were pushed for time, as usual. They were looking for 10 second clips. Footage that summed up the event in a nutshell.
I was aware that we were ‘creating content’ for them so every second they had their cameras pointing at us we needed to be on top form if we were to do our cause justice. They had no interest in making us look good, that wasn’t their brief, they just wanted to deliver something adequate to their editors. So if we’d been uncoordinated and off-key their report would have been, “There was disarray and discord at the demonstration today”. As it was, we played well. It gave their editors a chance to compare the military drumming at Trump’s inauguration with our African-style drumming on the Millennium Bridge, and they went on to compare Trump’s choir of 100 formal singers, standing still, with our more fired up and energetic singers chanting “Bridges Not Walls, whatever comes next is up to US!!” As far as national TV reports go, we came off well that evening.
So, when invited to a demonstration, or when I go with my own group of drummers, DRUM TROUBLE, I take on this responsibility to present our case well. It’s a kind of agreement I have with myself. People sometimes think USP means ‘special’ but I’m not saying that at all. I’m there with a crowd of thousands of unique people, the only special thing about me and my group is that we all got out of bed that day to stand up for what we believe in. On any demonstration, like the thousands of people who surround us, we ALL bring our raw passion, artistic skills, musical knowledge and leadership experience to make the biggest impact we can.
Does it make a difference? Not immediately, government policies don’t change overnight as a result. But that sense of solidarity you feel can be the difference between waking up the following day with a sense of despair, or getting up and making a fresh brew of coffee with sense of hope. And that feeling, that ‘knowledge’ of your role in the tribe, is priceless.