Stylish Kids in the Riot

Political protest matters – that is, as long as there are actual facts to protest about

It was a sight to behold as Vienna’s Heldenplatz briefly turned into the scouting area for international leaders attending the World Economic Forum on Europe and Central Asia in early June. All the while, police were on the watch for anti-capitalist protesters who threatened to disrupt the smooth unfolding of events of a summit planned months in advance.

Demonstrators had announced their participation online, declaring “War against the imperialist rulers” to take place on June 7, a day before the opening of the World Economic Forum. Ultimately forced by authorities to take a different route “due to traffic conditions,” they gathered in front of Yppenplatz in the 16th District of Ottakring, and proceeded towards their final destination of Westbahnhof in the characteristically peaceful style of opposition protests that Vienna has seen so much of in recent years.

Participation was lower than expected, according to one internet platform that helped organize the initiative (, and so by the end of the protest the only remaining activists were some 50 or so worn out university students that seemed to have gathered there more for the social perks of the event rather than the waving of flags.

Apart from a few dread-heads that appeared to have mistaken the event for a “Legalize Marijuana!” rally – or are all such happenings a good occasion to raise the subject? – the rest of the attending crowd was blasé to the bone.

With an iPhone in one hand and a banner announcing “Abolish Capitalism!” in the other, most of them seemed less ardent, less dedicated to the ideal of the Internationale they were chanting and more eager to parade a new pair of Ray Bans that go so well with the affiliated revolutionary style. One couldn’t help but wonder if the 20-something young man in an “I HEART SOCIALISM” shirt (where the actual heart was replaced by the hammer and sickle) realizes that he’s just taken branding to a whole new level.

The whole scenery was somewhat reminiscent of a Libertines’ song, where “stylish kids in the riot, shoveled up like muck, set the night on fire.” You had to appreciate the fine irony of it all.

A zealous “Viva la revolucion!” escaped the lips of a middle-aged man resting on the sidewalk, and somehow, amid other randomly mentioned words like “rebellion” and “poverty,” similarly drained of all meaning, it didn’t fall at all out of place.

The words of Winston Churchill came to mind: “Anyone who is not a Liberal in his youth has no heart, but one who is not a Conservative in his old age has no brain.” But surely one cannot base political engagement on innocence or experience alone. Surely there are ideas that transcend the boundaries of birth and maturity.  Politics is supposed to begin with a thought-provoking remark, so that people feel inspired to learn what it means to take one or the other, instead of using it to justify their social status.

Speaking one’s mind is not at question here. By all means, protest: Raise your voice! Be a catalyst! That is, of course, given that there are actual facts to protest about, not just opportunities to be a part of the ballroom revolutionaries’ club.

Every position calls for opposition. It should be strong and loud – but also considered, well-argued, factual and rich with alternatives. What it must not be is a mere pointing of fingers.

As I walked on, the shouts of the protesters rang in my ears:

“It’s all the corporations, man…”

What does that even mean?

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