It is the era of disavowal of
Trump. Long despised by anti-racists and
humanists of many stripes, his foreign policy has now even offended US empire
builders, leaving us with an overlap of interests between those who wish to
scuttle Trump’s overt policies of hate and those who hate to see US power
decrease in the world. Whether via impeachment or election, the time has come
for a new carrier of the torch. That person will almost certainly be a
Democrat, one who is “liberal” enough to appear to support human rights,
justice and democracy but who is also committed to the maximization of US economic
and political influence, just more nicely done.
On August 16, 1819, 60,000 men, women, and children gathered in St. Peter’s Field in the heavily industrial city of Manchester, England to demand political representation and better living conditions. It was the most massive assembly to have taken place at the time, amounting to roughly half the population of Manchester. Wearing their Sunday best and accompanied by musicians, they carried banners and signs calling for liberty, a parliament of the people and repeal of the Corn Laws. It was a peaceful, celebratory, yet emphatic crowd: little did they expect the brutal response of their “own” government. However, the ruling class was terrified of insurrection that would topple them from power, as had the French Revolution 30 years earlier. No sooner had the speeches begun than the rulers sent in the British cavalry, backed up by local volunteer militias, to strike them down, disperse the crowd, and arrest the leaders. The sabre-wielding forces wantonly murdered 18 men, women, and children, and injured 650. This pivotal incident became known as the Peterloo Massacre, and this year marks its bicentenary.
As Mike Leigh, director of the film, Peterloo, writes about its continuing significance:“Despite the spread of universal suffrage across large parts of the globe, poverty, inequality, suppression of press freedom, indiscriminate surveillance, and attacks on legitimate protest by brutal regimes are all on the rise… Peterloo is of seminal importance.” This article looks back on the events of 1819 and the lessons they hold for us today. It draws on the book, Peterloo by Jacqueline Riding and the film by Mike Leigh, as well as the contemporaneous commentary of several leaders and participants.