I first heard Gil Scott-Heron’s song ‘The Revolution Will No Be Televised’ on the grassroots independent media project www. indymedia.org when it was covering Prague’s ‘S26’ demonstration against the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in September 2000. I was there for the demo – an overwhelming experience that changed my life and worldview. It also sent shockwaves through governments and succeeded in focusing attention on issues such as the legitimacy of the IMF and the clash between World Trade Organization rules and UN environmental conventions.
‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ became the soundtrack for this unexpected metamorphosis. Despite first being released in 1970 (on the album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox), in 2000 it resounded relevant and fresh amid the carnival-like tactics and beautiful chaos of the pink-and-silver bloc that disrupted and halted the IMF conference. There were cameras – our cameras – everywhere. This revolution was going to be televised, but with more than the one-sided, editorializing, clichéd
mainstream media descriptions of ‘a hardcore of demonstrators’, etc. En route to the conference centre where the IMF was meeting, Prague’s tall, concrete Nusle Bridge was the scene of a long showdown between demonstrators and cops. The Italian Ya Basta group was at the front in home-made padding with plastic dustbin lid shields – a small army of Michelin people, taking the police blows and pepper spray. After many hours in solidarity linking arms and pushing forwards against the armoured personnel carriers of the Czech policie, we went to find food. We emerged an hour later onto Wenceslas Square to rejoin the crowds. Due to a planning error two unescorted buses carrying IMF delegates drove right into the middle of hundreds of milling protesters.
At the sight of the crowds the delegates stared out at us, frozen with terror, hanging tightly onto the yellow poles inside the bus, their complexions pale as the name-tags pinned to their neat, dark suits. The crowd, also frozen in stunned silence, stared right back, unsure how to react. Here were the deciders of policies that impacted on so many lives worldwide, against which the protest had been struggling, vulnerable and exposed in our midst, staring fearfully at us staring confused and unsure back at them. The atmosphere was filled with potential confrontation. No one knew what would come next. A young woman darted out to the front of the bus, took out a spray can and sprayed a big smiley across the windscreen in shaving cream. There were cheers and laughter. The silence and tension was broken. A small regiment of riot police ran single-file into the crowd, briskly escorting the delegates off of the buses to their nearby hotel, refusing to acknowledge the surrounding crowds; then vanished as fast as they had come. Later, listening to this story reported on Indymedia radio, I was amazed and inspired by the track that followed: ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’. This song and the moment of confrontation between the IMF delegates and we, the people, are for me intertwined. The fear on the delegates’ faces and the fear that as a member of a mob I could be called to act violently against defenceless people acts as a reminder that we are all human and vulnerable, and of how easy it is to abuse power at the moment we have power over another. The young woman with the can of shaving foam kept it real. Her gesture thawed the ice in which we were frozen at that tense moment. Hearing ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ on the streets of Prague completely changed the direction of my life and Gil Scott- Heron’s words and music continue to be an inspiration. R.I.P. Pennie Quinton