Authentic, lived experience runs through journalist Vincent Bevins’ latest work, If We Burn. Right from the first page, it’s clear that he has been there, covered that and had his t-shirt doused in tear gas (“getting tear-gassed is great for engagement,” he notes, wryly). With a focus on why the rash of protests and street-based movements of the last decade have not achieved significant change, this is not a book that glorifies protest, but rather challenges the effectiveness of the left’s tactics in an age of neoliberal dominance.
Crucially, it does it from the perspective of those who lived these movements, including Bevins himself. Picking up examples from around the world – from his home in Sao Paolo, to Hong Kong, Ukraine and beyond – the author has invested countless hours in interviewing those at the hearts of protest movements that have succeeded in ensuring mass involvement, but have ultimately failed to deliver marked change.
This leads the book down some fascinating routes (readers will learn about the importance of second-wave punk in Brazil to foment dissent; how those in Hong Kong learned to ‘be water’ in a diffuse, formless approach to protest) and creates space for great anecdotes. By applying such an overarching, global lens to the topic but balancing this with direct input from individuals on the ground, Bevins achieves the feat of making a potentially huge subject engaging at a human level.
If We Burn: The Mass Protest Decade And The Missing Revolution, Vincent Bevins (Wildfire)
Price: £25. Info: here
words HUGH RUSSELL