Interview | Ra Page, Comma Press | Indie Publisher of the Week

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Absolutely, both of them. My parents hoarded books, and they read to us every night as kids. My mother is a voracious reader of novels (although she never allows herself enough time to read them). My dad came from that great working-class tradition of self-betterment, investing in his own education throughout his life. He stock-piled political and historical texts, was a huge fan of EP Thomson and Eric Hobsbawm in particular, and loved Strachey’s Eminent Victorians so much he named one of my brothers ‘Lytton’. He left behind a library of books about Nasser and Middle East history that none of really know what to do with. Dad was more of a history and non-fiction reader, Mum more fiction. There were some writers they both agreed on though: Lawrence, Hardy, Orwell.
Also, I have to say, in the context of our new release Protest, that this book is effectively my ‘thank you’ to my parents for the extraordinary political education I got from them. I was privileged to grow up in the eye of a whole cluster of political storms. As kids we stood on pickets lines outside coalfields in North Derbyshire and South Yorkshire, took day trips to Greenham, were greatly involved in the 1984 Chesterfield by-election that returned Tony Benn to parliament, marched with the country-long anti-Apartheid march that culminated in the two Free South Africa concerts; and saw a newly freed Mandela address the world at second of these. We were beyond lucky.
As well as being a thank you to them, this book is also a potted journey of protests that Mum, Dad and two grandfathers I never knew were involved in, as well as much earlier ones that I heard mentioned in hushed reverence. Mum and Dad got to know each other on an Aldermaston march; both were linked with the Hornsey sit-in, both were at the anti-Vietnam demo in Grosvenor Square, 1968 – where Dad was wrongly arrested and defended himself in court. My grandfather also marched with Jarrow marchers as they entered London in 1936, and fought against the blackshirts on Cable Street the same year. That’s the thing about this book, it’s not just me, scratch the surface and everybody has a connection to not one, but multitudes of these stories – because it’s our history, not theirs. To quote my friend, Dinesh Allirajah: “It’s political, but it’s always been personal.”

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Review | Protest! Stories of Resistance, Ra Page (ed.) | Book of the Week

 “Our own, personal experience of the event – as it unfolded live in front of us – gets over-written, overlain with any narrative available that complies with Thomas Carlisle’s ‘Great Man’ theory, that ‘history is but the biography of great men’, that the rest of us, the ‘bystanders’, aren’t part of history. The short story rejects this version of events because, as a form, it has evolved to prioritise the non-heroes – the bystanders, the disenfranchised, the ‘submerged’ (as Frank O’Connor would say). And when it comes to ‘world events’, none are more suited to the short story than the protest. In a protest, we’re all bystanders, we’re all there because of some attempt to marginalise us; the bystanders are the people making history,” writes Ra Page, editor of Protest! Stories of Resistance.

The workings of the state when it is under threat are not pretty. One man’s system is another man’s nightmare. Protest! takes the long view. From the Peasants’ Revolt sparked by the Poll Tax of 1381 to the anti-Iraq War demo of 2003, the 20 movements featured in this superb book have parallels in terms of ideas and tactics and emotional charge. The framework of the anthology brings to life the events and the people involved. A short story like a snapshot in time is followed by an afterword by an academic who, in certain recent cases, was an eyewitness.

Prior protests loom large over present ones. This struck me forcibly while reading the stories and simultaneously following Westway 23’s facebook posts about the Grenfell Tower Protest in my neighbourhood. It is no coincidence that safe Tory seat, Kensington, went to Labour by a narrow margin for the first time ever in the recent snap election. The gruesome fire has illuminated years of institutionalised abuse and disregard for the law on the part of the corrupt powers-that-be. Establishment standard bearers The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Spectator have been accusing the ‘hard left’ of ‘hijacking’ the Grenfell fire tragedy for their own ends. Plus ça change.

Continue reading Review | Protest! Stories of Resistance, Ra Page (ed.) | Book of the Week