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Hong Kong protests September 2014
The Hong Kong protests have been in full swing since the end of Septembervia Bloomberg

Hit back with the most rebellious protest lit

Taking heed from the HK protests, whatever your cause – we explore the protest lit that will kick start your call to action

Political protest used to be a matter of simply being there in person. You and a bunch of like-minded people put your bodies in a public space with the aim of disrupting its normal function. As recently as last week, thousands of protesters surged the streets of Hong Kong to demand democracy – proving there’s something to be said about the sheer power of strength in numbers. In today’s technological age, however, you needn’t even leave the couch. The internet allows wannabe rebels to take part with a click of their mouse. Following Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson, USA, global citizens kept up to date with emerging details via online newsfeeds, while adding their voice to the building chorus of outrage on social networks. Yet even if being there in person is no longer necessary, nothing beats a good old IRL call to action. Before the latest technological revolution, it was literature – not Tweets – fuelling the demand for change. To get you in the mood for social change – whatever your cause – we select our ten picks from the shelves of protest lit.


It is easy to forget that British novels about poor people are a fairly recent thing. Dickens and George Eliot and all those guys definitely wrote about the poor, but the “social novel” – a work of fiction that puts the grinding machine of poverty at its centre – is not very old. Greenwood’s 1933 book about the Hardcastles, a Salford family undone by mass unemployment, is one of the earliest and best novels to call for social change in Britain.


Only women can save this poor world, left in tatters by the rule of men. So says Solanas in her 1967 manifesto for the Society for Cutting Up Men (not a real society) which, of course, nobody read until its author tried to kill Any Warhol. She didn’t pull that one off, but she did manage to produce something bizarre and beautiful in this little book. It demands the obliteration not only of the government and of most social institutions, but of the entire male sex itself. Solanas claimed to write in deadly earnestness, but there’s a note of silly, dark, stark, camp brilliance runs through it. A must-have for any feminist looking to move from ironic misandry into outright muderousness.


Dai Wei wakes up to find that a decade has passed since he slipped into a coma on June 4th, 1989, in Tiananmen Square. Beijing Coma tells his story, flickering between his life before the shooting and his current, sorry-state as an unconscious victim of the Chinese authorities. Dai Wei’s sleep allegorises the blanking out of historical truth by the Chinese government – Jian’s novel wants to reclaim that history. And while his Man Booker-nominated novel is banned in China (no surprises), its international success has positioned Ma Jian as a dissident public voice of note.


A prolific poet in the rich tradition of Nigerian protest literature, Osundare regularly wrote searing poems for a newspaper critiquing Sani Abacha, who ruled from 93 to 98. Spied upon and interrogated for his commitment to freedom of speech and his political convictions, the best of Osundare’s poetry, including the newspaper poems, is collected here.


Sanchez’s 1970 poem reframes the classical image of the American West. There’s no more daily conflict between heroic white men and persecuted Native Americans. The instinct to exterminate still drives white America, but the new frontier is simply the existence of Black people. Sanchez’s strangely-spaced lines are almost geographical to look at: she lays out a whole country in one go...


this country might have

been a pio

                      neer land

         But.          there ain’t

no mo

          indians                     blowing

custer’s mind

                      with a different

image of america.


There are hundreds of books from academia that call for social change and do so engagingly. Chakrabarty stands out from the academic swamp, however, because he just writes so unusually well. He works in the classic vein of postcolonial thought (following on from Edward Said and Frantz Fanon), but with serious originality: Provincializing Europe takes up the old idea that modernity was born in Europe and shakes it until it falls apart. An eminently readable book that will change the way you think about history.


Brooklyn publishing enterprise n+1 comes out with this “semi-regular, forty-page tabloid newspaper inspired by the Occupy movement” as and when it’s needed. When Occupy Wall Street protester Cecily MacMillan faced harsh sentencing for supposedly assaulting a police officer in May, Occupy! came out with a special issue full of crucial information and analysis. An elegant, beautifully-designed thing as well as a meeting place for excellent political writing, let’s hope that Occupy! continues to keep tabs.


Kevin Bales essentially studies slavery and calls for its end. Not the old kind, but the one we have now. From inhuman industrial working conditions to the strange operations of the contemporary sex trade, this labour structure spans the globe. Counting twenty-seven million people working in bondage across the world, Bales’ book is an unflinching panorama of a global economy which runs, in part, on the work of disposable human bodies.


In 1978, the future president of Czechoslovakia wrote a political essay, Moc bezmocných. It was circulated through much of the Soviet bloc via samizdat (the copying and distribution of censored materials by individuals), introducing great swathes of people to Havel’s theory of the nature of dissidence in the so-called post-totalitarian state. He was arrested the following year and remained in jail until 1983. Ten years later, he was elected to office.


Early in 2012, Chinese activist Yufu was convicted of subversion and sentenced to seven years in jail by Chinese authorities. His crime was sending seditious Skype messages and writing a poem named “It’s Time”. The poem is short and singsong, but commanding:

It’s time, people of China! It’s time.
The Square belongs to everyone.
With your own two feet
It’s time to head to the Square and make your choice.

It’s time, people of China! It’s time.
A song belongs to everyone.
From your own throat
It’s time to voice the song in your heart.

It’s time, people of China! It’s time.
China belongs to everyone.
Of your own will
It’s time to choose what China shall be.