The following is the result of perfect serendipity. I was walking around central London when I happened upon what I’ll call a ‘meat is murder protest’. An initial caveat: I am not against vegetarianism, pescetarianism, veganism or protests. Frankly, I don’t give a fuck about what or why people eat what they eat. I am, however, against bad protests. The protest itself is more interesting to me; not the reason for it. Protests, done properly, are a platform for change; improperly, they are just outpourings of anger.

I was at Piccadilly Circus. Having waded through tourists and cameras, I came upon a meat-is-murder-protest at the statue of Eros. Around fifty or so protesters stood around the statue. It was the real deal; picket signs, slogans, shock-tactic graphic imagery, police vans and a charismatic spokesperson behind a megaphone. This was quite a theatrical protest; at the feet of the speaker were two semi-naked girls, cellophane-wrapped and covered in blood. There was a metaphor here, somewhere. In the middle of all this, a girl was sat eating a Big Mac – ironic.

I gather from some of the protesters that the whole thing was organized on Facebook and in association with groups such as Animal Aid; their leaflets were aplenty. Some of the protesters turned up of their own accord to support the cause and were given leaflets and signs if they didn’t have their own. Some of the signs had directives such as: “CLOSE ALL SLAUGHTER HOUSES!” accompanied with the gory imagery associated with animal slaughter. One man in an abattoir jumpsuit had the words “SMASH THE ANIMAL HOLOCAUST” in blood-red on his back.

The woman working the megaphone was inaudible at more than forty paces. She was rambling on, which she admitted, about how sassy she was when she bought a piglet before it was to be slaughtered. The protesters loved this; the tourists, I’m not so sure. After a long speech, she concluded with “TURN VEGAN”. Her megaphone successor again reiterated, “TURN VEGAN”.

Bill Lytton The Wrong Way to Protest

At this point I wasn’t sure what the protest was about. Should I turn vegan or close the slaughter houses? I thought I’d mill around and eavesdrop on various conversations to try and discern the main motive.

The best conversation (argument) I heard happened when I was sheltering from the rain. Five protesters were in battle; both sides wielding questionable arguments. The protesters were condescending and self-righteous, as if mixing with laypeople was an agitating chore. In a good few decibels above indoor-voice they said: “every single scientist agrees that meat is bad for you” and “humans have no instinctual need to eat meat”. As fallible as these statements are, I really hit my panic button when they dropped the finisher: “studies have shown”. Studies have shown that, in small doses, ricin is an aphrodisiac. Go figure. Never trust the speaker when it’s clear they haven’t read the “studies”.

When the non-protesters left the argument, presumably for blue steak, the protesters regressed to their playground days. They laughed at the stupidity of the non-protesters; swilling in the self-righteousness of their rigid arguments. My opinions of the protesters were starting to wane. I still had no idea what the main motive of protest was. Various other conversations involved veganism, vegetarianism, slaughterhouses and worldly stupidity. What I had learnt was that the form of protest in play was one of condescension and one-sidedness. Instead of trying to persuade, it seemed to be an excuse to be egotistical and aggressive.

Some of the protesters I spoke to after that changed my view – to an extent. While some were preachy, others were shockingly friendly and conversational by comparison. One man, I’ll call Rick, had come to get involved through the Facebook group. He was a dentist who supported the cause and wanted to stop the slaughtering of animals. Even when I told him I ate meat, he seemed happy that I was there and was listening. I had a similar conversation with a woman I’ll call Sunita. She too, was unperturbed by my carnivorous lifestyle. She came to volunteer from the Facebook group and was just happy people were showing up. I asked how she thought it was going: “well, really well actually, there was so much rain, but there’re a lot of people here”.

I didn’t ask how she could tell the protest was going well. Presumably an effective protest is one of change. But I didn’t see any dietary interrogations or freepost post-protest questionnaires. So how did they measure their protest as effective? From eavesdropping and conversation I found that the protesters were bipolar in their approach; either conversational and genuine, or condescending and aggressive.

Unfortunately, it seemed that the majority were the preachy types I’d generally like to avoid. This was the case for the swathes of tourists who were strategic in their posing for pictures – trying to maximise the amount of curved advertising board in the background of the shot and minimise the blurred pictures of slain cattle. Before I left, the protesters started chanting “MEAT IS MURDER, STOP THE SLAUGHTER” into megaphones, the loudest voice being the shrillest. People were mocking the chant and robust people were shaking their heads in disbelief. When they stopped, central London had never seemed so silent. Sadly, it seemed the only ones listening were the protesters themselves.