Shutdown or sleep mode: to go quietly, or not

I trawled through the National Gallery in London recently, looking at all the gold-framed paintings. But I noticed I went through several galleries before seeing an attendant. So it was not a huge surprise, a week or so later, to come across this quiet demo organised by some of the gallery’s staff. They were protesting against security cuts, which they say put the gallery’s paintings at risk. It may take an incident as serious as the recent Picasso heist in Athens to hit home here, before the true cost of skimping on gallery staff is properly factored in…

Quiet demos are something I’ve found strangely unsettling ever since the quiet but humungous march not just in London but in cities across the world, on 15 February 2003, which failed to prevent war in Iraq. Friends who were on the London leg of the march said it was noisy but the branch for out-of-Londoners, which I attended, was mostly very quiet. This recent silent demo at the gallery was, of course, far smaller. Signs of a fragmented nation. Each group (doctors, teachers, library workers, gallery attendants) mounts separate protests to defend its own jobs… while all around us, the institutions we took for granted are shutting down. The Greek way of protesting against cuts seems more natural: in Athens it’s not with a whimper but a bang. What also seems weird, at this time when there’s such nostalgia for the best of 1980s culture, is that we’re also seeing a comeback of many of its absolute lows.

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