So yesterday I went on a Big Expedition (any trip that involves going to, or through, London is in my mind a Big Journey) to join the anti-austerity protest marching from the Bank of England to Parliament Square. Here are some quick thoughts, and some pictures!
As expected, the SWP seemed to think it was all down to them (they seemed to have stationed people at the exits from Bank tube station to hand out their placards). They were the first people I saw – and then this:
There were a few of them around and it seems they were somewhat unaware (or just failed to consider/care) there would be young children in attendance. Later, I heard one person with a megaphone encouraging foul-mouthed chants (this was round about Trafalgar Square, I think).
I quickly found the best-dressed team in the march. They were, if I recall correctly, from a London acting troupe (no wonder they looked so good):
The most impressive float/inflatable was this one (with the token little finger-of-colour):
If I’d known it was “assemble at midday for a much later start time” I would have stayed in bed a bit longer, but it did give me time to find all the gender/sexuality activists. I ended up tagging along more or less with the Lesbians And Gays Support The Strikers banner on account of being bi, and thinking I fit in there better than anywhere else I’d found.
For a while on the march they chanted “They Say Cut Back, We Say Fight Back” and I joined in, remarking to the banner carrier, “Takes me back to 1997, my first student protest!”, she said, “Oh, you’re an old hat at this, then!” But I’m getting ahead of myself.
My favourite scene of the whole thing was this (in the feminism/LGBTQI section of the forming up):
The builders seemed amused!
And then the helicopters arrived. I spotted at least two different ones. I only realised this was a BBC chopper when I was able to upload the picture on my desktop.
Wasn’t sure about this one that turned up later (and is clearly a different make of chopper):
One thing struck me, which shouldn’t have been a surprise but highlights for me one of the awkward truths about dreams of a leftwing revolution: lefties tend to be actually quite bad at self-organising an efficient system. It was just as hard, maybe even harder, to find smooth routes through the crowd while we were waiting for the march to begin.
Eventually, we got under way and things more or less sorted themselves out:
Some people set up along the route. Among them were anarchists:
A few people with the V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes/”Anonymous” mask were about, and some of them had the “skull face” face hankies as well. Is it wrong I still view these types pretty much as self-indulgent show-offs? Anyway!
My favourite roadside crew were some Welsh suffragettes with their costumes and banner:
(They were with a London and a Sheffield choir)
In front of one of the statues along Whitehall there were some women giving out free hugs so I got (and gave) a nice warm hug (once the camera was out of the way). No photos for that one but it was a highlight so I’ll mention it here.
Eventually, we arrived in Parliament Square and loads of people gathered to hear some speakers.
I eventually found a patch of wall to perch on way off to the back and one side, so I could rest my weary feet. I could not, however, hear the speakers. (Early on this is because the rather good three-piece band doing rock classics like Wild Thing and Should I Stay Or Should I Go? was still going – their drummer was on a trolly with the speakers for the bass and guitar. They shut up when the main speakers started though!)
I left early, at around 15:30 to find my way to (a) the tube station and (b) the loo. As I was leaving I got to hear some of the speakers more clearly and to be honest it didn’t sound like I’d missed much: a lot of rabble-rousing “We’re going to show them!” stuff but not much in the way of insightful or reinforcing, just, “Hurray, we’re demonstrating!” Maybe it got better later but I was tired and needed to pee.
Some people seemed to treat it more like a party than a protest. That’s fine, up to a point, but I think “protest” should still be the leading element, though partying is a good thing to bring along. I worry that there is not perhaps the depth of engagement that will carry people through the next five years. It didn’t feel as involved in the issues as other protests I’ve been on. Maybe I’m just becoming an old fuddy-duddy:
“Kids today! They don’t know how to protest properly, they don’t know they’re born! In my day, you had to march to t’top o’t’ hill and down again before they’d even give yer a badge. And don’t talk to be about shoes, neither!”
Anyway, it was as stressful as I find any large group of people – and as lonely. But felt worthwhile after all that. Official figures were stated as 250 kilopeople (I love some SI prefixes – maybe could say 0.25 megapersons? Saying 250,000 people is boring).
(FYI, I managed to hold it in until my train had left King’s Cross and I used the on-board lavatory to relieve myself.)