This song definitely feels appropriate to this post, it’s hard to keep the motivation up sometimes but Bob Marley talks some sense to help us moving along…
Bob Marley – Get Up Stand Up
This week I attended my first demonstration at a local Council meeting, in the borough where I work. The whole experience evoked a number of emotions, which I hadn’t really anticipated. As I said before I find writing about these things therapeutic so here we go (not in poetry form this time around, please be disappointed or relieved as appropriate).
The Council met to finalise the budget in the borough for the next year and a demonstration was organised by various community groups and unions with the aim of encouraging the Council to fight against Central Government and campaign for more funding. For me there had been quite a build up to this, with my colleague, Scouse Activist I’ve been spending the last few weeks telling people to “put it in your diary”, sending email reminders, organising and attending meetings, making contacts with other groups and I handed out at least 150 leaflets around the office. We arranged a time to meet with the intention that we as a group, Social Services and Youth Offending Team Workers would march to the Town Hall together. I had visions in my mind of an animated gathering in the office with excited talk, ready to take a stand for what we believe in. I imagined us walking en masse through the streets, flags flying, banners waving and passers-by stopping and staring at this collection of multi-coloured, multi-aged, multi-dressed, determined crowd with a purpose and a spring in their step. Yes, this was going to be a show of force that this borough would not forget in a hurry and the gathering at the Town Hall would be surprised and galvanised when they saw us coming.
The day came and the mood was good, a lot of people said they would be coming and there was a collection of “that’s today? Um yeah, I’ll be there”. Another colleague had done her part by writing slogans and pictures on charity shop t-shirts. This was enjoyed by all, with various outrageous slogans and graphics suggested “Cut the BS not our public services”, “Maggie out”, etc. etc. The mood was charged and the anticipation building, I couldn’t concentrate on my work and I simply stared at my computer screen waiting for the working day to end. Soon we would march on the Town Hall, stand together as colleagues, brothers and sisters and tell them “No! We won’t stand for this! We will not let this injustice happen! COME ON!!!” ……………. and then the excuses started to creep in.
Now before I go on, I know that most of those who couldn’t come to the demonstration had genuine reasons, people have busy lives and conflicting pressures and circumstances. But when the determined, eye-catching, all-conquering march I had envisioned dwindled quickly to me, and Scouse Activist (complete with a stop at the chippy), I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed. I wonder other people don’t care a bit more.
So we arrived at the Town Hall where a fairly respectable 200 to 250 people had gathered to protest against the spending cuts. Here were the banners, placards, flags and people shouting through a megaphone, this is what I had come for. And lo! Here were also some of my colleagues, one leaning against a railing, another appeared through the crowd, then another and another. A grand total of eight of us from the Youth Offending Team stood together, put our feet on the streets and showed with our presence that we are not accepting the actions of Central Government or the Local Council. Now this wasn’t quite the revolution that I had expected, borne out of our crumbling council office but it filled me with pride to be there with my colleagues, each of us showing that we do care what happens.
We stood and listened to speakers on the megaphone, we cheered and chanted and I hunted for interesting photographs to take of the goings-on, continuously frustrated with mine and / or my camera’s inability to take reasonable photographs after sunset. And in the midst of that I wondered what difference we were really making? I hadn’t seen a Councillor and I wondered if they even knew we were there. I also thought of the crowd we would have if everyone who had said they would come in my office, came, and if everyone in everyone’s else’s office who said they would come, came. Then we really would have been hard to ignore.
The time came when the Council meeting would begin and those who were allowed to, or who had tickets, entered. As for the rest of us, our paths were blocked by a line of Community Wardens in red fluorescent jackets and uniforms. I found myself next to two women plotting to charge this line in the belief that the Wardens would be reluctant protectors of the Council and fold. The Wardens looked fairly large to me and I wasn’t convinced, a scrap might have made the evening a bit more interesting for them. Scouse Activist, slogans written all over her white jumper, disappeared into the Town Hall, I stood in the hope that the proposed charge of the light brigade wouldn’t materialise and I wouldn’t be forced to make a choice.
And then I was lost. I had no further purpose, I did what can only be described as “milling about” for five or ten minutes before deciding that Oz Girl and my fifteen-month old son would probably need me at home, and left. I looked at the time, I had been there for under an hour. I wondered if this is really how I’m going to change the world?
I crossed the road and took off my t-shirt scrawled with slogans, sat on the bus and felt a profound sense of anti-climax. I looked at the gathering outside the Town Hall as I passed and thought I should still be there doing something. But doing what? Nothing?
It’s at times like this that I write, when I can’t work out my emotions, sometimes I like to put those words into poems. But none was forthcoming, I stared at the paper, wrote a few words, stared a while longer and then put my notepad away. All the way home I stared at the floor not knowing what I had really achieved, if anything.
In the days since I’ve begin to understand what I achieved, I was a part of publicising the fight, of spreading the word. I, along with my workmates took time from our otherwise busy lives to show that we don’t accept what is happening. Back in the office countless people asked how it went, hopefully our having gone there will inspire others to take action, fight for what we know is right. We may not have changed the Council’s decision but we kept the fight on the agenda for people for whom it otherwise would not have been. I’m proud of that. I was proud to be there on a dark and rainy weekday evening with people I spend almost as much time with as my family. We didn’t change the world, but the world won’t change without people like us.
I’ll end with my favourite quote, Robert Kennedy to students in South Africa during apartheid;
“You can make a difference. Each time a man or a woman stands up for an ideal, acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he or she sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. And crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples can create a current, which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance”