We came, we saw, we marched. I want to describe the demonstration yesterday, how I felt about it and try to do it justice. I’m not sure if I can, but I’ll try.
Our day started in much the same way as I imagine many of the protestor’s days would have started, writing a slogan on a flag, which I had bought to use as a beacon for my friends and colleagues who would be marching with us. I have since learned that rule No. 1 for any Revolutionary is to make sure that you don’t get over-excited with this sort of thing and get indelible black ink on your mother’s kitchen floor. Che Guevera must be rolling in his grave.
Oz Girl and I set off for Kennington Park. How many would be there? How would the atmosphere be? How many of our friends would make it? We had a call from my colleague, Batman who told me that it was a good turnout and he would see us there, and Oz Girl’s friend who said he would meet us by the Giant Horse! We had messages from Oz Girl’s family, which I’m pretty sure constitutes solidarity in Adelaide. By this point I was filled with a nervous tension and an urgency to get there.
We found a healthy group of I would estimate 2000 people at Kennington Park, negotiated our way roung the Socialist Worker sellers and found an enormous TUC Trojan Horse. If I’m honest, I’m still not exactly sure the relevance of the Trojan Horse. At Downing Street it was turned and kind of nodded towards No. 10 but no rampaging forces sprung forth, which was very disappointing I’m sure you can imagine. I did hear later that the horse had been set on fire in Oxford Street but I’m still not sure the relevance of that act. I picture the Trojan Horse-carriers picking there way down back alleys to avoid police detection with an enormous horse held aloft.
I don’t think our gathering at Kennington was quite on a par with the Chartists, but here’s our effort. In “People Power?” I talked about the rising sense of expectation which I experienced in the days leading up to that demonstration, my disappointment at the lack of numbers and my own trying to make sense of what we had acheived. Yesterday there was none of that. When Oz Girl and I arrived it felt like my friends, colleagues, comrades, were everywhere. Different people appearing from the crowd, excited talk about “this person’s over there”, “this person is on their way”, “we’re meeting that person there”. I tried to introduce Oz Girl to everyone but was having a difficult job making sure I didn’t miss anyone. By this time I was excited, all the questions gone. This was going to be a historic day and I was filled with energy.
We marched up Kennington Road, people shouting through megaphones, beeping horns, others giving out flyers and free newspapers to everyone. Local residents and business owners came out to watch this spectacle. We found ourselves in the midst of a black-hooded and masked Anarchist group, almost certainly the same who had running battles with the Police later in the day. Fortunately none of our group decided to join them (to my knowledge) although for a moment Batman found himself and his family swallowed up by their number. We went passed Kennington Police Station where some of the staff were outside having a cigarette and were greeted with a chant of “Your job’s next!”, to which they smiled, nodded and continued to stand as the chant disappeared behind me.
We marched up onto Westminster Bridge Road and under the train bridge near Waterloo. Under the bridge the noise made by the protestors was awesome and perfect for us as we neared Central London. As we turned onto Westminster Bridge the crowd thinned out, the group getting more spread along the route. We started to bunch again as we proceeded across the bridge and approached the Houses of Parliament, “Have you seen that?!” someone excitedly said to me and pointed across the Thames towards Victoria Embankment. There, in front of me, was a sight I will not soon forget. Literally thousands of people, from the junction with Westminster Bridge and as far as the eye could see. A mass of orange GMB flags at the front and a million more flags, placards and banners packed along the street. I’m getting butterflies in my stomach right now as I think about it and the picture below doesn’t really do it justice.
I saw this as the cavalry arriving but that’s wrong, this was the army, we were the cavalry. And what better place for us to join together than in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament? Now we really were a force to be reckoned with, we had taken the streets of London and that most poignant of places. This was absolutely exhilarating. People rushed to take pictures of this mass of people, excited individuals pointed for the benefit of their friends, there was a pause while everyone tried to find space to move on, and then we did, with the London Eye looking down on us we trooped past Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. It was at this point that I found out that the head of the march had reached Hyde Park. All through the day different things made me realise just how enormous this was and this was one. I pictured the streets packed all the way to the rallying point and was proud that Oz Girl and I were a part of it.
We marched up Whitehall and past Downing Street where the boo’s rang out and remained outside No.10 as the crowd continued to walk past. Oz Girl and I walked to the beat of the drummers we had found ourselves alongside and we headed on up to Trafalgar Square. More of my work colleagues joined us and we greeted each other with handshakes, pats on the back and excited talk. The streets were full, we owned London, the banners on display showing the sheer enormous number of different groups from across the country who had come to join this momentus occasion. Some Hull students’ banners read “Students up before noon, we’re just THAT angry” and a little girl with her homemade placard which read “Mr Cameron please stop being mean to us”.
We continued on to Piccadilly and towards Hyde Park, our feet and legs beginning to tire. Some of our number put their weary children on their shoulders and in pushchairs. We passed The Ritz, outside which was a man dressed as a gorilla and waving flags. I didn’t know that gorilla’s are also being hit by the spending cuts, the effects must be further reaching than I had imagined! The march flowed into Hyde Park and innumerable pieces of socialist literature were thrust into our hands. We continued on through the park towards Hyde Park corner where we found the stage and rallying point, yet more of my colleagues were
already there and we sat down, exhausted. We listened to the speakers, although I found that my mind was unable to concentrate on what was being said, too much to think about, see and reflect on. I got a text from Mancunian Comrade, who was just reaching the Houses of Parliament and this reminded me again of the enormity of the day. A last surge of excitement rippled through me.
And then it was over, Oz Girl and I decided to go home and see our 17 month-old son, Bundle. We wished we could have brought him but knew it would have been too much. We followed a thinned and weary crowd walking to Victoria Station, flags and banners now folded, ready for the next occasion when they would be seen and their owners heard. We stopped for a drink near
home and reflected, proud that we had taken part and spoke about our hopes for our son’s own social awareness. The news on the TV brought reports of the day which, sadly, seemed to be largely focussed on the disorder caused by our earlier marching-buddies, the Anarchists. And then we were home, with our son. Different things came back to me when I finally sat down for the evening, the people dressed as clowns dancing to drum and bass from a battery-powered speaker, a man whose placard was a stick, with red tinsle down it and a rubber hand on the top, the woman with a megaphone singing Jessie J’s song “Price Tag” but with the words, “We don’t need your money money money, that’s why we have to protest” having a wonderful time even though no-one else seemed to be joining in and the sea of people and placards. The feeling of coming together with a common purpose, a direction and will to take up the battle. But my overriding feeling will be one of pride, enormous pride to share that day with my work colleagues who I hold in such high regard and to share it with Oz Girl, without whom I may not even have been there. I have no doubt we’ll tell the story to Bundle and any other children we have in years to come, of the day we and 500,000 others took the streets of London.
Although I didn’t take in much of what was being said at Hyde Park, I did hear one speaker imploring those in attendance to keep the battle going after the march, to keep the pressure up and keep making noise, that rang true to me. In a sense today was the easy bit, the no-brainer, it’s not all that hard to persuade people to be a part of something as grand as yesterday. But then it’s back to the daily grind, the less spectacular and gratifying. It’s not difficult to get 40,000 Crystal Palace supporters to watch a playoff final in the sunshine at Wembley, but how many do you see on a wintery weekday evening against Doncaster at Selhurst Park? This daily grind makes as much, if not more difference as a grand gesture such as yesterday and in the absence of another mass demonstration on the horizon, that’s where people need to focus their efforts. From now the battle lies in going to local meetings, supporting anti-cuts groups, spreading the word on facebook, twitter or however else you want to do it. It lies in contacting Councillors and MPs to express your concerns and attending every local demonstration that you can. This is how we keep moving, this is how we’ll make a difference, this is how we will prevail.