Yesterday, along with many hundreds of thousands of others, I attended the anti-cuts march in London. I think it’s important to record individual experiences of these sorts of events, even if these experiences aren’t dramatic enough to make the national news. Indeed, it’s important to record them precisely because they aren’t dramatic. So here, largely for the sake of boredom, is mine.
I was meeting my mother for coffee in Trafalgar Square in the morning. Walking up from South of the River, I found myself turned around my the police when I tried to cross Hungerford Bridge. There were already hundreds and hundreds of people congregating on the Embankment, and it was only a bit after 10am. We joined the demo on Whitehall around midday, and found ourselves near the front. We pottered along up Piccadilly onto Hyde Park.
It was all very British, with people apologising, drinking flasks of tea and talking about the weather. There were the traditional union banners and brass bands, but also steel pans and bagpipes, as well as homemade placards (a fair few referencing Father Ted…) and ones in Welsh and Arabic as well as English. The Bollywood Brass Band was especially good.
We ended up at the stage in Hyde Park really early, and nothing much was happening so went off to get some lunch. On the way back we walked along a bit of the West end of Oxford St. There were loads of police guarding individual shops, but all they seemed to have to deal with were crowds of tourists taking photos of them. According to twitter, the protesters where nearer Oxford Circus. We listened to some of the speeches, and Mum headed home.
I started walking back in the opposite direction of the march to get sense of its sheer size and diversity. I bumped into a friend, which was nice, and caught up with some others online. I laughed at some placards and giggled at chants. Mum texted to say her train was full of happy marchers saying maybe the government would listen (she sounded rather cynical of this, but seemed to be enjoying the feeling). Near Green Park, I spotted this bit of graffiti (the blue plague notes Lord Palmerston used to live here…). I was slightly surprised to see this, it stuck out amongst a very well behaved protest.
I moved to back streets for a bit to get out of the way of the protesters, and now the tone really changed. There were lots of sirens. I heard people muttering about smashed windows and scurrying in and out of buildings. A crowd of young people ran by, all in black with their faces covered with scarves. They were chased by a group of what I guessed were journalists wearing bicycle helmets (indeed, I saw one on the BBC later that evening). A minute later, a crowd of hi-viz clad police followed. It was like something out of a movie.
I got back to Piccadilly and the main march, and the friendly feeling of peaceful protest returned. There were a few smashed windows, but they seemed like relics of a moment of madness now passed. It wasn’t like the fees demos last year. People were angry, that was why they were there, but they were also delighting in how many other people can come out to protest with them. There was a joyous sense of solidarity; a sense of shared anger, that we were all in this together.
I walked back to Trafalgar Square and even though it was nearly 4pm, more and more people were still joining the march. Clearly from all parts of the UK, and many different fields. They were smiling and dancing. Despite the darker moments round the edges, this is how I’ll remember the march: a big, social smile and a giant, mass dance. At its most positive, it felt like a cultural event as much as a political one (and I think there lies much of its potential power).