I didn’t demonstrate about anything until I went to university and experienced the joy of yelling “Coal Not Dole” at bemused Saturday morning shoppers. I was one of hundreds of nicely brought up, middle class kids who’d never been anywhere near a coalfield but liked the frisson of shouting loudly in public and the certainty that “we” were on the side of right and “they” would have to listen to us.
My political understanding has got a lot more sophisticated since then, and my expectation that marching achieves anything has lessened considerably, but I still find it moving to be part of a crowd of people, making a point by the simple act of coming together.
My 13-year-old daughter is years ahead of me as a marcher – she was already a veteran of two anti-cuts demos before she joined me at the TUC march to Hyde Park yesterday. (If nothing else, the government is doing an excellent job of politicising young people.) And she, like me, thought it was great.
I burst out laughing when, under the bridge by Embankment station, a brass band started playing and the crowd started to dance. She chanted along to all of the most scabrous political slogans (I’m telling myself that she doesn’t know what some of those words mean…) I’m glad I went and I’m glad she did too, even though it means she’s likely to be disillusioned about marching early on in her protesting career: the wrangling about how many people were there (“at LEAST 500,000” according to her – half that according to the papers); the fact that a handful of idiot protesters whose actions are endlessly looped on the news can become the way that an event is remembered.
Having tweeted that everything was calm and peaceful on the route, I was called a muppet and a moron for not realising that the event was actually a hotbed of rioting anarchists throwing ammonia-filled lightbulbs. “Take your blinkers off” I was urged by someone apparently watching events from his sofa, in between following the England – Wales game on TV.
Rebecca insists the whole thing was worthwhile: “It was really good and the 100-odd idiots that decided to throw paintbombs, missiles and fireworks at people completely hijacked the entire march and took it away from us.”
I agree with her – though I also agree with the man quoted in today’s papers: “I think this march is a pretty futile gesture. I don’t think politicians respond to protests. But sometimes futile gestures need to be made and there’s comfort in being with other people who feel the same way.”
There’s been lots of nonsense spoken about yesterday – quite a lot of it by the marchers themselves (however cute the March Like An Egyptian placards looked, this is not Egypt. Cameron is not a Mubarak-style dictator. Trafalgar Square is not Tahrir Square. The news story about Libyan woman Iman al-Obeidi in today’s papers should highlight how ridiculous those comparisons are) It was just a heartening example of people standing up to be counted for something they feel is important, and that in itself is something to celebrate.