I wouldn’t call myself political. I’ve only ever exercised my right to vote once and it didn’t make a bit of difference because I live in an old mining community which has been Labour since way before I was even a twinkle in my father’s eye. I don’t wholly believe in socialism, communism, libertarianism, capitalism, anarchism; you name it I don’t wholeheartedly agree with it. It’s not that I can’t make up my mind, I just think there are pros and cons to many of the different political philosophies and don’t want to pigeon-hole myself to one particular party.
But despite my neither-left-nor-right-wing political stance I decided to take part in the March for the Alternative on 26th March; more out of morbid curiosity for what actually happens at protest marches than for my support of the cause. I wanted to experience the intensity of being involved in such a public demonstration of disapproval for the government’s decisions and feel first-hand what it’s like to be marching for something which so many people feel passionately about.
No sense of camaraderie among the protesters
I boarded a coach leaving Newcastle at 5.45am on the Saturday morning full of vigour and enthusiasm (well, as much as I could muster at such an ungodly hour). I got chatting to a lovely girl who I ended up buddying up with so we stuck together throughout the day. This worked out really well as I didn’t manage to meet up with my fellow OU students who were also marching so at least I had some good company.
When we got off the tube at Embankment and headed towards the procession I was in awe of how many people were there; clambering over statues, piled up on monuments, balloons and banners aloft as far as the eye could see so we sneaked into the crowds and took our place to march through the London streets, swiftly managing to find some discarded banners to wave about purposely. And that was roughly where the excitement ended for me. Once I was part of the march itself I paradoxically started to feel a bit detached from it. I felt no sense of camaraderie among the protesters, no sense that everyone was there with a united purpose, it felt a bit like I was a bystander looking in on the protest, watching as everyone else marched in their individual groups for their individual reasons. Never mind though, thought I, when we get to Hyde Park it’ll all pick up (big stage, music etc, gotta be like a festival surely?!).
When we arrived at Hyde Park there were musicians and guest speakers taking their turn on the stage with a conveyor belt of persuasive yet wholly unconvincing arguments. I listened intently and agreed with what people were saying, for the most part, but I guess too many years of studying philosophy (well, only two but it’s enough, trust me) has forced a permanently objective, scientifically logical and politically unimpassioned standpoint on me; I just can’t help but always take a hop, skip and jump to curiously look at things from the other side of the fence.
You can only please some of the folk some of the time
As I meandered my way through the crowds in Hyde Park I saw a woman sporting a badge with the declaration “don’t blame me, I voted Labour” on it. Clever. But what’s the point? It’s all too easy to blame this Con-Dem coalition for what’s going on, but it’s simply a response to an unfavourable situation they find themselves having to deal with. Is that situation the fault of Labour? Maybe not, maybe Labour’s hands were tied by the needs and wants of their voters. Regardless of which government is in power, they’re damned if they do and they’re damned if they don’t. In the immortal words of my beloved mother, you can only please some of the folk some of the time and some will just never be happy.
I found the speakers to be wasting their opportunity on stage. Instead of championing the ‘alternative’ (that’s why we were there, right?) I just found they were using their time to indulge in a Con-Dem Cameron-Clegg slagging match; focussing on everything that’s ‘wrong’ with the decisions the government has made instead of drumming up support for the alternatives (what are they by the way, did anyone find out?). I found the speeches quite unsettling in places. There were occasions to the contrary though, for example, a physiotherapist praised the NHS and announced her pride and love of the service and the whole crowd cheered, including me; how lucky we are as a country to have such a fantastic service. But then a feminist was given her time on stage and I found her speech very unnerving; she was almost encouraging an outbreak of violent anarchy following the march. Unless I got the wrong end of the stick, of course...
Something about the whole atmosphere on the day didn’t sit quite right with me. I escaped London before any of the violence broke out, luckily, and was doing some exhausted head-bobbing on the coach back by then but I had left London feeling quite disappointed with my experience. I expected a buoyant atmosphere in the capital; an air of change and revolution. But instead I felt like I was watching a twisted carnival whose genuine purpose had been somehow forgotten in the midst of impassioned politics.
Perhaps my indecisive political views clouded my vision on the day, perhaps my neither-here-nor-there opinion got trodden on when I scrambled off the tube. Either way, I was quite crestfallen with the whole experience.
I hope it was worth it though. I hope the immeasurable turnout has a positive impact. And mostly I hope the extreme actions some felt they had to stretch to on the day doesn’t damage the genuine cause.