Report of 26th March March by Alan Wheatley

Guest post from Alan Wheatley

One of my ‘snapshot moment’ highlights of the day was before the march headed off. That was giving copy of my old friend John McDonnell MP a copy of the new Green Party ‘Stop the Cuts’ leaflet, announcing: “I’m the Green Party’s page three pin up.” (My photo appears at bottom of page 3 of 4xA5 page Green Party ‘Stop the Cuts’ leaflet.)

John McDonnell and I have known each other since I was a Labour Party activist in South Hampstead Branch Labour Party in 1983 and he was our General Election candidate for Hampstead constituency. He has remained true to his eco-socilist principles while I have found it better to take mine to the Green Party.

I would also add that   

three placard polls I picked up along the way served as a real Godsend to me, as I felt rheumatic twinges in my hips and the connection of my shins with my feet. Great walking stick material that will also save the Green Party £1 apiece for future placards.

Re the march and the news coverage, the feel of the march was epitomised for me by the fact that although my friend Mary and I were barred by police action from joining up with Social Work Action Network members at Savoy Street near the Strand and Savoy Hotel, we felt perfectly at ease about joining the merry throng.

(Ear plugs would have been helpful in the presence of whistles etc, especially as we passed under bridges.)

I am not good at doing headcounts and did not have the advantage of police helicopter aerial view. The march was the largest I have seen or been on since the anti-war march of 2003, but probably about a quarter of that size, so 250,000 is probably quite accurate.

The vast majority of the placards were very good humoured. For me one of the great things about the vast number of Green Party placards that I saw was that I did not recognise more than two of the people holding them. Among the best of the placard slogans I saw was one that said, “The worst cuts are the deepest.” There were great PCS [Public & Commercial Services Union] huge balloon and NUT balloon with scissors design on it saying something like ‘Education cuts never heal’. There were also a vast number of people in Unison branding, and even a very noticeable Royal College of Nursing contingent.

Perhaps our favourite slogan was written on the coat of a dog. My memory is slightly confused at present, but it said something like: “Cuts are the enemy” with the ‘a’ of ‘cats’ replaced by a ‘u’. Our least favourites showed David Cameron’s face opening like a zipped mask to reveal the head of a pig, with the writing “David Cameron’s Pig Society” and another placard that said, “Stop the Tory cu[n]ts.”

A placard text I heard of but did not see said, “My mum went to the polls and all I got was this lousy coalition.” There was also a washing line banner for Greenham Women’s Peace Camp, comprising slogan T-shirts, including, “Still around after all these years!”

Mary commented that it was great to see a very diverse geographic spread of banners of groups represented.

Also emphasising the good humoured nature of the march, some demonstrators shouted things like, “No police job cuts,” and “Save police pensions” as a bridge builder for the police presence that was vastly outnumbered by demonstrators.

By the time Mary and I reached Green Park and took a break for sandwiches and for our aching feet and legs, we felt like the elderly couple in ‘Spec Savers’ tv ad that accidentally choose a seat on a stomach churning ride to take the weight off their feet. We were joined there by a man in his 50s from Norfolk who works for the parks dept and his daughter. He had just been interviewed for his own job as there are staff cuts being arranged.

Refreshed from our break, we made it to Hyde Park with no really adverse incidents by 3pm, and then decided to make our way out of the park so that Mary could meet up with her partner at Kings Cross Stn for 5:15pm. (Mary’s partner had had a reunion with old friends in London today that was organised months ago.) We were then disturbed to see at least a dozen police moving along in riot gear as if they were eager for deployment.  And we also saw a few smashed windows of chains such as Starbucks and paint daubed windows of banks such as Santander. And there were several people taking photos of that damage with camera phones etc, with police looking on.

Concluding remarks

I am not much of a person for marches, but my friend Mary’s presence made it much easier for me. I was less anxious in the crowd with her around, and that made things easier on my bladder.

Mary’s presence reframed the march for me as a time and space to be with one of my closest friends. There was a poignant movement along Embankment as we  passed under a bridge. Mary said: “I have a photo at home of going under this bridge on a march in the 1980s with [very close friends who are all dead now  from AIDS-related illnesses.”

And my marching progress was clearly helped by a Godsend of  three discarded placard poles picked up off the street [saving Green Party  £1 each for the future], as those sticks helped me greatly as walking stick material.

That is emblematic of the resources that can come to us when we set ourselves on a path with a powerful purpose.

And I love what Rabbi Joachim Prinz of the American Jewish Congress said on the March on Washington on 28 August 1963. (That March on Washington commemorated the centenary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysberg Address, and was the occasion on which Revd Dr Martin Luther King gave his now famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.)

Prinz pronounced: “Our fathers told us thousands of years ago that when God created man, he created him as everybody’s neighbour. Neighbour is not a geographic term, it is a moral concept.”

And it is worth looking up the full text of King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech for the opening statement of that speech King made nearly 50 years ago: “America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.”

For other reports, people may like to check out the Indymedia London website.

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