I got a rush on Saturday that I hadn’t felt in years, the kind I get when I’m in a large action with other people, all of us united for a common cause. I’ve been traveling around for the last three years, so I haven’t been in the kind of protests I joined in Chicago or my hometown. It felt good to join in with tens of thousands of people (estimates range from 70,000 to 250,000) and raise our voices on behalf of the many. And the many were saying–forget austerity, embrace true prosperity for all.
Austerity in Britain has had the usual effect of making the poor poorer and the rich richer, and the new cuts to social programs being proposed and implemented now will drastically change the fabric of British society, in a way that we Americans have a hard time understanding, because the Brits started with more than we’ve ever won for ourselves. To lose these social programs is truly devastating.
I marched with friends in the National Union of Teachers block, which had the benefit of putting me in a group that I’m entirely comfortable with and fully supportive of (pretty much everyone I know is a teacher), and putting me right near the start of the march. By the time we walked the 2.5 miles from Bank in the City of London to Parliament Square in the City of Westminster, some people at the back had barely made it past the starting point.
We stood pretty near the stage in Parliament Square and listened to an impressive succession of short speeches. The organizers kept the people talking to a maximum of three minutes each, and everyone was on-message about how these cuts would hurt the most needy of society, and how the Conservatives won the election but they hardly have a mandate for austerity, and how we all need to keep up the pressure to change these harmful policies before they get any farther. (Not to mention they want to ax the Human Rights Act and re-fund the nuclear weapons program, which is so impossibly backwards it must be the premise to a dystopian sci-fi novel.)
Over and over, they reminded us that it wasn’t the nurses and teachers who created the financial crisis, it was the bankers. It’s not the millionaires who need these programs, it’s the disabled, the domestic violence victims, the hungry. And it’s not the UK that’s going to thrive in austerity, it’s the bankers and millionaires.
I live tweeted some of the speeches, so most of these I don’t have proper attribution–I wasn’t familiar with all the speakers so I don’t remember all their names.
‘We’re the 6th richest nation on the planet, don’t tell me we can’t afford the NHS’
‘If you make our lives unbearable, we will make this society ungovernable’
‘If they thought they won the war with austerity on May the 8th, they need to think again’
‘They were worried about that building crumbling [pointing to the Houses of Parliament]. I’m more worried about democracy crumbling.’ Caroline Lucas
‘It looks to me like socialism is far from an anachronism. It’s back in fashion. Keep fighting, this is just the beginning’
‘David Cameron, you are wrong. This is what I call an opposition!’
‘Our victory will be your victory’ message from Greece
‘If you think the rich should pay their taxes, shout as loud as you can’
‘I’m proud to be British because of our national health service, our welfare system, and David Bowie’ Charlotte Church
‘Austerity is about divide and rule. It’s about destroying the things that give us our humanity so the powerful can stay in power’ Francesca Martinez
We left during Jeremy Corbyn’s speech (he’s the only candidate for Labour leader who’s anti-austerity–vote accordingly!), because you know, after several hours marching and rallying, nature does call. (Apparently I missed Owen Jones and Russell Brand, both of whom I wouldn’t mind seeing sometime.)
So the final speech I heard in full was from Francesca Martinez, a comedian I’m not familiar with but definitely want to hear more of. Her speech was my favorite. She celebrated the social programs of Britain as examples of humanity at its best, and she decried the actual evil of those who want to cut them down to nothing as part of a program to fix an economy that those same people in power broke in the first place with their banking schemes. We must fight for these programs in a fight for our better selves and a better humanity. She said, ‘Every one of us has a duty to each other to protect what is beautiful about being human.’ I can’t think of a better way to phrase why I went on the demo on Saturday–and why I’ll go to more.