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Bristol People's Assembly meeting

After a march called by seven students drew thousands of people, a huge People's Assembly meeting took place on Monday reports Tom Whittaker

Inspired by a 5,000 strong Bristol Against Austerity protest organised by a group of sixth form students, four hundred people attended a People’s Assembly meeting in the City Baptist Church in Stokes Croft on Monday evening.

Naz Massoumi of Bristol People’s Assembly Against Austerity chaired the meeting and short introductory speeches were given by economist and writer James Meadway; Jess McLean, a member of community union Acorn and a single mother facing revenge eviction whose campaign has garnered local and national coverage; Rosie, Megan, Mollie and Ellie, four of the seven students from Bristol Against Austerity plus Steve Turner from Unite the Union and National Chair of the People’s Assembly.

James argued that the Tories’ combined offensive on Trade Union rights, the Human Rights Act, welfare and in targeting “extremism”, is an attempt to frighten people into passivity. The government, with its very slender majority delivered by an unjust electoral system, knows that it has no legitimate mandate for continued austerity. Osborne’s austerity budget, set for July 8th, is timed to get the national ‘End Austerity Now’ demonstration on June 20th out of the way and in the hope that things go quiet in the summer.

Jess McLean struck a different tone in a very moving speech, weaving a personal narrative of resistance to the Tories that began with her experiences as a New Age Traveller under the Thatcher governments of the 1980s. Drawing inspiration from her involvement in the protest movements of the early 1990s against the Poll Tax and Criminal Justice Bill, Jess said that if people had the strength to survive Thatcher then they can withstand this current government. Jess and her two daughters are currently fighting eviction from their home; the eviction notice coming shortly after Jess received a breast cancer diagnosis. Jess urged tenants to get organised in community unions such as Acorn and encouraged everyone to join the People’s Assembly Against Austerity and demonstrate in London on June 20th.

The students from Bristol Against Austerity spoke about organising the march on 13th May and how the numbers that attended far exceeded their wildest expectations. That 16 and 17 years olds are still excluded from the franchise, whilst facing some of the harshest austerity, is clearly a democratic outrage and a clear spur to protest amongst the young. Overall it was a young meeting and it feels like a young movement in Bristol and this is how things should be. Bristol Against Austerity, will now be leading the student bloc in London on June 20th and plan to protest as well as supporting local food banks on July 8th.

Discussion from the floor, (with contributions limited to one minute to encourage participation), showed how inspired people in Bristol were by the march last week. Speakers drew inspiration from the anti-war protests in the city back in 2003, when over 60 coaches were sent to the London demonstration. Others recalled how thousands of demonstrators had blocked the M32 on the day that Iraq was invaded, implying that this might be an appropriate response to Osborne’s budget on July 8th. There was a mood for both mass protest and militancy, as calls to support strike action by Trade Unionists or other forms of direct action were well received.

Something is stirring in Bristol. It is very clear that increasingly large numbers of people are pushing a strong leftist and green identity into many parts of the city. This is reflected in the fact that Labour held the main three seats in the city and in that there were strong votes for the Greens, particularly in Bristol West. Looking at on an electoral map, Bristol stands as an island of red amidst a sea of blue: the now overwhelmingly Tory held areas of the South West and Cotswolds, with Exeter as another exception. Whilst maps showing geographical constituencies are highly misleading, what is undoubtedly true is that Bristol can act as a radical beacon to help spur resistance to austerity across the South West.

First however, we need to deepen and extend the radicalisation within the city, the People’s Assembly needs to deepen its roots in the city’s working class communities and we need to find ways to get more participation from BME residents. The meeting resolved to call a protest in the city on May 30th as part of the national day of action called by the People’s Assembly and another one the July 8th, the day of Osborne’s budget. Plans are been made to set up stalls across the city to promote June 20th - already over 100 people having booked tickets. An organising meeting open to all is set for the evening of Monday 25th May.

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