New People's Assembly volunteer, Michael Gilbert, reports on his experience at the protest of the Queen's Speech
May 8th was a day when many in Britain woke into darkness. The Tory majority was an ominous cloud of radical and ideological attacks on our civil liberties that scourged over the horizon of hope we had all been striving so desperately toward.
It was a day of disbelief. A day of mourning. And for some, a day of despair. At the time I had never even heard of ‘The People’s Assembly.’ The previous few weeks had been spent tredding sunshine around Hampstead and Kilburn canvassing for Labour’s Tulip Suddiq. The Tory’s ‘number one’ target seat kept a Labour majority of several thousand. It all seemed too opaque to comprehend.
While millions like myself wandered a crepuscular path of explanation - peering into shadows for answers and understanding: was it the Scottish vote, the Lib Dem collapse, the fault of first past the post – in the East of London, a bright group of campaigners were shining the spotlight of inquisition. Not on what we did wrong, but on what we do now!
Nineteen days later and I’m assembled outside Downing Street. Green and red ‘End Austerity’ placards bristle into the air with righteous indignation. One side of the street is a hive of purposeful sound, colour, and energy. True to their name, this is a peoples’ assembly. A swarm of voices and organisations are holding their own democratic process. From socialists, to Green party activists, Labour MPs, comedians, anti- Trident groups, union representatives but above all, the voice of the common people.
From Parliament Square to Trafalgar the people are out in numbers. The crowd swells outside Downing Street, surging over the tarmac and lapping against an excessive police presence before streaming down Whitehall. On either pavement the crowds of commuters are buoyed up with bobbing placards and the currents of earnest flyerers.
Here was action. Here was a group of people assembled around a common cause. Here was hope.
The first speaker to take the stage was the passionate and beautiful Shappi Khorsandi. With an empowered and emotional address she set the tone for a call for change that would resound outside the Downing Street gates for a full hour. Lindsey German from Stop the War Coalition and Kate Hudson of the CND decried loud and clear the callous waste of a society that spends £100 billion to maintain nuclear armament. A sum that ironically enough could completely clear our deficit.
Natalie Bennet also took the podium amongst vigorous cheers to remind us yet again of the important cohesion between ending austerity and promoting sustainability. Both the NUS, Further Education and TUC were represented with a powerful and ominous warning against Tory plans to straitjacket future strike action with a hypocritical balloting mandate of at least 50%. However, there were two messages that really stole the show.
Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the PCS gave a moving account of the five week general strike at the National Gallery. Five weeks of attacks. Five weeks without pay. Five weeks of solidarity was what it had taken to secure a six month back date of the living wage. From the Queen’s own coffers! The message was clear. Change can be achieved.
And it was this message that a number of MPs from the Labour party took up in a moment of real solidarity between the people and our politicians. Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North voiced perhaps the defining words of the assembly: "Keep the spirit of that world you want to live in - not the nasty divided one we're in," he told the crowd.
May 8th was clearly a black day for politics. But it was clearly also a day of inspiration and determination for activism. The fundamental theme behind every speaker was the theme of fairness, of progression, of change. But also a call to action. As Richard Burgon, Labour MP for East Leeds candidly called to the crowd. ‘Don’t wait for politics to fix it. Politics is broken.’
It’s now twenty days since the General Election. The dark clouds still loom but now I feel that we can take protection against the onslaught. Already over 60,000 people are signed up to the huge End Austerity March of 20th June.
I believe now that we can make that voice louder. That we can make it so loud that Tories have to cow down before the voice of the people.
I gave out hundreds of flyers in the streets of London last night. I’ll be organising a street stall in my local area. Facebook, twitter, conversations in the pub. The more direct action we take the more people march. The more people that assemble the more people behind our voice.
People over politics. Well done to The People’s Assembly.