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Bristol’s Austerity Kills Protests

Bristol’s Austerity Kills Protests

Bristol’s #AusterityKills Protests against Osborne's budget brought together hundreds from across the city and beyond reports Jack Hazeldine

That noise.  A euphoric blast that rose from the depths of the crowd, echoing against the concrete and the glass-fronted buildings of the busy traffic corridor in the city centre: Baldwin Street, Bristol. Hoots, roars and wails… in united furor.

“Let’s move Bristol!” was the cry that set it off, issued from the megaphone of a Bristol People’s Assembly member.

Several minutes before, hundreds of protesters had collapsed to the ground, in a sudden motion, as their wide procession straddled the broad pavement, snaking back 200 yards or more across the road.

They blocked the oncoming traffic.

They lay still, peaceful, inert. But there was the wail of a siren.

Police were dotted across the scene – some in bright yellow jackets, others in pale blue vests – the ‘friendly’ ones…

When would it stop?

But the wailing siren was from a megaphone – a handy feature, and not a bad signal at all.

They had stopped outside RBS bank – in which the government intends to steadily sell off its 79% stake at a sum loss of up £13 billion – £1 billion greater than the cuts announced to welfare spending by the Chancellor, George Osborne, that day.

They were dead, in their many hundreds, to all appearances. This was a die-in - a mass die-in.

The message? ‘Austerity kills’.  A national day of protest called by The People’s Assembly Against Austerity against the ‘Emergency Budget’, July 8th 2015:

Benefit sanctions kill.  Cuts to sickness and disability benefits… kill.  Cutbacks to overstretched mental health services… kill.  Rising child poverty… kills.  £22 billion NHS cuts will kill.  Homelessness & malnutrition – the benefits cap, the bedroom tax & housing benefit cuts – they kill.  Tax credit cuts, student grant cuts, the daily struggle, the nightly worries… they kill. Racism, bred in poverty, scapegoating and fear… it kills.  We pumped our placards: “Cuts kill! Cuts kill! Cuts kill! Cuts kill!”

A second die-in outside the ‘Job Centre Plus’.  This preceded by the increasingly popular song, ‘Power to the People!’ (“Go on Matt, sing it…”) and an apt rendition of ‘Whose streets?  Our streets!’, bouncing off the walls of St. Stephen’s Street.  Then, wading into the avenue, we line up at the traffic lights, wielding the giant Bristol People’s Assembly banner.  Photographers step out ahead to take their snaps.

We have lost our large megaphone.  This is very bad news.  It belongs to Sue K.  She’s a retired Psychiatric Nurse and Professor.  She helped to make our striking ‘budget box’ placards… she has made us countless props, including a pair of scythes called ‘George’ and ‘Dave’, and Grim Reaper costumes, no less.

We cross.  Further along, there are mutters in the crowd, “Why don’t we do a die-in here?”  It is the A38, one of the busiest roads through the centre of Bristol.  We have ploughed down it, warded by the men in pale blue vests.  The siren sets off.  

600 or more people, now, fall to the ground.  Cars honk their horns, pedestrians stop and stare.  The men in pale blue vests, and bright yellow jackets too, are not sure what to do.  They approach each other and chatter nervously.  They wait. 

“Let’s move Bristol!!”  Roar.

The city is laid out before us.  These are our streets.

“Cameron get out! We know what you’re all about... cuts, job losses, money for the bosses!”  I hear the yell behind me to my left.  We had paused chanting for a moment, after carrying “They say cut back/ We say fight back” (the n’th time of it) up the brow of College Green. 

I turn, it is a young woman leaning her head back and exhaling those words like nothing on earth.  My throat is dry.  I hand her the megaphone – she hesitates and takes it.  She chants – the crowd follows – she stops after several turns, she smiles.  Whoops, cheers around us.

We move across the paving at the edge of the College Green.  It is where the skateboarders hang out.  They are there, and boarding.  “The People united will never be defeated! / The People…”  Two young guys are leaning against the bench.  They are looking at us wide-eyed and cannot help but smile. 

There is a Greek flag pinned to the City Hall.  There is a sea of people on the Green.

“Where next?” The Tory Party Conference in Manchester, October 4th, for five days of mass protest organised by the People’s Assembly along with the TUC.  We are going to turn their conference to disarray, create an unmissable spectacle and activate the huge argument over austerity that they don’t want to have! 

“We got 10 coaches down to London… let’s make it 20 coaches to Manchester!!”

One last rallying call... “What do we want to say to George Osborne about his £37bn cuts budget?”  “Boooooooooooo”.  “I can think of something else…”

“Oxi Oxi Oxi! 

No No No!

Oxi Oxi Oxi! 

No No No! …”

It’s over.  I feel a tap on my shoulder.  It is one of the men in the bright yellow jackets.  He puts the large megaphone in my hand, “I think this is yours.”

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