Protest isn’t a spectator sport. It is an example of grassroots political organising that should strengthen and embolden those who turn out on the day argues Lindsey German
The wave of protests that followed the unexpected and unwelcome election result shows that David Cameron’s tenure in Downing Street will be contested. People have been taking to the streets with a determination that recognises the fight starts not with someone else or sometime in the future but right now.
Leave it to the mainstream politicians, and in five years we will have kissed goodbye to our publicly-funded NHS, libraries, parks and swimming pools, and to decent schools. And those of us in work will have seen trade union rights further curtailed, making public sector strikes near impossible, zero hours contracts growing, and wages at rock bottom.
So the fight matters today. The End Austerity Now demo in London on June 20 will bring together tens of thousands from across the country to the Bank of England, at the heart of the richest financial centre in the world.
Demonstrations are a political statement. They are sometimes viewed as passive affairs, like someone has organised a giant party and the crowds just turn up.
But this misses the point. Protest isn’t a spectator sport. It is an example of grassroots political organising that should strengthen and embolden those who turn out on the day.
The point of this demonstration is not to have a stroll through central London. It is to build local and national organisation which is larger, more politically focussed, and pulling in layers of people new to the movement.
The purpose of bringing people together in one place is to show their strength and determination. And it creates a confidence among those participating, so their own activity in the future is boosted.
Most people who go on such demonstrations know that protests, by themselves, will not end austerity. We know we face a vicious government backed by the press and big business, and that it will take sustained activity to win against them. Those who go on the demo return to their local campaigning with a greater sense of the potential to organise. If June 20 is the end of the campaign, then it will have failed.
But if it creates hundreds of People’s Assemblies across the country, where a broad section of those who oppose austerity come together, organising themselves, we have a mass movement.
There is one precondition for this. The movement must reach into every place in the country, and must politically organise people who have never had previous experience of campaigning.
That means ending elitist or cynical attitudes that think there have to be special demos for the most militant, or who tell working-class people new to protest that it’s all been done before and doesn’t work.
The left needs to get serious here. Our job is to help organise and lead not just ourselves but the hundreds of thousands that realise the Tories spell disaster. And if we build such a movement then maybe that would begin to help form the alternative to Labour so many are looking for.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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