Blogger and activist Rachael Swindon explains the significance of thousands of people mobilising in unity for the recent People's Assembly demonstration
I expect many of us have got our stories of our journey to a protest.
Mine sort of started some months ago really.
I think my friend and seasoned protester Wren (@wrenasaurus) first pointed out to me the magnificent People’s Assembly National demonstration had been announced for 26 June 26, and said something like “ARE WE HAVING SOME OF THAT SWINDON?”.
So we agreed to have some of that, with our partners in tow, the lucky lads.
“That” turned out to be an extraordinary gathering of some of the best speakers, activists and demonstrators from across the British left. A perfect example of what a movement coming together should look like. I can’t even begin to imagine how much organisation went into an event of this magnitude, and huge credit must go to Ramona McCartney and the superb team at the People’s Assembly for making this such a memorable occasion for the many thousands in attendance.
Our actual journey on the day wasn’t probably that dissimilar to many others. Junction 5-6 closed on the M4, our Underground train unexpectedly terminating at Earls Court, hunting for a toilet to use while sharing stories of past bladder retention discrepancies, and all I wanted was a jacket potato, which I still haven’t found some 30 hours later.
But let’s talk about the demonstration.
This was about demanding a new normal.
Did we expect Boris Johnson to interrupt his weekend to come and address tens of thousands of lefties gathered outside Parliament to agree to these demands? Of course not.
Are we expecting legislation to be rolled out in the next few days to satisfy our demands, such as an end to institutional racism, or decent housing for everyone who needs it? Of course not.
Most of the Parliamentary Labour Party wouldn’t support such ‘radical’ proposals, so I can’t see Johnson suddenly announcing an end to private sector involvement in the NHS because we filled the streets on a warm afternoon in London.
So if you find yourself asking what we “achieved” by voicing our anger towards the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, or voicing our support for Black Lives Matter, or displaying our unwavering solidarity with the oppressed people of Palestine, my answer would be to simply tell you that you are no socialist, you are not of the left, and I can tell you this because you do not understand the simple meaning of solidarity, of bonafide unity, and an overwhelming sense of togetherness that cannot be replicated by keyboard-warriorism alone.
The seemingly endless procession of marchers began at the BBC offices in Portland Place and made their way to Parliament Square to listen to the biggest voices from across the left. It was a sea of beautiful colours, from the blue of our National Health Service to the red, black, white and green of the Palestinian flag.
Imagine feeling more pride in someone else’s flag than your own flag.
While initially thinking the huge applause ringing around Parliament Square was down to Wren’s first class choice of T-shirt, it soon became apparent the thunderous noise was down to the arrival of the magnificent army of marchers, and just a couple of hard-to-hear phone calls later we were in Jeremy Corbyn’s ear after some of the loveliest people ensured backstage access, some Fosters for the weary troops (apart from me), and some sandwiches to cover a sticking plaster over the jacket potato sized wound.
Jeremy had a real spring in his step. You could tell a cracking speech was on the way, and he certainly didn’t disappoint.
Wren - who looked at home nattering away with the very best of the British left - managed to capture the whole of Jeremy’s superb speech and has clipped it down into three tweets. If you didn’t get to attend the demonstration I thoroughly recommend watching Jeremy’s speech for that little bit of motivation and inspiration that comes from listening to one of the leading socialists, campaigners, and homemade jam makers of our times.
Shortly after we left Jeremy to get on with his speech we bumped into Zarah Sultana - a young woman that really does have something quite special about her - and she was kind enough to stop for a chat and the customary selfie.
I recorded some of Zarah’s speech, and when you see and hear her live you get a better understanding of why so many people hold the impressive MP for Coventry South in such high regard.
I was about half an inch away from asking her the question that so many of you would like to ask her regarding any future ambitions to lead the Labour Party, but a combination of me not being a journalist and Zarah looking like she was enjoying her day killed that one off quicker than you could say “Starmer Out”.
Fantastic speeches followed from the former Shadow Justice Minister, Richard Burgon, disabled people’s champion Paula Peters, Union giant, Howard Beckett, and many other top campaigners, but I have to say, both Wren and myself agreed that one of the big highlights of the day was an absolute barnstormer of a speech from the brilliantly inspirational Laura Pidcock.
Her speech reminded us of why our movement is so strong. It reminded us of the importance of our solidarity and our sense of togetherness. She reminded us of what it is like to have a Labour politician call out the failure of Keir Starmer’s attempt at opposition for exactly what it is. Non-opposition.
Laura Pidcock reminded us that *WE* are the opposition.
But she also reminded us of just how much she is missed within the Parliamentary Labour Party, and someone somewhere needs to put this right, because Laura Pidcock is the embodiment of a democratic socialist with the enviable ability to inspire, and she is quite simply a natural leader of people.
We caught up with Laura for a chat following her powerful speech, and she was as lovely and down to earth as always, which was a consistent theme with every other speaker.
We met some really decent people throughout the day, we made some new friends, and we reacquainted with some old ones. We all came together under the giant umbrella of unity propped up so beautifully by the People’s Assembly movement.
We were the many once again. I guess we haven’t stopped being the many at any point, but you could really feel it.
Being there mattered. Demanding a new normal mattered. Every single demand from every single one of you mattered. Every speech, every banner, every flare, every chant, it all mattered. Your activism matters.
What have we got without the Corbyns, Sultanas and Pidcocks of this world standing up to the rich, the powerful, and the irredeemably corrupt establishment?
Do you think Keir Starmer was out on the streets calling for an end to the occupation of Gaza? I bet he didn’t fall asleep on the Tube on the way back through sheer exhaustion, nor did he wangle a good end-of-day deal on 3 punnets of strawberries from Hounslow market.
Look to get involved with organisations that form part of the wider movement and “occupy every single space with your politics”. Your activism will never matter as much as it will matter tomorrow. You can and you will be able to make a difference.
I wanted Wren to share her experience from the incredible day. I’m rather glad I did now.
“The feeling on the streets was electrifying. After over a year of being hidden inside, months and months of watching the Tories strip away our rights, sell off our NHS, feed their donors more and more of our public money, this protest was exactly what we needed. It's been over a year of hopelessness, of a sense of helplessness as we've watched a callous government use the tragedy of the pandemic to further their own gains as we've adhered to the rules to keep those we love safe.
This was exactly what we needed.
Some of our best and brightest political figures took to the stage and instantly, with a few simple words managed to blow away a whole year of hopelessness and dispair. Watching people like Jeremy Corbyn shout out to thousands of people... Surely if he isn't done after years and years of baseless smears, then we aren't done either?
We aren't beaten yet, are we? Because it's now, more than ever, that we need to stand up and fight.
We are at a crossroads and we need to decide if we are going to take this anymore, or if we are going to stand up. Stand up for all of those who died during this pandemic. All those nurses, doctors and health care professionals who carried the nation through this pandemic. Stand up for Palestine and the genocide of its people. Stand up for a new normal. [Saturday] was everything I needed to wake up. It was that flicker of hope in the darkness that has sparked my passion for change all over again.
Time to take to the streets and start a fire.”
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