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People's Assembly General Election Now demonstration, January 2019. Photo: Jim Aindow via flickr

People's Assembly General Election Now demonstration, January 2019. Photo: Jim Aindow via flickr

Counterfire's Tom Griffiths interviews People's Assembly Against Austerity's Ramona McCartney about an online rally on Thursday

The People's Assembly have called a mass online rally, the ‘Online Takeover: Fight For Our Lives - National Rally on Thursday 7th May at 6:30pm’ - can you tell us about it?

Ramona McCartney (People’s Assembly National Organiser): Well, since this lockdown started, I think one of the biggest questions for everyone was; if you're an activist, what do we do right now? How do we stay active in lockdown? So, we've been trying to figure that out over the last six weeks. And we've been doing really well with our weekly Thursday evening online events addressing the Government's handling of Coronavirus and the lockdown. So out of that I think, we'd had lots of discussions with lots of activists and lots of different groups and we decided we could start to unite all of the left organizations together under one umbrella. And that's what the People's Assembly is supposed to be for. From the first, we were supposed to act as an umbrella organization. And actually, this can be a really great time for organizing because everyone's at home, everyone's online.

So, what we've decided to do on Thursdays is show a united front and gather all of the trade unions, all of the campaign groups and as many charities as we can and individuals for a mass online rally. We’re calling it an ‘online takeover’.

How do people get involved?

Ramona: The rally is on Thursday 7th May. We're going to start at 6:30. We're going to run it just like we would a People's Assembly rally after a big demonstration, in Parliament Square for example, and then we’re going to stop at five to eight for the clap for key workers and NHS workers.

The rally will include around 15 speakers selected from the main organisations that are representing. And we'll hear from each speaker for about three minutes and then we'll finish.

Give us a few examples of who is supporting the event.

Ramona: We've got Unite the Union. We've got CWU, PCS, the Bakers, Keep Our NHS Public, DPAC, Stand up to Racism, National Pensioner's Convention, Stop the War, FBU, RMT, GMB and loads more. We've also got media support from people like the Canary, Squawk Box, the Morning Star.

That's great. Where do people watch it?

Ramona: Just go to the People's Assembly’s Facebook page. But it will also be streamed on many other pages including Jeremy Corbyn’s, Laura Pidcock’s page, who is now the National Secretary for the People’s Assembly, the unions and so on, and we’ll also be streaming live on our Twitter page and live on YouTube.

What does the People's Assembly hope to achieve with this event?

Ramona: We're hoping for thousands to be watching us live, but I think that one of the most important things is that this video becomes a resource in itself that people can watch at any time. In the end, we're hoping hundreds of thousands of views for this rally up and down the country. And this is a starting block - it's not, some sort of finale or anything like that. It’s the beginning.

This is really our first attempt at reorganizing ourselves and pulling all of these organisations together in the middle of this crisis and in the weeks following the rally, we’ll be holding more meetings with these people and we'll be calling on them all to submit demands for their campaigns, for the people that they represent or the institutions that they represent.

And we’ll put those demands together in something like ‘movement manifesto’ or the ‘people's demands’, that we can use as a campaigning tool when this is all over. We want to get as many people as possible to sign it and support so we as members of the public can say; this is how we want society to look when we come out the other end of this.

And we want to start organising for a date in the future when we call on millions of people to join us on the streets, to rally around that document, that manifesto of demands and show the Government the huge opposition there is to what they’ve done and that that we absolutely don't want to go back to normal.

We’re starting to think about, planning for and building a mass demonstration at a later date and we like the idea of calling it ‘Day X’.

That sounds exciting, so you’re talking about when we finally get back out on the actual streets again?

Ramona: Yeah that’s right. I think it's a great idea. It’s absolutely vital to make clear however, that we really want to make sure that the lockdown stays in place until it's safe for everyone to come out. And I think the lockdown should stay in place for as long as is necessary. We’re not saying ignore the lockdown ‘see you on the streets’, it's not like that. But yes, in the future when it is safe, we’ll be calling for ‘Day X’ - a massive demonstration built around our demands on the Government – of what we want society to look like after all this.

That's a really important point. And it sounds like online events like the one on Thursday will be a really important tool to build up to that.

It seems to me that one of the reasons we've got among the highest death tolls in the UK, certainly if you look at the Financial Times figures, which last time I looked was over 47,000 dead, is not only the attacks on the NHS, which are well documented, but in a very real sense, and in so many ways, are the last 10 years of austerity. Do you think that the People's Assembly has got a special role in this moment because of that?

Ramona: Yeah, I really do think so. I think over the last few years the People's Assembly has been doing lots of really important stuff, and in many ways, we’ve been successful in the argument around austerity being a political choice and not an economic necessity.

We’ve been asking ourselves, where do we move forward from here? And I think that this coronavirus situation is showing us really quickly that there is a massive need for an anti-austerity campaign still. Because there’s no doubt about it, the Government will try their best to roll out a massive austerity agenda after this crisis and try to put the price tag on the poorest and most vulnerable people and society as they always do. And I think it’s really important that we insert ourselves into that narrative and say very clearly; we will not accept this anymore.

Coming out of this, I think we will have to campaign harder than ever, that the bill is not picked up by people that don't deserve to pay it.

Yes of course the Conservatives will say that you’re right – but whether they like it or not, they've actually proved that austerity is a political choice by the way they've had to respond to this crisis, they’ve proved that when it comes down to it there is a magic money tree; they're even working against the spirit of their own legislation at the moment, for example their own Health and Social Care Act, they’re having to take control of the NHS and operate it essentially in ways which they've been trying to legislate against for eight years. Not only does this crisis prove that you're right it was always political, they’re also going to put a price tag on it. And we're going to need to be ready to push back against that.

Ramona: I think so. And I think because of all that we're in a good position to do so. The People’s Assembly is going to make it very difficult for the government to champion austerity right now. It’ll be political suicide – especially if we’ve got anything to do with it. I think we’re on the front foot, the moment they start mentioning the ‘coronavirus price tag’, we can slam back.

What austerity means is that you're taking stuff away from working people, the very things we’ve built ourselves. And we're not having it anymore, and anyway, how much more can they cut? You know, how many more libraries are going to shut? Are there any theft? We have to be really vigilant in the period ahead but we’re putting ourselves in a position where we’re able to do that and keep our eyes open and look for the warning signs.

How can people support the People's Assembly to help make this event a success?

Ramona: I think that one of the main things people can do apart from telling everyone about it, is people need to actually watch this event live. We really need as many people as possible tuning in on the night. There’s going to be lots of messages and campaign ideas and information on the next steps and how you can be more involved with People's Assembly.

But as well as watching live please definitely share it. If you are part of an organisation, send that out to all your contacts. Set up a ‘Watch Party’ on Facebook on the night to share. If you're on Facebook, you can invite 500 people. If we all do our bit, we can make this huge, and more than that a vital steppingstone to making the changes we so urgently in need.

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