Alex Snowdon's account of the People's Assembly and how to take it forward after the hugely successful London event
Breaking news: Unity and breadth muffles the sound of mouth-foaming sectarianism #pplsassembly
Naz Massoumi, Bristol activist
Well, it's been a very long day - which started with getting the 6am Newcastle train to London - but here are my initial, late-night thoughts on an extraordinary event.
- The People's Assembly was huge - at least 4000 people took part. It was quite simply the biggest political meeting I've attended in 20 years as a socialist activist. Numbers matter. Only something on this scale can do what we are trying to do here: to build a coherent, broad and unified mass movement to end austerity. Anything less simply won't suffice.
- The atmosphere was electric, most obviously in the final plenary session. This was something more than the Big Event effect: it reflected a genuine and powerful feeling that today really mattered, that we are doing something important, and that we are on the move.
- It was long, long overdue. Some of us have wanted this to happen - and have argued for it - for a very long time. The tragedy of the modern British left has been its failure to do this before. The People's Assembly gave us another opportunity - one last chance to make it happen, because if it hadn't come off then the cynicism would have become more bitter and the divisions more entrenched - and it's a huge relief that we all made it work.
- For the sane and non-sectarian elements of the left, for the best of the left, this marks a new chapter in left renewal as well as a desperately needed lift for the whole anti-cuts movement. For the sectarians and naysayers, for the worst of the left, it represents a slide into even greater irrelevance. Events of this scale and significance are a test for everyone on the left. Fail it and you are consigned to the margins.
- Unity really is key. Easy to say, but today made that tangible as only a big, broad, diverse and inclusive event of this kind can do. The two central messages of the statement endorsed by the final session are that we say No Cuts - not simply some cuts, or urging that cuts happen more slowly - and we will do everything possible to overcome divisions and build practical solidarity. Those key messages were manifested in everything about the event itself, and serve as a platform for building the movement.
- People are fed up with the old sectarian, divisive and insular habits of so much of the left. Disagreement and debate are necessary and healthy. That is not the issue. The point is to establish common ground, build on it, and not get distracted by ancient grudges or trivial differences. You could feel the collective willing to make this a reality and marginalise those who make it more difficult. Today turned the left outwards - and a very good thing too.
- In advance of the event there was a fair amount - online, at least - of rather silly, ill-informed (or mischievous) sniping along the lines of caricaturing the Assembly as 'top down' or 'bureaucratic'. But the format and composition of the day buried such objections entirely. A great deal of time was given over to workshop discussions, while the strengths of big rallies with prominent speakers were obvious to anyone who attended the opening and closing sessions. The balance was just right. Above all, it was clear that this was not about a day of listening to speeches, but a forum for discussion and exchange - and a launch pad for action and mobilisation.
- We are shaping a movement with a high level of politics. I was in the 'Welfare not Warfare' session, for example, and speeches and contributions alike were excellent. Comments which made connections between issues drew a warm response. We are building on the back of what some of us have long called a 'political upturn' - that hasn't gone away, but is instead being sharpened. Speeches from both platform and floor were - in that session and elsewhere - radical, political and enlightening.
- The vital next step is building local and regional Assemblies within a national framework. This is how the People's Assembly will be embedded in local areas while sustaining a clear focus on confronting central government with a coherent national movement. In the north east we've already started organising a regional People's Assembly for 14 September in Newcastle. It can be a regional version of today's event and a lift to our mobilising capacity.
- More generally, the action to emerge from the People's Assembly is tremendously promising. We've waited a long time for a national NHS demonstration and now we've got one - on 29 September at Tory Conference in Manchester. This can be huge. This will, in turn, feed into a day of civil disobedience, appropriately timed for 5 November. If such action is directly linked to the growth of local Assemblies - as forums for discussion and co-ordination - then we could be looking at a higher level of mobilisation on a sustained basis, not merely the occasional peaks we've had so far.
We have work to do, we will do it together, and we will keep at it until we win.
From Luna17 Activist
Alex Snowdon is a Counterfire activist in Newcastle. He is active in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition and the National Education Union.
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