Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Still Not In My Name (Part Two)

OK, so on a purely personal level I am glad that I joined that march back in February 03 simply to have experienced it first hand, because the experience was like the best music festival I've ever been to, combined with the best football match I've ever been at, with a whole load of street theatre and a lifetime subscription to Private Eye thrown in for good measure. The thrill of adding your voice to a million others and hearing your words echo around the streets of the nations capital for a day, is not to be underestimated!

Have you ever been involved in anything anywhere near that big that wasn't sponsored by a piss-weak lager brand or a multinational bank? I am pretty sure that the vast majority of people who were there felt it too, that sense of exhilaration, and of affirmation, and I strongly suspect a lot of them would really, really like to do it again. Its definitely the kind of thing you could develop a taste for, and I think the March for the Alternative ticks all of the boxes for being the next "big one".

February 15th was an educational experience for me too! I'm part of a generation that spent its childhood watching the police beat up rioting Brixtonians, picketing miners, poll tax protesters or England fans on BBC Newsround with John Craven - I thought I knew how those things went! When riot police go looking for trouble, they never seem to have much trouble finding it. That day was different, it was well organised, well stewarded, mind-bogglingly well attended and thoroughly well behaved! It was also extremely heavily policed, and at times that was a little intimidating, until I realised that "we" outnumbered "them" by hundreds to one and that this brought about a fundamental shift in the relationship between police and protester. It was clear that confrontational tactics would be of no use to anybody that day. In any crowd there will always be black clad hotheads and fanatics of all varieties, but this was a family event and they were on their best behaviour too. The graffiti artist Banksy had been at work along the route with tape and barricades stating "Polite Line - Do Not Get Cross" and far as I could tell, nobody did.

There was passion for sure, many questions, much anger, and a kind of collective mass incredulity that they could possibly expect us to swallow this bullshit justification for a war. An invasion we knew would not liberate anybody, would not bring democracy, would not make the world a safer place, would kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people, destroy the lives of millions more, would further destabilise the middle-east and would be an all singing, all dancing, recruitment campaign par excellence for radical extremism at home and abroad. We knew no that no WMDs would be found, we knew it was all about oil, we knew it was about selling the bombs to raise the country to the ground then making billions on the no-bid reconstruction contracts. We knew that measures taken in the name of security ran the risk of robbing us of the very freedoms we supposedly fought to uphold.

And we were right!

Tragically, history has born us out on almost every single point!

But did we actually do any good?

We didn't Stop The War of course, but I think most people there saw the invasion as a foregone conclusion anyway. It was pretty obvious that we were as inextricably tied to America's crackpot foreign policy as it later turned we were to their crackpot financial practices. What is impossible to say though, is how much worse things might have been if instead of a global day of action with record breaking mass protests in dozens of cities around the world, everybody had just stayed at home and carried on moaning about it? In a way its almost heartening that they bothered even trying to sell us their justification for oil, sorry I mean justification for war. We should take the fact that they even felt the need to lie to us about freedom, and democracy, when in the days of empire all they ever felt the need to say was "they've got it, we want it, they can't stop us from taking taking it, it's our god given right" as a sign of how much things have changed in the last hundred years or so.

It is my opinion that our political leaders, whatever their party, will try and get away with just about as much as they think the population will let them get away with. A population tuned in to whatever prime-time Z-list-celebrity phone-in talent show is clogging up my news feed at the moment sends them a very clear message that they can get away with pretty much anything they like. A city full of hundreds of thousands of protesters sends a very different message altogether. I believe quite firmly that in the absence of a concerted anti-war movement, the horrors in Iraq and Afghanistan would have been worse, the inhumanities taking place inside Camp X-Ray and Abu Ghraib would never have been exposed and our civil liberties at home would have been eroded even more quickly than they have been.

Now at the time of the Iraq invasion the Blair government had a solid majority in the House of Commons, a majority the likes of which it would never enjoy again in fact. David Cameron does not have a majority, no one voted for this Coalition of the Shilling (they represent old money) and they have no clear mandate for the radical and extreme changes to our society that they have initiated. More to the point, while Stop The War asked people to protest about the plight of strangers in a foreign land, a high-flung idealistic principle at the best of times, the March for the Alternative asks people to protest against against public spending cuts, and the political ideology behind them, that directly affect the majority of the people in the country. People whose jobs are being destroyed, whose pay is frozen while the cost of living creeps inexorably upwards, whose services are being cut and whose social security is being taken away. People whose educational aspirations have been dashed on the rocks while their futures are stunted by the burden of paying off debts incurred bailing out bankers who have increased their own wages and still paid out bumper bonuses. The March for the Alternative asks people to protest essentially out of self interest, because this government does not have the interests of any one but their own privileged elite in mind.

The Conservatives campaigned for change in May 2010, but all they have delivered are the same old policies they devastated this country with back in the 1980's, privatisation and public spending cuts, tax breaks for the rich and wage slavery for everyone else, the demonisation of public sector workers and the scapegoating of immigrants and ethnic minorities. All they've done is call in a slick Etonian PR executive to re-brand it and hope that most people are too distracted, too apathetic and too dumbed down to notice.

But we have noticed  

That is why I suspect the March for the Alternative on the 25th of March is going to be a record breaker, and hopefully, a government breaker.

If you have kids, if you are a student, if you are approaching retirement, if you are old, if you or someone close to you works in the public sector, the NHS, the fire brigade, the police or the armed forces, if you depend on the NHS, if you are at risk of redundancy, if you are worried about crime, if you think that selling off the forests AT A LOSS is a bad idea, if you care about other people and are concerned that the people running the country are millionaires who only care about other millionaires, you should be on this march! If you or anyone you care about has a disability you should be on this march. If you think the governments plan to boost the economy by making it easier for your employer to dismiss you and harder for you to take them to court if they do it unfairly is a crock of shit, you should be on this march. If you think its a bit rotten that we will subsidise foreign banks, but we won't subsidise our kids higher education, you should be on this march.If you think its wrong to make major structural changes to the NHS when, prior to their election, the Conservatives promised not to make any major structural changes to the NHS, you should be on this march.

Hell, if you've never had the pleasure of going to London, and finding that they've closed roads across half the city so that you, and hundreds of thousands of your friends can walk down them as if you own the should be on this march.

It promises to be quite an exhilarating experience!

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