By Tim Hardy
(Image by Bern O’Donoghue.)
The TUC March for the Alternative on 26 March 2011 promises to be the largest, peaceful demonstration in the UK for many decades.
TUC stewards and Sukey will both be doing their bit to keep demonstrators safe, mobile and informed on the day so that we can all exercise our democratic right to peaceful protest.
The Woodcraft folk will be working to ensure a peaceful, playful and supportive atmosphere for young people and children.
Peaceful protest has long been recognised as a fundamental tenet of democracy. Protests allow ordinary people to come together in a high-profile way, to stand up for what they believe in and to have their voices heard. The Human Rights Act protects freedom of expression and freedom of assembly which form the basis for the right to gather with others and protest.
Over recent years we have seen a gradual erosion of our democratic rights including a systematic strategy of vilification by the police designed to deter people from protesting.
In the weeks running up to an event like the TUC March for the Alternative, a slow trickle of misinformation is released to the media who are too often only too happy to collude.
Articles ostensibly about safety on the march begin to appear full of sly references to police intelligence about “violent troublemakers.” The voices of tens of thousands of peaceful protesters fade to silence and isolated acts by a tiny minority are made to stand in for entire movements.
The aim of these stories is to make you too scared to come. Don’t be.
For a glimpse at the kind of values that inform the anti-cuts movement – values of responsibility, respect, health, generosity, non-violence, solidarity – take a look at the unbreakable culture of the occupied Capitol in Wisconsin expressed so eloquently by activist Ben Brandzel. Large crowds at popular events can often be alarming but to be part of a group of people who live by these values is far from being so – it is a glimpse of a better world that we are coming together to build.
It is true that not everyone will be content to march from A to B and to follow the designated route. There will be other streams that flow around the main river of the official protest engaged in the kind of creative, theatrical and eye-catching peaceful protests we have seen at UK Uncut actions around the country during the last few months. When you go home after the march, others will stay.
You do not need to join them.
All we ask is that when you read or watch the news in the weeks to come, you question what you are being told and make your own mind up about whether, say, turning a bank into a day centre, is an act of peaceful, playful protest or an act by criminal troublemakers.
Have faith, take courage from one another and join us on the day.
It is up to each person to participate at a level with which they feel comfortable. Being on the main march is enough. Your presence, protected by stewards and independent legal observers, gives strength to those who prefer to act outside the protection of the TUC.
Protest is a right and a part of healthy society. If you do not stand up now for the services that are being stolen from you to pay for the folly and greed of the rich then when will you stand up? The march for the alternative is a chance for everyone to come together and to show the world that we will not stand for this any more.
I have said it before and I will say it again. I want to see a million people on the streets on 26 March.
Those with the broadest shoulders are slipping off their load and leaving it to the most vulnerable to pay for the recklessness of the banks.
They tell us there is no choice. That is a lie.
Let’s send a message out that our democracy is not for sale. It is our votes that confer power not private donations to party coffers.
Take courage and join us on 26 March and make our message heard. The cuts are not the cure. Our country is not for sale.