Two years after the Stop in 2005 the Make Poverty History march took place in Edinburgh at the time when the G8 Summit was being held slightly further North at Gleneagles also in Scotland. I attended and in fact I kept a diary of my time. In spite of attempts to derail the movement, in spite of smear campaigns by some who claimed they shared our objectives we marched and formed a ring around the city almost all of us dressed in white. It was a moving experience, a powerful experience. Why do I bring it up now? Because like the march in 2003 it united people of differing persuasions both left and right, atheist and religious, young and old who were all there to condemn the mindless slaughter of those disenfranchised in other countries by war, famine, disease and the simple lack of caring of the leaders of the Western World and their banking allies. This was another example of people standing up for what they felt was right, and that they felt disenfranchised by the mainstream political parties who all seemed hell-bent on standing for the same neo-liberal agenda and policies.
I am still yet to forgive Bob Geldoff for those days and will not do so until he apologises for insinuating that we were the wreckers, the ones being unrealistic or idealist or cynical etc. etc. for claiming that the deals were hollow and in fact the cynicism was on the part of the leaders cashing in on what was clearly a powerful movement of non-violent dissent. Geldoff effectively admitted we were right 5 years later but showed no remorse or contrition for the people he had slagged off at the time for casting doubt on the sincerity of the world leaders promises. Furthermore it was he who helped organise concerts on the same day as the great march in Edinburgh and then claimed that it showed how many people wanted to get rid of poverty, it didn’t Bob it showed how many people wanted to see Pink Floyd reunite or be at an event that formed part of popular cultural history. The ones who wanted to stop poverty were the ones who had to put their principles before their desire to see the Floyd as one for what will probably be the only time. The fact that the concerts were put on the same day I found crass and offensive, it put into the shadow those who came to do something and reduced the day to a mere rock gig, the at best naive and at worst disgraceful statement that all the people attending were showing their opposition to poverty in Africa was simply not true. I’m sure the people who attended did not specifically agree with poverty per se but protesting against it was not their primary reason for being there. It was ours for making the trip to Edinburgh. Furthermore we were not just protesting about Africa, we were protesting about poverty everywhere from continents far away to that which we see daily around us. If even half the people in those stadiums (stadia) were to have been part of that ring around Edinburgh too then the message would have been louder still and the concerts can only have diluted the message we carried and the significance of it. I specifically know of one couple who did get allocated tickets and were agonising about whether to go to Scotland or Wembley, they chose the latter.
The march on Gleneagles itself 4 days later was hampered and sabotaged by the police who tried to use radio news bulletins to claim the march had been called off and then when many still arrive sought to stop coaches and did indeed stop the 2nd wave (who then occupied Princes St. and got kettled and flushed by riot police for their trouble). They pulled the 1st wave over on 3 occasions making us stand around wondering if all we might be able to protest on was a road junction roundabout. We were told the “Anarchists had set up roadblocks which had closed off the A9″, what was shown later that I saw was that a piece of tree about 8 feet long and with a circumference around that of a milk saucepan that which barely covered one lane of the carriageway let alone the road. But eventually we got there and we made our voices heard. It was empowering, exhausting and exhilarating. We did not go to concerts, we did not stay at home, we came from different parts of the country – as did the police ;) and we made our views known.
[I was unaware at the time that a sweepstake was being run at work courtesy of a couple of "friends" who were very familiar with the penal code and felt that it was worth speculating on what charge I would be apprehended by the police - smart money apparently was on 'Affray' at 8/1, Incitement to Riot at 12/1 and someone had placed an outside bet on Treason at 500/1! As it was I behaved myself and only nearly got arrested twice - once apparently for being a "f*cking smart arse" when I pointed out that I didn't need to move back to avoid a "crush at the gates" because the fact that I wasn't actually in contact with anyone meant I could not be contributing to anything. The second time was when a police van revved at me as I was crossing a pedestrian crossing. I made a gesture and the driver made for the door clearly to come and 'have a word' but he was pulled back by his passenger and the lights changed. Money raised from the sweepstake went to Save The Children.]
On my return I was in mid-air when the bombs went off in London on the 7th and the whole family was in pandemonium since no-one knew where the other persons were. Everything seemed suddenly to be about blitz spirit, everything suddenly became on a war footing again and that put paid to any reasoned debate on peace and diplomacy, “London will go on” we were told, the outrage was tangible and the demonstrations were long forgotten. But does that make our actions wrong? Far from it, it means we stood up in a way that was not open to us in the ballot box, against those for whom we had not voted and in a way that ultimately was vindicated when it became clear that the information used to justify the campaign was fabricated, or at best embellished. People died for that, many people, leaving bereft and destroyed, more than just the buildings that made a number of rich people very much richer through huge outsourced rebuilding contracts, families and communities were irrevocably damaged in a way I suspect those born in this country after the 1940s can scarcely imagine. People in Syria now will tell you and the blanket media campaign that I see now about the conflict reminds me very much of 10 years ago.
Will the Make Poverty History March and the march on the G8 Summit be better remembered than Live8 – no I’d be somewhat staggered if the former make more than a footnote in the pages of political history journals, since the Stop The War march in 2003 merits little more than that, whilst Live8 is enshrined in popular culture, but when those who attended the concerts look in the mirror I doubt they will have quite the same sense of integrity as those of us who stood up for those who were denied a voice. And that is something I can tell my children when they ask the question that prompted this, and maintain eye contact whilst I do so.
Song Of The Day ~ The Mono Polys – Insomnia