This turned out a bit narrative - sorry!
Three weeks ago, I attended my first ever mass demonstration.
I'd been following the news about Gaza since the attacks started, and grew more and more frustrated as time went on. I just couldn't understand why nobody was condemning this mass killing. With Obama remaining silent because apparently there can only ever be one president, I began to question what sort of people make world leaders.
I'm usually a pretty calm person, and even I was going crazy over the state of the world. I wasn't just angry though. My heart went out to these people, and it got to a point I felt so hurt for their suffering that I couldn't eat or sleep. So when I heard about the demonstration on the 3rd January, I strangely envisioned a large group of angry people chanting and throwing things. (I have such faith in people, eh?) I appear to have forgotten that alongside the frustration, there is the overwhelming pain and hurt everyone feels in solidarity with the Palestinians. After giving it some thought, I asked for a second opinion. I asked a politically active friend who'd been to a number of demonstrations himself, how the march would be conducted, and if it'd be safe. He reassured me there'd be no problem, and I should definitely go seeing as I felt so passionately. Deep down, he probably laughed at my lack of knowledge of how things work.
That night, I sat awake thinking of the effectiveness, purpose and need of demonstrations. Why do things have to get so bad that we have to take to the streets of London? We're a democracy, right? Deriving from the Greek words 'demos kratos', in its purest form, it means: people rule. I'm not speaking of full-blown direct democracy where people themselves form the government and make decisions, like they did in Athens. I'm linking it back to the idea of representation. Through representation, people are to rule. I vote for an MP. He takes my views to Parliament. The government listen and act on it. Sounds pretty easy right? Now let's link it to Gaza. I'm to write a letter to Andrew Dismore, telling him how I feel. He then goes to Parliament and says: my constituents think this. The government say: oh dear, we'd better do something then! Here's what actually happened:
I wrote to Andrew Dismore. I got an automated thank you response: "thank you for your email, I shall be sure to respond to your individual enquiry as soon as possible." I then got a generic response about how killing is wrong, and Hamas need to stop fighting. It ends with: "I fully support Gordon Brown's position, and hope you will too." Message deleted.
I'm sure I'm not the only person to have written to him. I'm also sure I'm not the only person to have got that response. My parents received a similar letter in the post the other day, and I just threw it in the recycling bin. They're supposed to be working for us. Taking our views further. But my views seem to be brushed under the carpet, while he acts on his own beliefs and whatever the prime minister says.
I didn't give up. I wrote again. and again. I signed petitions and I did some fundraising. I also attended demonstrations (after being reassured) just so that my voice would be counted and heard.
Demonstrations. Where to start? The first thing that struck me about the 3rd January was not the number of people there, but the diversity. Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Atheist.. and South-Asian, Arab, British, European, African - people from all over the religious spectrum and the whole world. Literally. The day went well The crowd gathered at Embankment station at 12.30, and the march began shortly afterwards. There was positive cheering all the way through - I felt a real sense of unity. I was surrounded by brightly coloured banners made by various organisations, and almost everyone waved a placard in the air. Was this not enough for the government? 20,000 people standing up and saying the war needs to end, and the siege needs to be removed. Over 20,000 people who stood united despite their colour or creed, all chanting the same thing, with the same aim. The march carried on past downing street. Admittedly, I laughed at what happened there. People came prepared with old shoes, which they threw in the direction of number 10. Nobody was hurt and many police officers smiled. It was making a statement. The same disrespect and rage that people had towards George Bush, was echoing through the streets of London.
The march ended at Trafalgar Square, where the organisers had arranged for a range of speakers to deliver speeches. The atmosphere is something I'd never experienced before. The positivity and love (in want for a better word) was inspirational. After taking a random walk around London with a friend, I went home with a smile, because I got off my seat and stood to have my voice heard.
I can't say much about what happened afterwards. I was told some people decided to go to the Israeli Embassy, and things got a bit out of hand. I can't explain the behaviour of people who decide to smash windows and things. I'm dead set against it, because peace can't be achieved through violence. That's the whole point of the demonstration, right? To get peace through dialogue and no more fighting. I also read somewhere that George Galloway got injured in the process. Like I already said, I'm not sure why and how these things happened. But the official organised demonstration went really well
Over the 3 weekends following the 3rd, I've been attending demonstrations and rallies. I won't go into huge amounts of details, but my reason for attending them has been the same: for Palestine to be free; the siege lifted and troops removed. The march on the 10th went from Hyde Park to the Israeli embassy. Hyde Park filled up amazingly. It was absolutely freezing, I even saw snow! The total count of people came to over 100,000 I believe. Again, I was moved by the diversity of people, and the eagerness each and every one of them had to share their view. Surely somebody needs to hear the voices now? 100,000 people! There were a few incidents of broken windows, shaken gates and burnt flags. I'll say it for the third time - I don't understand violence. On my way home that day, I tried to make sense of the events. Perhaps it was just an expression of rage? Perhaps it was just a misunderstanding? Either way, it was amazing to be in the same place as 100,000 people who all felt the same way as me.. and strongly too!
Last week's rally had a smaller turnout, and some low-profile but amazingly effective speakers. Even in this cold weather, people of all ethnicities and religions, come out and stood up for their beliefs. Truly inspiring This is a way of achieving democracy. I attend a demo to make a statement to Gordon Brown. I tell him I'm against the war, and I want the troops out. I tell him the killing of 400 children can't be justified. I tell him to change his ways. Whether he listens, is another story...
Today, I attended my fourth demonstration. I came back even more determined and sure of my views than I previously had done. The demonstration assembled outside BBC headquarters, and once again I was blown away by the number and diversity of people. Tony Benn, Salma Yaqoob and George Galloway were amongst the speakers today. They shed light on the lies the BBC were telling, and revealed the information they kept hidden. Had already read about this, I had come up with my own point of view, and wanted to voice it. So I should, right?
The actions of the police left me speechless. Absolutely speechless, and that's quite an achievement. In large crowds of people, there's bound to be the over-excited people who want to run the whole of the march. There's bound to be people who want to push past barriers to get to the front. There's bound to be people who find the presence of large numbers of police intimidating. Does that give the police the right to cause a fight? Does that give the police the right to hold a woman and beat her? Does it give the police the right to hit two men, causing them to fall to the floor? Does it give them the right to push, so people push back and push others? People get hurt. Children in the crowd get frightened - even adults get frightened. 5 people were arrested today. What did they do? My friends got pushed into the crowd. I myself got pushed and shoved in so many different directions until some nice person pulled me out of the crowd where I felt trapped.
But why? Why do the police push and hurt? Is it because somebody pushes them first? Is it because somebody breaks the law? No. After a rather interesting conversation with a dear friend, I formed an opinion, as to why. It's because they're anti democracy. They're not anti Palestinian. In fact, I doubt they have a true opinion on the matter. They want to rule the state. They don't want people to be able to make a difference and influence decisions. Triggering a fight and arresting people will give them a reason to ban demonstrations. Once you ban demonstrations, the platform for us to have our say is dramatically reduced.
Today I came to appreciate arguments for the liberal view: state action is coercive. (and this conflicts with liberty)