|The Early Days of a Better Nation|
Tuesday, April 15, 2003
This is a kind of update, of a couple of recent demos.
Contrary to the impression I might be giving here, I don't spend all, or even much, of my life on demonstrations, and in a later post I hope to talk through some criticisms and impressions I have of the ones I've been on recently. But for now, this is how it felt at the time.
I remember the very first purely political demo I ever went on, about 25 years ago: a small column of Kurdish nationalists and Iraqi
radicals and their left-wing British allies. The Kurds and Iraqis were chanting 'Ba'athist! Fascist! Out! Out! Out!' They've got that now, but I hope they get something of what they wanted in, too, and I don't think they'll get it from the US, the UK, the UN or anybody but themselves.
On that day's demo I picked up an SSP placard and walked beside the local Communist Party branch banner, because I wanted to talk to the CP people. The annoying thing is that the SSP is big and growing and the CP is tiny, but on two issues I have with the SSP - calling for Scottish independence and for the unions to break with Labour - the CP has the same position as I have (i.e. not calling for either).
Two young women came to the demo in wedding dresses, with a sign saying 'Newly wed, newly dead' - an idea they'd had after reading of a woman married six days who was killed in the Shaab district blast and named by Robert Fisk. They were genuinely outraged and grieved by it. Maybe the idea will take off and we'll get Women in White as well as Women in Black? I congratulated them on the creativity of their protest, but forgot to ask them to join the Coalition, which could do with more people like them.
I made up for this oversight by selling lots of new badges and raising a lot of money going around the crowd with a bucket. The speeches afterwards were actually quite good, and I left the demo feeling we'd done something.
I drove to Linlithgow, left the car in the Tesco car park and got the 11.02 to Glasgow. First carriage I looked in had sitting in it a vaguely-familiar woman with an antiwar badge, and a guy from the SSP, so I sat down with them. The woman kept on reading and the guy didn't say much, but we both knew we knew each other and after a while I recognised him as Kevin Williamson: publisher (Rebel Inc), columnist and author of 'Drugs and the Party Line', an excellent left-libertarian book.
When I walked towards Blythswood Square, where it was due to set off, the first thing I saw was the police, lots of them. At the corner of the square there were two guys, one middle-aged and one quite old, handing out SPGB leaflets. The leaflets argued that the war was a consequence of the capitalisat system, and that if you opposed it without opposing capitalism, all you could expect would be to be out protesting at the next war. I'd read the articles already in this month's Socialist Standard, and said so, but that I still thought it was worth protesting the war. The old guy said there were a lot of disappointed people here today, turning up and saying 'is this it?' And indeed it was a lot smaller than previous demos, and down to the hard core: the left and the peace movement. I argued a bit with the old guy, who was quite unfazed. 'This is our protest,' he said, as he handed out more leaflets. 'If people don't agree with them, that's our problem. And theirs.'
I wandered around flogging badges and joined a random contingent as the march set off. As we walked down West George St I saw Kevin Williamson again, standing beside the woman who'd done the wedding dress stunt two weeks earlier. She was taking a video of the demo, so I stood there too until she and Kevin started walking. It turned out she knew Kevin. I said what I'd forgotten to say last time - that she should join the Coalition, because it needed people like her. She apparently already has some connection, so that was fine, and she rushed off to video elsewhere.
Kevin and I talked a lot on the way to the park. Kevin has recently argued for Scottish independence, which I'm quite dubious about - and also about how the SSP had come to adopt the most enlightened and libertarian drugs policy of any party in Britain.
At Glasgow Green I sold more badges and bought a couple of papers, Kevin's drugs book (printed on hemp paper), and the SSP election manifesto. Having read it I can say I have some problems with it, but that's for another time.