Monday, July 04, 2005

Edinburgh March

Four coach-loads of demonstrators left the centre of York at 6am on Saturday (with more from the university - 2, I think) bound for the Edinburgh 'Make Poverty History' march. We got to Edinburgh at about 11 O'clockish and as our coach made its way into the centre of the city, it was clear that the demonstration was going to be big. The main route into Edinburgh city centre was packed with coaches and we could see swarms of white clad people making their way along the streets towards the Meadows.

When the coach dropped us off, my friend and I made our way to the Stop the War Coalition stage where we heard announcements that STWC supporters should rally by the stage at 11.30 so that we could join the march as an organised group. The STWC stage was situated at the back end of the Meadows separated by a row of trees (and some 10 minutes walking distance) from the main MPH stage. The MPH organisers were obviously a little embarrassed by the presence of radicals, and so had shoved us away towards the back, out of sight. We had a few minutes to wander round the Meadows before the march started. There were various party, charity and campaign group stalls selling t-shirts, wristbands, papers, flags and so on. There was a strange, large inflatable thing where the Friends of the Earth were gathering - an odd cross between a bouncy castle and sculpture depicting environmental damage. Some anarchists (I think) had built a Heath-Robinson-like vehicle-contraption out of buggies, cycles and bits of scrap - all hammered together to form a weird and wonderful armoured vehicle decorated with flags and painted with a flower pattern. The thing was crewed by 4 or 5 dreadlocked young women. God knows whether they were allowed to pedal it along the route of the march.

The crowd had chosen, mostly, to dress in white (although there were quite a few red and yellow Scottish Socialist Party t-shirts about) and this made the sight of the crowd all the more impressive. At about 11.30 the Meadows was absolutely packed with people - a sea of white across the wide expanse of the park. As the various groups started to gather in their various parts of the field, colourful flags, banners and placards were raised across the Meadows. The sight was oddly reminiscent of a Medieval army mustering for battle. There were a great many flags amongst the crowd and the same flags tended to be clustered in the same parts of the field, where the groups were gathering - red SSP and SWP ones, green 'Friends of the Earth' ones, black white and red 'War on Want' flags and, of course, hundreds of white MPH ones. Here and there, great Trade Union banners were hoisted up amongst the crowd.

There must have been several hundred people who gathered at the STWC stage. Amongst them were some comrades from Rifondazione who treated us to some Italian socialist songs while we waited for the march to begin. Eventually, someone gave the signal to move off and the group filed into a thick line behind the main STWC banner. There was a deafening sound as loud hailers whooped, bullhorns blared and hundreds of people blew whistles (including me) as we started to move. We didn't get far however, before we ground to a halt. There seemed to be some kind of bottle neck as the various groups tried to make their way out through the narrow exits to the Meadows. We thought it would only take a few minutes, before we started to walk again - little did we know. In fact we were stuck in the Meadows for about 3 hours before we managed to get out. No-one really knew what was happening. There were various rumours (after the first hour or so of waiting) that the police had blocked off the demonstration after running battles with anarchists - after checking the news it seems that there was some very minor trouble with a few black clad idiots, but that this wasn't the reason for the hold up. Other people suggested that the MPH organisers hadn't planned for so many demonstators and that the streets of Edinburgh were too narrow to let us all through at once. It was incredibly irritating to be stuck there without any official announcements about what was going on (although as we slowly shuffled towards the exit we could hear a loud speaker saying something about being held back for our own safety - but for the first 2 and a half hours or so we heard nothing). Some comrades with loud hailers did try to communicate with each other across the crowds to work out what was going on and then relayed this information to those around them. It was extremely hot and I'm surprised that people didn't collapse out of sun-stroke - thankfully, the part of the crowd I was in happened to be stuck for much of those three hours under the shade of small copse of trees. It must have been hell in the full glare of the sun. The boredom was alleviated somewhat by the presence of a great number of samba bands dotted amongst the crowd. There was particularly good one - a genuine Brazilian one, with dancers and everything - which we passed after about an hour and a half.

The STWC group tried to keep together - I was very impressed with the spontaneous discipline of the crowd - it would have been so easy for people to break away and try to thread their way through the crowd to the front in the hope of pushing through, out of the Meadows. However, it's very difficult to hold a group together in those kind of circumstances for 3 hours, with the continuous unpredictable movements of a large crowd - by the time my friend and I got to the front, we'd lost all but a small group of our section and the main figurehead banner was some way off in front of us. When we got to the front we found that there were several lines of crash barriers, small sections of which the police would open up, periodically, to let a small trickle of people through (to the next line of barriers). It was like finding that you were in 'One Man and His Dog' and that you were one of the sheep. We were told that this was being done to prevent a crush. I can accept that. However, there should have been a better explanation about what was going on - the crowd should have been told what was happening, rather than simply being herded through various barriers like demo fodder.

Eventually we made it through the last barrier and out onto the streets. As we passed through into the march there was another great roar of whistles, bull horns and cheers and everyone hoisted up their placards and flags. The march itself was great fun. At various points, where there was a long straight stretch of road, you could if you stood on tiptoe or climbed up onto a railing, see an enormous white snaking line of demonstrators. Near the castle, where the road winds down towards Princes street, there was a huge 'Make Capitalism History' banner which had been draped over the railings at the side of the road, and which dominated the scenery as you made your way down the hill. The castle itself displayed a massive 'Make Poverty History' banner, which hung from the outer walls. The mood of the crowd on the march was extremely happy and friendly - there was a lot of singing, chanting and dancing. People chatted excitedly to complete strangers at their side or asked them to take their picture. Every now and again a roar would sweep across the crowds - like a sonic mexican wave. You could hear a commotion of whistles and shouts someway off in the distance (prompted by goodness knows what) and listen to it running rapidly down the street towards you, getting louder and louder until everyone around you was whistling and cheering, and then it would run away from you, getting quieter, as it passed along the line. It was a strangely exhilarating.

The march itself took about 45 minutes to complete. By the time we got back to the Meadows, the mini-concert had started on the main stage. As I passed the stage, that talentless arsehole Daniel Beddingfield was in full flow (and singing badly out of tune). I got out of there very quickly.

At 4.30 a series of speakers took to the STWC stage. A large crowd had gathered to listen to them (although, it has to be said, a much larger crowd - the nicer people who'd come to the march in sensible shoes and with a thermos at the ready - were listening to Beddingfield). There were a good ten or so people who spoke, including Carolyn Leckie from the SSP (passionate), the SNP's Alex Salmond (rather dull), Sami Ramidani and a man from Fulluja (not sure whether he was there during the seiges), George Monbiot (missed it unfortunately) and Fausto Bertinotti (oddly subdued). I thought that the best speeches came from Jeremy Corbyn (a real stonker) and Walden Bello. I had to leave before the speeches ended, however, because our coach was due to leave at 6.

Then it was 5 hours back down to York. When I got back in, I must say, I was more than a little annoyed to see that all the TV coverage was taken up by that great spectacle (in Debord's sense of the word) and luvvie fest that was Live8 - come on, let's solve world poverty by gawping at a selection of the most dull, middle of the road musicians we could get hold of - oh, and less of the politics please, it'll ruin the whole big concert atmosphere.

I got a copy of 'The Times' yesterday (Observer and Indie sold out) - there were 10 pages of pictures of pop stars, interspersed with simpering reviews of the various Live8 performances and one small article on page 11 about the march. So 225,000 protesters are relegated to the back pages, while the brain-dead tossers who turned up to watch a feel-good, de-politicised, celebriddy backslapping fest are feted. The media's heroes are those who stood meekly and star-struck in a stadium, obediently waving their lighters en masse to the sickly Robbie Williams ballads - or better yet, who sat on their arses at home watching it.

This is 'politics' in the age of Heat Magazine. This is 'protest' in the most commodified, spectacular, vapid, alienated, meaningless, tacky, plasticky and goddam fucking lazy form ever yet devised. I feel sick.

We may have been penned in like sheep in the Meadows, but I'll tell you one thing - the real sheep weren't those who marched in Edinburgh.

Just been trawling through some articles online. Came across this info in an article from the Independent on Sunday.

At the front of the audience of Live8 in Hyde Park was:

"the golden circle", where a £1,000 each had bought 5,000 corporate clients champagne and canapés and the best view. The fans who had camped out, travelled far and run across the field when the gates opened had found themselves about a quarter of a mile away from the stage....

Meanwhile the VIPs visited Portaloos or snoozed on their picnic rugs in front of them occasionally dipping a hand into a hamper. Some missed large parts of the concert as they sat drinking at the bar behind the stage where a bottle of Dom Perignon cost £99, a large Pimm's, £6.50.

Victoria Gould, 19, a student from Cardiff, said: "It's a class system. They are the first class and we are the standard class. It feels like they are mocking us. I arrived at nine last night. It's completely hypocritical, we are trying to save people from poverty and they are here having bought the privilege..."

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, rich rock stars and their celeb hangers-on were given a corporate "goodie bag loaded with high-fashion trinkets worth as much as $12,000 (£6,800). "

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