This week’s Drama session had to be cancelled because too many of my participants had WhatsApped to let me know they were absent, but Hamed invited me to join them on Saturday, when they were attending (participating in? observing?) the Day of Action against the Cost of Living crisis, organised by the TUC. This had been arranged particularly by Robin, the teacher of the Senior English class, under the banner (literally) of EFA (which I believe stands for English For Action). And so I took myself to London on Saturday morning, meeting up at Wembley Central.
Much as expected, it took quite a while for our small band to assemble, but at least with mobile phones we were not just waiting around hopefully. But any group can struggle to co-ordinate, and this one has a particular issue with punctuality. Anyway, in time we had a small group, with just Hamed and Aisha from the Drama group, plus various contacts, friends and colleagues of Robin. Eventually, we took a long tube ride from Wembley to Oxford Circus, and then met the demonstration assembling in Portland Place.
It was the usual collection of groups, banners, shouts – we found ourselves at the very back of the march. But this one seemed even more eclectic than usual. In theory, the focus was on Cost of Living and a response to that, but in fact it was a general shout of opposition to the government, with Refugees, the NHS, and other touch-paper issues raised and chanted. But it remained a stirring and inspiring group. For quite a while, when the beast finally lumbered into life and started moving forward, we were more observers than participants, walking alongside and rather faster than the march, enabling us to see a wide range of the groups there, and, eventually, to insinuate ourselves into the march proper. And we were gathering more people; Robin has been involved in activism for a very long time, and so has lots of friends and contacts.
It also gave us all a chance to walk through London, and so engage in a spot of sight-seeing. I pointed out Eros to Aisha, and then Nelson on his column. “Nelson Mandela!” cried Aisha, excitedly, though I was forced to point out that this was a different Nelson. And Hamed was somewhat subdued. Being at such an event was all too powerful a reminder of similar events in Iran, which had led to his enforced exile, away from his country, away from his wife.
Eventually, we arrived at Parliament Square, but if anything that was something of a damp squib. There were speeches, but so far as I could see they were only being delivered on a video screen, and there was little focus. There did seem to be one lone voice of protest against this, a large guy with a St George’s flag, who engaged little with the left-wing ocean in which he had placed himself. I was carrying a banner protesting the flights to Ruanda, selected as best describing my own beliefs, from the many discarded along the way (as well as the boxes and boxes of brand-new ones.) This did provoke one call – “Send ‘em to Ruanda!” – as I walked past, and then “Up the Hammers!”, referring to the West Ham shirt I was wearing.
There was a picnic meal planned, but it looked to me as though this would still take some time to organise, so at this point I decided to say my goodbyes and make my way home – I still had quite a journey. I was pleased to have gone, to have met Aisha and Hamed in a different context, to have witnessed the response to our Johnson-led government.