“You are one of many and not merely a bystander”
We march and we protest on the hoof – but do we change anything?
It is a mainstay of trade union activity and it is an activity we willingly engage in where a government, or some other institution, refuses to listen, engage, negotiate or modify their stance on a direction or policy that we do not agree with.
The question is not so much whether a march has any value, moreover do we really think that a mass protest will change anything or have value?
The march in Manchester on the 29th was without doubt a success. It was about the future for the NHS but this did not stop many more pressure and protest groups coming on board to express their opinions on a very wide range of issues. I was struck by how many ‘fringe’ elements joined us and at one point did wonder if their presence would water down the key message. But to think this is to miss the point. The small but vociferous pressure groups have just as much right to protest as the rest of us. The fact that we have the numbers and the organisation helps them to make their mark on the political spectrum and the fact they are present illustrates that discontent with the government is far deeper than just a bunch of ‘Tradies’ venting their spleen about the NHS.
But leaving the composition of the march aside, why do we march and why do we think that it is necessary to do so? Are we merely participating in a group hug or are we serious that by taking to the streets we will begin to see change but realistically, we accept that we are preaching to the converted. At one point in the March I noticed a person on the sidewalk holding a placard that listed all the things that were wrong with this government. The placard was aimed at the marches. But why show this to us? We know what is wrong, we know why we are traipsing through Manchester- turn around and show the sign to the people passing by and bemused by our presence. It is they who need to be educated and asked to think.
There is a certain element of togetherness about marching and this is more than just a group hug. It is an expression that we are passionate about our beliefs and we are willing to give up our time to publically express our opinions. Marching often comes at a time when frustration is high and campaign fatigue has begun to set in so that our participation with other like minded people reinvigorates our resolve and gives us a necessary boost to not give in or become complacent.
The mass display of banners and other paraphernalia of protest and the diversity of engagement are uplifting and few would argue that it is not. But the central question is ‘does a March change anything?’
The answer to this is ‘maybe’ but not ‘yes’. A mass protest is never the game changer that many of us hope that it will be. It is one of many means in our arsenal that we use to promote our cause and our beliefs. Even the press cannot ignore us despite the sad fact that they prefer a March that is controversial to one that is peaceful and the politicians will praise us, condemn us or try to ignore us depending on where they stand in the political arena.
If you are marching for a cause or a belief, you are there because you have opinions and can say that you were willing to be a part of a process for change, you are one of many and not merely a bystander.