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Norfolk People’s Assembly Anti Austerity Protest Rally, 30 May, Norwich UK

NPA Anti-Austerity Protest Rally

Julie Bremner protesting Get The Tories Out at Norwich NPA Rally
Julie Bremner with Socialist Worker protesting Get The Tories Out – Strike, Protest, Occupy at Norwich NPA Rally

Saturday 30 May at midday saw several hundred people “depressed and angry about the election results” gather at the Norwich Haymarket who wanted “a more equal, fairer, kinder system…” standing together to find “a better way”. The growing local Norfolk People’s Assembly saw hundreds of local activists heed the call for a National day of Action from the UK People’s Assembly as a pre-cursor to a larger anti-government rally on 20 June in London. Some 475 joined the Facebook event and around 200-250 showed up at the Norwich Haymarket, nestled between McDonald’s, Top Shop, Next, Starbucks, and Primark. The statue of a pensive  Sir Thomas Browne – the medic and author of “Vulgar Errors”, looked down upon the modern crowd, probably wondering why we hadn’t yet solved 17th century problems of inequality and poverty, more than 3 centuries later.

Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti Austerity Demo, Norwich Haymarket 30 May 2015
Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti Austerity Demo, Norwich Haymarket 30 May 2015

Different interest groups but a common message

Banners for Saving Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk (currently in special measures), the Norfolk People’s Assembly and DPAC Norfolk (Disabled People Against Cuts) were unfurled along with dozens of printed and home made anti-austerity signs held aloft by arms weary after 5 years of Coalition cuts and now faced with another 5 years of threatened welfare budget reductions under the recently elected Conservative Party.

Stop the war against the poor
Stop the war against the poor

Diverse people representing numerous special interest bodies such as Save the NHS or the Hewett School, students, unemployed, disabled groups, political parties, affiliations and none, all called in unison for an end to the cuts and austerity.

A lone young female heckler raised a sober voice saying that “you people on benefits already get too much”. Perhaps, influenced by the hardline Right wing and Ukip rhetoric in the East of England during the recent election campaign.

Passionate Political Speeches

If the personal is political then that rang true of speakers from across the board, less because it was about them, more because of the passion with which they spoke for and on behalf of others but from the depths of personal experience of austerity and cuts to their sectors or own lives.

Green Party spokesperson at Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti Austerity Rally, Norwich Haymarket
Political speeches at Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti Austerity Rally, Norwich Haymarket

Speakers from the rally organisers, included Jan McLachlan, representatives of the Green Party, and Mark Harrison of the disability charity Equal Lives who drew attention to the ongoing access issues at the Duke Street work capability assessments centre.

Recently elected local Labour MP for Norwich South – Clive Lewis, suggested that even illegal direct action may be necessary to oppose immoral laws and Government inaction. Lewis spoke in an impassioned way that would probably shame the current batch of Labour leadership hopefuls and their copycat “aspirations of hard working families” soundbites.

Clive Lewis Labour MP for Norwich South speaks passionately about opposition and direct action
Clive Lewis Labour MP for Norwich South speaks passionately about opposition and direct action

Media & Press Coverage

Norwich Evening News covers NPA Anti Austerity Rally
Norwich Evening News covers NPA Anti Austerity Rally

Norwich Evening News reported very briefly on the rally but unfortunately made the demonstration sound like it was organised by Clive Lewis, which was not the case. Great publicity for the Labour MP, whose support and speech were appreciated, however poor journalism and social media tweeting by the EDP‘s Evening News arm, neglecting to mention many speakers and making it sound like the excellent Norfolk People’s Assembly organisers joined Mr Lewis, rather than the other way around. Political fairness also dictates that other parties such as the Norwich Green Party were also represented there. After contacting Archant I was assured that they would pass on “corrections you’ve pointed out to the reporter who wrote the story who will amend as appropriate”. Four days later, finally, an amendment to the online news story: “The rally, organised by the Norfolk People’s Assembly, was attended by Unison members, and pupils and parents from the Hewett School.” But still no response to the original and even more inaccurate tweet:

If Monday is a slow news day, then posting about Saturday’s event, also on the EDP site, has led to 44+ comments, the most commented on article today (58 now).

More photographic coverage on Demotix.

Earnest about Education too

Education was well represented by Ian Anderson a spokesperson for the We’re backing Hewett campaign, UEA staff, and Postgraduate Education officer UEA Students Union Liam McCafferty.

Liam, depressingly depicted a dystopian future where people would not be able to afford higher education.

Nick O'Brien speaking at the Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti-Austerity Rally
Nick O’Brien speaking at the Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti-Austerity Rally

Local deputy head teacher, NUT Campaigns Coordinator, Norwich Pride Chair and social activist, Nick O’Brien mentioned the reportedly over 27,000 children in Norfolk now living in poverty, at increased risk of poor health and educational achievement, whilst more than half a dozen children of protesting parents were happy, beyond most young kids’ attention spans, to hold up placards drawing attention to the plight of people of all ages and abilities under the current cuts.

NPA Press Release

Family solidarity as kids affected by austerity say "No Cuts"
Family solidarity as kids affected by austerity say “No Cuts”

Norwich Radical writer and NPA Press Secretary, Jack Brindelli, issued this statement for the press:

We at the People’s Assembly are steadfastly opposed to the Tories vicious plans for Britain, and the implications they will have for the people of Norfolk. On David Cameron’s watch as Prime Minister, the country has become bitterly divided along the lines of wealth inequality. His government’s cuts have shamefully targeted society’s most vulnerable – from the disabled, to the unemployed, to the unborn.

Whilst the Conservatives have been selling off the NHS through the backdoor, Britain’s infant mortality rate has risen to become the highest in Western Europe. Since 2010, the Black Triangle campaign estimates more than 80 suicides have been directly linked to cuts to social security – as those who need help most have been driven to desperate decisions by the Tories’ savage austerity measures. Over the duration of the last Parliament, the government have also butchered our legal rights by cutting legal aid – and are currently poised to axe the Human Rights Act, which currently protects ordinary citizens of all races from torture and persecution.

Young emboldened activist stands defiantly for "No Cuts"
Young emboldened activist stands defiantly for “No Cuts”

They have dismantled the comprehensive education system with their failed Free Schools and Academies scheme, turning schools like Hewett into profit-driven production lines, and they have tripled tuition fees – essentially ending the chances of a generation to learn beyond a GCSE level.

Kids who can't vote yet say "Get the Tories Out"
Kids who can’t vote yet say “Get the Tories Out”

We have a clear choice for the next 5 years then. If we want to live in a world without an NHS, without universal education, without opportunity, without hope, then we need only sit back and wait for 2020’s election to at best deliver us cuts from a different party. If however, we are intent on not only protecting the ideas of freedom, opportunity and the right to live with dignity, but also determined to literally save hundreds of lives, and to provide our children with a future worth living, then we must stand together now. Over the coming months, across the country from Glasgow to Newcastle, to Liverpool to London, the People’s Assembly plans to take action to stop David Cameron’s gang of market-extremists in their tracks, and build a better alternative. For us, the fightback starts here, in Norwich.

More photos of the Norfolk People’s Assembly Norwich rally here.

UK Uncut Anti-Austerity Rally in London

Human Rights Act protest
Human Rights Act protest

London saw two rallies on Saturday, one against the proposed replacement of the Human Rights Act by an expected to be watered down British Bill of Rights, and another called for by UK Uncut which saw 4,700 join the Facebook event. Less than that, as is usual with online events, turned up, but the hundreds that did protested peacefully and painted in situ a large 20m banner: “12bn more cuts. £120bn tax dodged – Austerity is a lie“, which they subsequently hung over the side of the bridge opposite Parliament. Although paint bombs were let off and direct action was called for, no arrests were made. Beth Cunningham told reporters:

“Direct action is what works. It sends a loud and clear message that people aren’t happy. And it’s part of acknowledging that our current political resources aren’t enough. People don’t have enough resources in the current political system to make their voices heard and that’s why we resort to direct action.”

 

Photography

JeSuisCharlie vigil honours freedom of expression and Charlie Hebdo victims

Norwich #JeSuisCharlie Peace Vigil

Around 200 people gathered in the rain and cold outside the Norwich Forum to stand with the #JeSuisCharlie victims in a poignant and peaceful vigil marked by respect for all beliefs, but especially of freedom of expression.

JeSuisCharlie Norwich Forum Vigil 12 Jan 2015
JeSuisCharlie Norwich Forum Vigil 12 Jan 2015

This was Norfolk’s small but inclusive contribution after nearly 4 million people assembled in France at the weekend, 1.5m in Paris alone, only tarnished by the presence of leaders and foreign ministers from around the world, many of whom shackle freedom of speech and belief in their home countries.

The Norfolk crowd, with a a few dozen French nationals studying or living here, assembled calmly outside the Forum, candles were lit to spell out “Charlie”, after an introduction by French organiser Clémentine Pellegrino – in which she quoted Albert Camus, there was a minute’s silence during which pens and pencils were raised aloft.

There followed an invitation to those present for anyone to say or share something, some came with prepared words others seemed inspired with spontaneous speeches, each leading on from the last.

People of varying backgrounds, political and religious beliefs, were represented. Several began their speeches in French. A woman from the local Liberal Jewish synagogue asked for raised hands from members of other faiths – Jews, Christians, Buddhists, not that I spotted anyone noticeably Muslim by any stereotypic dress.

JeSuisCharlie en Arabe photo by Ann Nicholls
JeSuisCharlie en Arabe photo by Ann Nicholls

When I felt moved to speak, I spoke up for the hundreds of journalists around the world imprisoned or killed for publishing political or religious comment that may not agree with everyone. I mentioned the Al Jazeera journalists locked up in Egypt currently awaiting appeal against their sentence.

I noted how many Arab papers and cartoonists had also drawn cartoons of support but also how the Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat had been beaten for criticising and caricaturing President Assad.

I raised the hypocrisy of Saudi Arabia sending condolences and criticisms of the criminality of the terrorist attack whilst locking up and carrying out a sentence of a 1000 lashes upon Raif Badawi for setting up a Liberal political website.

I mentioned the view against polarising this as a clash between civilisations, but instead one of a clash within them. By far the majority of extreme Islamist victims have been Arabs and Africans, Muslims and Christians, not Western writers and commentators satirising religious figures.

I also drew attention to the dozens of Arab and Muslim countries and organisations who did condemn the Parisienne atrocity as “Not in my name” and nothing to do with the tenets of Islam. Because of this I carried not only #JeSuisCharlie placards but the same sign written in Arabic, along with #JeSuisAhmed – the Muslim policeman who died protecting the rights of others to criticise his religion, #JeSuisRaifBadawi; #JeSuisJuif for the Jews in the Kosher store who were also targeted – if anything that *was* a racist attack; #JeSuisMusulman to say I stand with peaceful Muslims, like the Australian #IllRideWithYou hashtag that trended after the Sydney cafe siege.

Whilst I had also made a sign #JeSuisNigerian to remember the 2000 massacred in Baga a few days ago, as if African lives mattered less, I did not remember to mention it, but my omission was more than made up for when the local Police head of diversity, Abraham Eshetu, spoke about what had happened in Nigeria.

JeSuisCharlie Norwich Forum Vigil 12 Jan 2015
JeSuisCharlie Norwich Forum Vigil 12 Jan 2015

There was no racism, or Islamophobia, at the event, no far right hijack as was feared by some, indeed quite the contrary, these were condemned amidst the solidarity against fear and violence, and for freedom of expression, belief, and speech. This was echoed by the organiser’s intent for a peaceful demonstration. It was sad that some did stay away as “Je ne suis pas Charlie”, because this movement of people, galvanised over social media, need not be hijacked by world leaders for their political ends, nor used by racists to rant against immigration, instead it should be an opportunity to stand up for diversity of belief and the rights to express them. It is probably forgotten that Charlie Hebdo also ran cartoons satirising the far right, Marie le Pen, not just the icons of all the major faiths and political leaders of all hues.

Clémentine, originally from Nice and a Norwich resident for two years, was reported in the local EDP newspaper, as saying:

“My French friends and I felt like it would be good for the freedom of speech and to show the outside world that people do not want to surrender to these attacks. There is a chance that the people in France see what we have done and we want to show our support. This is a message of peace, and a chance to show the Muslim community that we support them.”

Despite, therefore, the very non black-and-white world of the #JeSuisCharlie stand for freedom, I was and am willing to be counted among the millions voicing their support, ensuring that all beliefs are free to be expressed, albeit with respect, yet open to criticism and humour. The right to insult, does not mean the need to do so. Challenging power structures and ideologies – religious or political, that oppress rather than attacking individuals or faiths in an ignorant blanket manner, is my preferred approach.