Testimony from first time protester, #ToriesOut, 9th May, C.London
On Saturday 9th May I attended my first demo. I, along with several thousand others, attended in protest of a majority (wherever 36.1% is considered the ‘majority’) Tory government intent on grinding the welfare state to a halt, encouraging a violent social cleansing, demonizing migrants and feeding the beast of privatisation.
Kicking off at the Conservative Party Campaign headquarters, the mood was one of determination and solidarity. Despite the challenges that loom, there was an air of optimism and positivity, an energy flowing through the crowd that transcends physical unity. I felt empowered and I felt like I was channeling my frustration in a productive way, picking myself up with thousands of others and dusting myself off after an election that offered only slightly differing shades of blue. We walked through Whitehall, Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square and Westminster Bridge without incident. We danced, we chanted, we waved signs, but then; something happened, things changed. And they changed pretty abruptly.
It was around 5pm, and we had made our way back to Whitehall. We had walked past Downing Street and were continuing our route in the same manner we had all day. But as I looked to my left, towards the mass of police that lined the pavement, I set eyes on a stream of officers that burst through the temporary barriers and lurched into the crowd. It was a sudden movement, and it seemed to have no particular direction. A young man who had been walking next to me was in their eye line and one of the officers violently snatched at him, yanking on his hoody and swallowing him up in a flurry of frantic and unjustified movements. The protesters around him reacted, intent on letting the officers know that he hadn’t done anything. He protested his innocence but they persevered, dragging him away from the crowd, shoving other innocent protestors along the way, some so violently that they hit the ground. People were angry, and rightly so. They watched him dragged behind the barriers and pushed faced down as officers knelt into his back and made the arrest. He hadn’t done anything.
The mood changed. Ribs were bruised and knees acquainted with the gravel. Holding signs up felt secondary. My first demo had turned ugly. I’d been pushed harshly in the chest, witnessed police violence and an unjustified arrest. I lost my sense of empowerment, lost my positivity. I felt dejected and my anger was no longer tinged with optimism but instead, injustice. The police formed a line, the protesters no longer walking away from Downing Street, but instead facing it. We were going to stand our ground; we had been pushed around enough. But the police wouldn’t allow it, intent on pushing us back, back, back. The mood erupted, it was loud, angry; the protesters refused to be pushed any further away. The police took out their batons, holding them threateningly in the air. The protesters sat down. Somebody shouted “look behind!”. We ran. We were too slow. We were kettled. The group halved in size. We were stuck in Whitehall. One small group remained, loud, chanting, still wielding signs. There was no violence. They were kettled again. The group halved.
It was 7:30pm, I was cold, tired, and separated from all the people of which I had shared asolidarity with earlier in the day. There was no sign of the police letting up. They were still clad in riot gear; still suffocating the positivity of the demo; still breaking down the energy that unites and replacing it with chains. I left.
I left to find a media narrative intent on making the demo all about a single piece of graffiti left on a war memorial. Not about the disabled person down the street who will be declared ‘fit to work’ under this government. Not about the social cleansing of the city in which that memorial sits. Not about the thousands of people who will die trying to get to a country that doesn’t care for them.