The 250,000-strong crowd marched against the government's hard-hitting, controversial austerity programme
On Saturday, tens of thousands of people took part in a major protest on London streets in the face of the Tory government and its austerity measures. Marching from the Bank of England to Parliament Square, it culminated in a huge rally, the grandiose houses of Parliament a backdrop for the crowd disillusioned with a system that favours the wealthy and privileged.
Saturday's route passed 10 Downing Street with deafening chants ringing out from protesters. "Here we come, Tory scum" the crowd shouted.
The People’s Assembly Against Austerity organized the march, with support from union and pressure groups like the Fire Brigade, Unison and Unite. The crowd itself was a mixture of students, teachers, healthcare and social workers, public sector workers and political activists.
Leah, a 23-year-old receptionist from Norfolk, said she arrived yesterday and stayed with friends who were marching with her, "I’m so happy to see so many people coming together to protest," she told Dazed. "With such an amazing and positive atmosphere it feels like we could do anything."
The direct affects of austerity have weighed heavily on Leah and her family, who have been put under pressure by the Tory policy on reform to public services like schools and healthcare.
She said: “My brother is autistic and has other health problems, and cuts to the healthcare system make his situation really dire. Hospitals and schools can’t cope, so we’re more and more on our own. Austerity is scary for families like mine.”
Speakers including Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn, commentator Owen Jones, the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, singer Charlotte Church and activist/comedian Russell Brand addressed the crowd. The group grew bigger and bigger as the tail end of the protest caught up, all chanting anti-capitalist slogans.
Charlotte Church got one of the biggest cheers of the day for her special shout out when she said: "I’m proud to be British because of our National Health Service, the welfare system, and David Bowie, not because of the Union Jack”. She went on to criticize nationalism and the threats to the welfare state and working class.
A controversial addition to the speakers line-up was Martin McGuinness, deputy first minister of Northern Ireland and Sinn Fein leader. McGuinness, who chooses to abstain from taking a seat in parliament, said his party “would not do Tory austerity” with “Tory millionaires”.
Andrew, a 22-year-old barman, originally from Northern Ireland, said: “I was at the front of the group so I’ve been here in the square for all of the speakers. They’ve all been great, and I like that there’s a mix of politicians and celebrities. Everyone, no matter who you are, has a responsibility to create change for the better, if you’re able to.”
Some people expressed confusion over McGuinness’ appearance. “I’m from Northern Ireland, where cuts at the hand of Sinn Fein are devastating," Andrew said. "We’ve lost so much of our local life with cuts to mental health, arts and work with the homeless- how he can stand there and preach is beyond me.”
While cheers and applause were steady, Brand was met with a few jeers of "When’s your next book?" and "Fuck off back to Miliband". Corbyn, who has made a bid for the Labour leadership, was also met with sporadic boos.
Despite the serious message against inequality, homelessness, poverty and public cuts, the protestors were in good spirits. The sea of people was dotted with tongue-in-cheek signs and banners like ‘Kill your landlord’, ‘Eton Mess’ and ‘Cam-Jong-Un’. The word of the day, after austerity, seemed to be cunt: the ‘Dyslexic’s Against Cunts’ were out in force and a hit on Twitter.
In between pumps of his vuvuzela, Dan, a 28-year-old teaching assistant from South London, said: "We are sick and tired of Bullingdon Club bozos benefitting from hard working people. They want us to believe these cuts are for everyone but they’re not. I’m scared for my job. I haven't even begun to think about kids and I'm scared for them too.”
A few coloured smoke bombs were let off around the perimeter of the square, with one protester in a beret swathed in a Scottish flag, climbing a statue in an attempt to place a flare in its hand. Others climbed the surrounding trees to wave their banners and lead chants of “No justice, no peace…” As the protests ended and the crowd dispersed, people set fire to banners and flyers which were quickly put out by the police.
Marches in Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow were much smaller, but still successful. #EndAusterityNow was one of the top trending hashtags in the UK on Saturday.
Police presence was heavy but generally good-natured, with many dressed in the less intimidating navy caps and shirts.
Mina, a 20-year-old student from Southampton, told Dazed that protests were lifeblood for oppressed people who desire change. She said: “I was at the last anti-austerity march and I’ve been to the student protests for education and fees. Be the change you want to see, you know?"
"It's important to turn up and wave your banners and shout. There are hundreds of thousands of people here and we make one big voice that's bound to rattle David Cameron. People should get angry but we all have to stay safe today too."
The last protest in May post-election results ended in 15 arrests, with police using the heavily criticised kettling technique.. “Protestors tend to be characterized as violent and dangerous, with only a minority caring about the actual message," Mina explained. "I think today has countered that argument. The police seem to be working with us, and there’s been no bad air.”
Police reported 5 arrests, including one for assault, on Saturday. Mina, like thousands of others, is determined to keep fighting against the governments continued plans. She said: “I’ll keep painting signs, disrupting Saturday traffic and making up chants about Boris Johnson’s hair until I see some damn change.”