Like most political activists, I’ve been on protest marches before. Admittedly, the last time I went on one was a Mayday Parade shortly before the SSP imploded following infighting about claims about Tommy Sheridan’s personal life. What I hadn’t experienced before is being on the wrong side of a protest march.
Until 100,000 people from across the 27 EU member states marched past the European Parliament and various Commission and Council buildings to protest about austerity measures being imposed (generally by national Governments rather then Europe) across the continent. There were also strikes in Spain, France and Belgium to coincide with the march.
By and large, I support the aims of the marchers. I think we have to nurture the green shoots of economic growth rather then cutting fast and deep as soon as we can. The day they picked to march was a tad inconvenient however, since we had to be at a meeting with Commission officials on the other side of both the police barricade and the march.
It actually took more effort to get past the barricade then it did to get past the march, with an undignified scramble taking place where a stone ledge interrupted the barbed wire fencing. It was quite embarrassing really, not least because a delegation of visitors to the EU from South Africa also had to clamber over the barricades, which is no way to treat diplomatic guests.
As it happened, everything worked out in the end, and we managed to get to the meeting (although some of Alyn’s guests were stuck in Scotland due to strike action at Belgian airports). The march passed off peacefully, with an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 marchers and only 200 arrests. Despite the presence of a large number of riot police and a water cannon, there was no major disruption.
By the time I left the office at about 7, there was little trace that the march had ever been there. The only remains were police clearing the last of the barricades and discarded fliers fluttering in the breeze. The traffic restrictions, which had been in place since quite early in the morning had also been lifted, which meant I had to endue the normal five minute wait for traffic to clear so I could cross the main road to get home. On that count, I would have preferred the march had gone on for a wee while longer. I might even have been able to join in for a bit by then.