For the vast majority, this was a peaceful demonstration that ended in Hyde Park. Another group, UK Uncut, staged several sit-ins and protest events in London’s West End to highlight the fact that many of the biggest earning businesses in the UK are avoiding paying enough tax to cover the amount being saved through cuts. To them this is just another case of the rich staying rich while the poor suffer on their account.
Vodafone, for instance, have avoided paying £6 billion in taxes, enough to stop any cuts in charities whatsoever. These protests culminated in a mass sit-in at Fortnum and Masons, who they claim have dodged £40 million in taxes and where many of the richest people in the country, including the Royal family, do their weekly shopping.
Myself, Rosie and Damien Clarkson from the Hackney Greens started the day at 10am on the Embankment, where we handed out banners with the Green party and got chatting to Caroline Lucas, who was the only party leader to actually march. Unlike the political egos we are so used to, it was very refreshing to see Caroline chat and mingle with the public and her supporters, a smile on her face the whole time.
In the four hours it took us to reach Westminster, the atmosphere was completely peaceful and friendly. People came with their families and strangers shared snacks and anecdotes, all united by a single purpose; to make their voices heard through peaceful protest. It is a shame that the wishes and actions of nearly half a million people has been overshadowed by the actions of a few hundred and that the media has leapt all over the civil disobedience and violence like dogs grabbing at scraps, ignoring the message of the majority to focus on the actions of a few.
We decided to leave the march at Trafalgar Square as we had been following UK Uncut via Twitter and wanted to see what was going on with them. We had heard that they were occupying Topshop and had a secret location planned for later. When we left the march, we were quite shocked to see people going about their shopping, seemingly oblivious to such an important event. I have to admit, it left quite a bad taste in my mouth to see people spending money on Oxford Street while everyone else was protesting against the tax avoidance schemes of these big companies. Maybe they were just ignorant of the march or maybe they just didn’t care as long as they got their new Ipad.
What we found when we got there was that Topshop was covered in paint and that a few banks had windows smashed. Some people had started a small bonfire on Oxford Circus and were throwing smoke bombs around. However, for every person in a black hoodie running around, there were ten photographers capturing their actions for the next day’s papers.
Suddenly the crowds started moving down towards Picadilly and a quick check of Twitter confirmed that UK Uncut had occupied Fortnum and Masons. When we arrived a small group of anarchists were climbing on the roof and the building was surrounded by marchers and police. We stayed for a while to watch the actions of the people on the roof but decided to leave when we saw a tweet warning that the police were about to kettle. Grabbing Rosie, we just managed to run past them as they secured the area. I want to take this moment to make a point that the people climbing on roofs and smashing windows do not have anything to do with UK Uncut, who are using peaceful methods to make a very valid point.
After an exhausting day, we headed to the pub for a well earned rest and a pint and to reflect on the day. We all agreed that we were very proud that we had made the effort to march and stand up for what we believe in and shared stories of friends who whinge about the cuts but couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it. It makes me swell with pride to see so many people stand up for what they believe in and I just hope that everyone else will look past the sensationalism of media coverage on a few thugs who would have used any excuse to do the same thing to see that a lot of people in this country are not happy with the government and the direction they have decided to take. We also talked about the upcoming AV vote and all agreed that we hope people will take notice of this really important referendum to make a change to the political system so our politicians will have to work harder for our votes and might actually listen to all these people who have something to say to them.
Images by Natalie Lasance and Rosie Cowling