View From The Side: Marathons, Sprints, Conferences And Protests
Sometimes it’s hard to get involved. In Manchester city centre, the point currently rings particularly true.
This rainy town has been a hotbed of national press attention of late. Despite the Northern Powerhouse being headquartered here, that’s a rarity. Throw 100,000 anti-austerity protesters and the entire Conservative Party into the mix, though, and the media starts to think differently.
Walking down the student corridor of Oxford Road one evening, on which the eye-wateringly expensive campuses of both Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Manchester are largely centred, The Ark remains. For those unaware, that’s a homeless shelter underneath the Mancunian Way motorway flyover, which recently won a legal battle blocking the forced eviction of its tenants.
The scene conjured a dystopian future. Acid drizzle fell from a sky lit up by high-rises recognising the approach of darkness, before hitting the ground next to metal bins burning with flames providing warmth to those in need. Next to those, fold-up chairs offered somewhere to sit, albeit far from a truly comfortable spot. And, just behind, tents hid others from voyeuristic passersby. Meanwhile, the traffic sat in seemingly perpetual gridlock thanks to works in nearby St. Peter’s Square, part of an expansion to the tram network supposedly indicating a metropolis in boom. Drivers and passengers alike all equally focused forward, longing to get somewhere after another day.
To put message behind imagery- life goes on. Even when we might be concerned about society’s visible decay. I know this as much as anyone. Successive (and successful) activism events have taken over the streets since before the Tory conference began, kicking off with a rave in Piccadilly Gardens and warehouse party on the other side of town. I read about most of it in the midst of life going on, albeit thankfully did manage to secure enough time to attend some events.
There was Sunday’s huge march, followed by a series of speeches from high profile members of the Tory opposition. Journalists, socialists, anarchists, everyday Joes and Josephines descended on Castlefield Arena to hear people discuss alternatives to the cuts, and ideas for a brighter, fairer UK. Subsequently, we’ve had Corbyn talking to thousands (misreported as hundreds) on similar themes outside and inside the Cathedral, and ongoing protests against the right-wing agenda. The People’s Assembly, responsible for mobilising these troops, should be proud.
But then life always goes on. One look at the Facebook Group for my own neighbourhood is enough to convince anyone. It’s said that a newsagent on Chorlton’s Beech Road sells more copies of The Guardian than any shop outside London. A liberal enclave. Yet in this district, a few miles south from The Movement up town, the major social media talking point has been a new Communal Plastic Bag Box. The idea being you deposit the carriers you don’t need, or take those you do, preventing any unnecessary waste when shopping. The box in question once contained a ukelele amplifier. I’ll leave that there.
At the risk of sounding negative, you can’t help but consider how much work there is still to do. David Cameron and his crew have certainly had a terrible week of PR. Barely a news segment, story or feature has been able to discuss the party’s new proposals without recognising how the host city- and anyone bothered to make the journey here- was rising against the regime. The Left has hijacked what should have been a six-day party political broadcast. The impact cannot be understated, leaving most media incapable of ignoring what’s happening.
The election of a comparatively radical man to Labour leader has been a catalyst for renewed interest in Another Way Of Doing Things, leaving many to consider what could have been, and what still could be. Realistically, though, this is the start of a route that takes commitment, perseverance and stamina. Momentum has to be sustained.
Because life goes on. And on. We are angry now, and rightly so. We should be angry tomorrow, and rightly so. But we’re on the path to what could be an end of the NHS and wider welfare state as we know them, the rollout of an education system dominated by private interests, and the wholesale rejection, at state level, of what empathetic principles have made it this far. The road ahead is over four years long.
Let’s not forget, then, life goes on, and will go on. It’s whether we take inspiration from the people’s mantra of recent times, and refuse to let the government forget we see their lies as 2015 becomes 2016 and beyond, which will make the difference now. Whether we meet the next four Conservative Party Conferences with such vehement criticism the press have to recognise the issues with honesty and neutrality. Whether we can continue to shout loud enough to drown out the mistruths, misdirections and propaganda that facilitated this situation. Whether we remember to practice what we’re preaching today, when faced with the next significant May.