Posted by: Rich | February 12, 2011

Havant Protest Renders Police Redundant..

So the latest PACT (Portsmouth Against The Cuts Together) protest mentioned further down in this blog took place in Havant, the constituency of Tory Universities Minister David Willetts. It has been heralded as a success by all those involved, and even has a write up on the Socialist Worker website, so if you’re feeling a little Trot-like you can see it here : http://www.socialistworker.org.uk/art.php?id=23744

As mentioned in that article, this was the biggest (and probably only) demo seen in Havant since the 80’s. Due to my getting out of work at 4.30 I got there just as the march was on its final section in West Street and the crowd were gathered to hear the speakers outside the church.

Most people reading this will be aware that we (individually and collectively), like the people of PACT, and support their actions, but patting yourself on the back gets you nowhere so I thought I’d put down here what I took from the protest as I don’t think what is written on the SWP website is particularly accurate or helpful.

The numbers they state attended – about 200+ – is about right, the “crowds of young people” is not. There was a group of college students there, everyone else was either from the Unions, the Greens & the usual Pompey protest faces. I was really disappointed by the turn out from the local colleges & schools. I know there had been threats made by the vice chancellor at Havant College to encourage non attendance but for the amount of students in the area…well, I just don’t see how you can call it a success. We are partly to blame for this as no real promotion from what I can see took place. Before the PACT march in Pompey a few weeks earlier some rebels had been round town fly posting and I think that really did help get the message out.

The passing motorists were honking in support and people did come out of the local pubs to have a look while they smoked. The protest was the talk of the town in the pubs afterwards, with most people seeming to take pleasure in the fact that there was still a bunch of kids shouting abuse outside Willetts’ office.

As darkness began to fall it got cold and the crowd was starting to tire of the same old speeches (apart from Ammaar Rahims, the 15 year old who called the protest – he is a passionate public speaker), the deputation of 5 people from PACT who were due to meet Willetts passed the police and went down the road to his office.

The assembled crowd, with no leading voice, then decided that they wanted to head down to Willetts’ office and protest outside whilst he spoke to the deputation, and everyone cautiously began shuffling down the road until the police noticed and stopped them. This was not part of the agreed route and therefore the democratic right to protest is null & void. Being the nice folks that they are, a few argued with the 2 policemen but then retreated back to the corner.

The group of students did not want to give up so easily though and chatted amongst themselves about the best way to bypass the cops. After trying to go round an alley they came back to the corner and regrouped again, it was decided that we would just go for it and walk past the cops (who were really no presence at all) and hopefully others would follow. So we set off and people followed, until the cops again moved in front. Unbelievably at this point a Union Steward and PACT member in a high vis vest then leapt in front shouting “NO!!” He proceeded to give the kids a telling off, they argued with him for a while but got nowhere and again fell back more pissed off than before.

And here we have the problem, after the confrontation with the steward I’m not sure we’ll see those students at a PACT demo again. PACT are supposed to be a group representing all interested peoples of our city. They certainly do not have a mandate to stop people peacefully protesting.

The yoof’s were eventually allowed through to go and sing Anti-Tory songs and demonstrate as they wanted to, but only after most of the crowd had petered out. The police were for once on best behaviour, probably as it was clear that there was no public order threat – this time it was the protest marshals who curtailed freedom of expression. I’ve got to say that the small group of students were committed to their principals and did inspire a bit of hope for the future but I couldn’t help leaving the protest with a sour taste over the actions of those who are supposed to facilitate dissent and, instead, curtail it.

The SWP article ends with the quote “We will see far more of these marches in the future”. Maybe we will, but only if newcomers are welcomed as individuals and their ideas respected as much as those towing the party line.

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