Mikael Barnard’s account
March 28, 2011
I arrived at the Embankment about 10:00 to be greeted by a sea of people. I wanted to take some photos of the Hayward Gallery building for a personal project so I popped over the bridge and did that then went to go back over to find that the police were only allowing people over in one direction, the one I had just come, I was given a choice of crossing by either Waterloo or Westminster bridges, I chose the latter.
I found this really quite a pain because I had to walk all the way up, cross and walk all the way back down again and then find Savoy street where I was due to meet the group from DPAC. I finally got to Savoy Street at 11:00 precisely and a lot more hot and bothered than I should have been. Whenever I join DPAC at such events I always try to find Linda (Burnip) since she was one of the people who made me feel so welcome when I started to involve myself with DPAC.
I found her, handed over some leaflets I had been asked to print for the day and introduced myself to a couple of other people in the group. At about 11:10 everyone in the group made their way towards the front of the rally, a path being ably cleared by one of the stewards to allow the wheelchair users to move through the crowd. We were conducted through a barrier to join some sort of ‘forward’ group ahead of the main crowd (at least that’s how it appeared to me). One of the stewards momentarily tried to block Linda and myself from passing through but we quickly made it clear that we were with DPAC and I know I for one was ready to give the steward a mouthful on ‘hidden’ disabilities if she tried to be more obstructive but she just sort of shrugged and waved us through. We waited under the bridge for some time, about 20 minutes I should imagine. Then we set off at about 11:40 or so.
I had come prepared with the knowledge that the march was going to be quite a noisy experience and it most certainly was. I’m grateful that my Asperger’s Syndrome is mild enough that I can just about tolerate this when need be but it was one of the more trying and tiring aspects of the day. We approached Whitehall and just as we were approaching Downing Street the protesters were guided to just one side of the street, this led to a slight bottleneck and during the business of trying to integrate ourselves into a narrow path Linda and I became separated from the rest of the DPAC group apart from one guy in a wheelchair whom we caught up with around Piccadilly.
The march proceeded past Trafalgar Square (which Linda and I planned to visit later), along Regent Street, past Fortnum and Mason and The Ritz before all the trouble started and all the way to Hyde Park which we arrived at at about 13:00. We met up with some other DPAC supporters by the main stage where all the speakers were. Mr. Milliband came on and delivered his speech which was met with a mixture of cheers and boos. To my personal delight Tony Robinson was then invited to speak and that really made my day. He returned occasionally to introduce the other speakers, all of whom trotted out the usual speeches they deliver on such occasions. A great cheer when it was announced that there were still many thousands of people waiting to even start to set off from the Embankment.
I had loosely planned to meet up with a friend of mine if possible who was due to be on the march but the group she was with didn’t arrive at the park until well after I left! By 14:00 I was starting to get quite hungry and by 14:30 Linda and I left Hyde Park to get some food. We wound up in the McDonalds at Waterloo station. We got the underground from there to Charring Cross and proceeded to Trafalgar Square and we arrived there at about 16:30. We were both in need of a good sit down by then so we found some spare space on one of the benches and did so.
There was a fair sized crowd in the square by that point and lots of police officers milling about, a large number of them were standing on the steps of the portrait gallery keeping a watchful eye over things. The biggest group was huddled around Nelson’s column and once more I gritted my teeth through the noise of amplified bass instruments which happily and unexpectedly stopped around 17:30. News had reached us by this point of the riots in Oxford Street riots the occupation of Fortnum and Mason.
We stayed in Trafalgar Square for some time, Linda met a friend and got chatting and I wondered around listening to some of the speeches and watching some of the young people there start a small bonfire, this must have been with at least some measure of police consent- two officers were standing very near and many more were available yet no move was made to stop them. It got to about 19:30, the temperature was dropping somewhat and I had to make the journey back to Leighton Buzzard so I said goodbye to Linda, conveying my hope that I would be able to make and meet up again at the Daily Mail protest on the 14th of April and left for home.
I got home about 21:30 and watched as news came of the clashes between the police and protesters that had just started in… Trafalgar Square! So I missed all the violent scenes I’m afraid but was pleased to generally favourable reports concerning the conduct of those on the main march (those places that bothered to report it at all rather than focus solely on the violence as so many journalists and papers have done). It annoyed me somewhat the next day that whilst reports of the violence of such a small minority were plastered everywhere I could only find a handful of sites that even mentioned Tony Robinson addressing the vast numbers in Hyde Park and NOT ONE SITE that gave a complete list of all the speakers, but no, even with an MA in librarianship not one! No wonder so many people feel they have to resort to violence to be heard, it’s all the media focusses on.
Anyway I think on the whole it was a very good day, I don’t think for a moment it will make this dreadful coalition alter their disgusting cuts programme but at least I slept easier knowing that I had expressed my opposition even if it will only fall on deaf ears. The next day I read a shockingly ignorant article that Mr. Tim Lott had written for the Independent on Sunday, to quote “What are they protesting against? No one is really sure”. I must say I found this really quite insulting, I know exactly what I was protesting against and could elaborate in great detail if Mr. Lott wishes and doubless plenty of other people who were there could do the same! Cuts kill.
Some of Mikael’s photos are at http://www.flickr.com/photos/disabledpeopleprotest/5565819577/