From Dave at Estuary Stirrings

As promised, I went on the #UniteForFreedom anti-lockdown / anti great reset protest in London on Saturday May 29 armed with a pile of Estuary Stirrings papers and the few dozen ‘Stop Believing in Authority, Start Believing in Each Other’ stickers that I had left. I really didn’t know what to expect from the day and what kind of reception the paper would get…

It was probably the easiest demonstration paper distribution I’ve ever done as an activist. They were literally flying out of my hands from the start. That meant I had to pause on a few occasions to make sure I had enough papers to last for the duration. Why was it easy? Because the vast majority of those on the protest were not involved in organised politics and didn’t have any of the baggage that would come with that. The papers were being snapped up by a wide variety of people. It stood in stark contrast to the many left organised protests I’ve gone to hand out papers on where the sectarianism and factionalism limits the potential audience to just a fraction of those attending. This is the paper that I was handing out – no printed copies left, just this downloadable PDF:

Estuary Stirrings Special Protest Edition No.1

I’ve watched footage from previous anti-lockdown / anti great reset protests to try and get a handle on who was attending them. That’s a very poor substitute for actually being there and engaging with people. Despite my feet killing me after walking for miles, I’m glad I made the effort to go. It was an education to witness what to all intents and purposes is the emergence of a new political movement.

A year ago. I wrote this piece to try and coalesce my thoughts on what I saw emerging back then: The emerging political divide. What has happened since then has confirmed my initial assessment that there is a shift occurring and that the old political divide of left vs right is becoming less relevant. I’ve said and written this before but make no apology for doing so again when it comes to looking at how this shift is playing out.

On the one hand, there are those who implicitly trust the government and other authorities to look after their best interests, regardless of the cost to personal freedoms. This is particularly the case when it comes to believing the pronouncements of the scientists, regardless of whether they’re epidemiologists, vaccine and other medical intervention developers or psychologists with a bent for manipulating human behaviour. In amongst those who put their faith in the authorities are those who think they haven’t gone far enough in terms of imposing lockdowns. These critics demanding harsher lockdowns tend to come from the left. Interestingly, some of this set have managed to execute a 180 degree turn on their view of the maverick Dominic Cummings now he’s sticking the knife into Boris Johnson for not implementing an even stricter lockdown back in March 2020.

On the other hand, there are those of us who for a whole host of reasons do not trust the government and other authorities to decide what’s best for us. That’s something we’d rather do individually and collectively. That doesn’t mean to say we reject the voices of honest, independent experts – far from it. However, when the range of experts allowed to opine about the crisis is intentionally narrowed down to those supporting one particular narrative and set of objectives, then please forgive us for being somewhat sceptical.

Also, we can see that this crisis is being leveraged to bring about some pretty drastic changes to society. ‘Build Back Better’ and the ‘New Normal’ are some of the polite anodyne terms being used to describe what many of us are describing as ‘the great reset’. If you go to this page on the blog, there are plenty of readings detailing what we understand the great re-set to be: Readings: Lockdown, The ‘New Normal’, The Great Re-set. Before anyone screams ‘conspiracy theorist’ at us, please bear in mind that the great reset has been the subject of books by Klaus Schwab of World Economic Forum amongst others. Also, as you can see from the image below, it’s featured on no less than the front cover of Time magazine.

So, who are those of us standing up in opposition to lockdowns / the great reset / the new (ab)normal? Going by what I saw when I was handing out copies of Estuary Stirrings, a very wide range of people from all walks of life. Certainly a greater range of people, including a lot more working class, than I’ve ever seen on standard left organised protest. A lot of ordinary people who prior to 2020, had never been on a protest in their lives before but who have become politicised over the last fifteen months as a result of the impact on their lives of the succession of lockdowns and tiered restrictions. A fair number of BAME people. A good few veterans of protests from previous decades such as the Poll Tax and Reclaim The Streets. The people taking copies of Estuary Stirrings ranged from Rastas and protest veterans to football lads and a few ex-service veterans.

At this stage, it’s difficult to pin down who is taking part in the movement because basically, it’s anyone who’s questioned what’s going on. The fact that as things stand, the protests are attracting people from all walks of life is one of its strengths. Obviously that comes with a bit of a downside as I did spot a few nefarious looking people with dubious agendas who were looking to exploit the anger people are feeling at what’s been done to them. However, it has to be said that these nefarious elements did look a bit uncomfortable – that’s most likely at the sight of people of all ethnicities enjoying more than a bit of a party vibe.

I’ve been asked on a few occasions for my thoughts on the groups behind the anti-lockdown / anti-great reset movement, including those who have called and organised the street protests. To be honest, my intentions for attending the protest wasn’t to have a chat with Stand Up X or any of the other groups involved – it was to engage with the punters turning up on the protest. For me, it’s the people who turn up who are the movement.

I accept that some of my anarchist comrades (possibly now former comrades) will be more than displeased by my attendance at the protest. So be it, the consequences of that are something I’ll have to deal with. Before I embark on any criticism of the anarchist movement, I want to put on record my acknowledgement of the work done by anarchist grassroots mutual aid and solidarity initiatives that have emerged since the start of the crisis. These are precisely the kind of projects that Alternative Estuary was set up to champion.

However, sadly, much of the anarchist movement has not stepped up to the plate. People’s legitimate concerns about everything from the adverse impacts of lockdown and fears of accepting a medical intervention that’s still in the experimental stage through to broader concerns about what the great re-set actually means for us have been dismissed out of hand. Also, there’s the seeming lack of curiosity about an ever growing, broad based grassroots movement – this is something that I find absolutely baffling to be honest.

What of the march itself? When it comes to protests I’ve been round the block more than a few times, metaphorically and literally, over the decades. This was one of the noisiest and passionate ones I’ve been on for many years. Also in a fair few sections there was definitely a party vibe going with portable sound systems and dancing. As for the numbers, it was in the tens of thousands. Apart from a heavy looking Tactical Support Group presence at Shepherd’s Bush by the southern entrance to Westfield and a helicopter in the sky, the police presence was pretty minimal. Confession time – I missed out on the excitement at the end when the Westfield shopping mall in Wood Lane was occupied. I had to bail out at Shepherd’s Bush as being on the wrong side of 65, my feet were killing me by that point.

A few niggles… Stewarding could have been better. By the time we reached Bayswater Road the marchers were getting pretty stretched out and we were in danger of losing the road at some points as some pushy sods in their flash cars were trying to drive along the route of the protest. That’s dangerous, trust me on that one…

Also, there’s still a lack of a legal observer and arrestee support infrastructure. If as predicted, the push towards the great reset continues, at future protests there will be real anger coming to the fore and clashes with the cops charged with the task of upholding the interests of the elites against the rest of us will be inevitable. Throw the consequences of the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill into the mix and we face some pretty dire threats. As the existing left / anarchist legal observer and arrestee support infrastructure refuses to touch the anti-lockdown / anti-great reset movement with the wrong end of a bargepole, setting up a parallel infrastructure has to be a priority.

The media coverage as expected was pretty minimal and most of what coverage there was turned out to be inaccurate and dismissive. Suffice to say, the numeracy skills of the journalists who did cover the protest are fucking abysmal as they can’t tell the difference between hundreds of people and tens of thousands of people! As for the BBC, yet again, they failed to mention the protest. What these people seem to fail to recognise that the for the time being at least, the Net offers the facilities for numerous citizen journalists to get the story out about what actually does happen at these protests. However, as the authorities get more desperate to keep their agenda on track, we can’t expect to take this for granted going forwards.

Time to bring this piece to a conclusion. Attending the #UniteForFreedom protest was useful in getting a lot of propaganda out. It was certainly a learning curve in observing and participating in the emergence of a new grassroots movement. I’ve found a lot of allies online from around the world but that’s not the same as physically being out on the streets with people who broadly share the same outlook. For me personally, there have been times during the last fifteen months when I have felt isolated and as a consequence, pretty down. Being out on the streets was the morale booster that I needed to get through what’s coming down the line towards us.