Monday, May 04, 2009

Strangers into citizens

Went to the Strangers into Citizens rally today and a very worthwhile use of a bank holiday Monday it was too. I'm useless at counting numbers but Trafalgar Square was teaming with people and the demonstration itself (or themselves, there were a load of feeder demos) was extremely lively. I'll leave it to someone else to guess how many tens of thousands were there.

The event was to call for a one off amnesty for illegal immigrants (or irregular migrants if you're that way inclined) recognising the economic and cultural contribution that these workers make to this country. They put it like this; "Out of degradation into dignity. Out of the shadows into the light. Let’s turn strangers into citizens." Wonderful.

Carnival atmosphere

At the assembly point for my feeder demo I hung out with the Zimbabwe MDC for a bit - they really showed how people should behave on demos and essentially danced and sang their way through the whole thing. And I mean proper singing and dancing, not "Here we go".

I saw a number of Latin American contingents who were dressed up to the nines and were marching in step using traditional dance. There was a genuine carnival atmosphere - particularly lovely was when I got to the rally point and the Asian Dub Foundation were in the full swing of Fortress Europe - ooh that made my heart beat faster!

Flag waving for justice

A couple of interesting things. My bit of the demo had huge numbers of people waving Union Jacks, which was slightly disconcerting. I saw one banner for Algerian Refugees that was one huge Union Flag and frankly I'm not going to be the one to say that's wrong. Context is everything and if people want to use national symbols to help them press for being treated as equal citizens, well that makes sense to me even if I'm not used to it.

Although when a rousing chorus of God Save the Queen went up I did find myself rocking back and forth muttering to myself "It's alright, it's alright, they don't really mean it" although probably quite a few did. At least the BNP would would be squirming at the sight - oh they are!

Kudos to the organisers

Slight feelings of alienation aside I thought it was a fantastic event and one of the few demonstrations I actually enjoy going on. Mainly organised through religious groups and London Citizens (who are often spoken of in glowing terms) with refugee groups and anti-deportations thrown in for good measure you get a real feeling of what a progressive movement feels like.

Not that all Church goers are progressive of course but the power of civil society organisations to build movements can't be underestimated or disregarded because of their lack of full and perfect political programme.

Apologies to Jean Lambert and Darren Johnson who were both on the bill to speak but I shot off to visit the Tamils demonstrating outside the House of Commons so I didn't get to hear them speak. Just this once it was worth it to witness the joy that is Tamil kids racing round, singing, chanting and putting the older folk (you know over sixteens) to shame with the revolutionary zeal.

Photo selection here. Liam also has a report you should read here.


Kaihsu said...

The Joint Public Issues Team of the Baptist, Methodist, and United Reformed Churches has a progressive briefing on migration. The most consistent presence in front of the White House against torture for the last 100 days was carried out by Witness Against Torture, a faith-based organization.

Jim Jay said...

Thanks for that Kaihsu :)

mancunian green said...

Glad this event was well attended - more than can be said for the Manchester May Day march. Given that May Day used to be the Trades Union showcase event, the Union/ traditional Labour attendence was miniscule, undermining the 'Unite against Fascism' element of the day. Typical Manchester weather is no excuse.
Re 'showing people how to behave on demos' the liveliest participants in Manchester were the Congo Support Group.

Jim Jay said...

Sorry to hear that mg. To show off still further - the weather was lovely!

Kaihsu said...

A friend just told me that this weekend, the Baptist Union in its annual assembly ‘passed a resolution relating to 2 issues concerning Asylum Seeker; these were, a) calling for the government to end the detention of children, and b) granting the right to work for people whose case has not been dealt with in 6 months.’

charlesdance said...

Waving Union Jacks is one thing, but if the objective of getting people to sing 'God save the Queen' was supposed to be to promote inclusiveness, it was totally misplaced; as a British person it served to exclude me, and that was the point at which I left.

Jim Jay said...

As it happens that was when I left too. I understand the reasoning - they wanted to demonstrate they are as much good citizens as anyone born here (better much of the time probably) but reminding me we're subjects rather than citizens wasn't great - but it all served to prove how the event was led by migrant workers as no English person would have ever thought that was a good idea!