Dan Swain, of rs21 and active in Norfolk People’s Assembly, argues why you should support Saturday’s demonstration against austerity, and build the People’s Assembly where you can.
Saturday’s People’s Assembly demonstration in London is shaping up to be a major event. It has backing from a host of organisations, and an impressive list of celebrities and public figures are either speaking at the rally, performing at the festival, or doing their bit to promote it through social media. Notably, the NUT has put a great deal of work into supporting it, seeing it as a stepping stone towards strikes in July. Of course, institutional backing and celebrity endorsement do not, on their own, make a mass demonstration. But it’s clear that there has also been a lot of hard work put in by activists across the country. There is transport booked from over 40 towns and cities. This is likely to be the biggest demonstration since the TUC demonstration in 2012, and achieved without the weight that a TUC call out brings. Indeed, that would make it the largest demonstration called by a campaigning network since the student protests of 2010. Like with the student protests, it will be many people’s first demonstration.
In Norfolk, where I live, there are three coaches filled. Norfolk People’s Assembly has become a vital organising hub for activists across the region, especially in Norwich. In the past week alone we have held a well-attended organising meeting, a film-showing, and a stunt against Vodafone’s tax-dodging on Saturday. It has brought together people from a range of groups, but also given space for new activists to emerge who have not had strong allegiances to pre-existing organisations. Yesterday we released on open letter in support of the demonstration which was signed by an MEP, a Labour Party Parliamentary Candidate, four Green Councillors and a host of other trade unionists and activists. I don’t say this to blow our own trumpet – we’re far from perfect – but to stress how a functioning local People’s Assembly can help strengthen local campaigns against austerity through building networks of solidarity, empower new activists to take a lead, and create new audiences for radical ideas.
If the demonstration on Saturday can be the springboard for creating more local assemblies like Norfolk – that can develop an internal life beyond the supporting organisations – then it will be more than worthwhile. But of course, it’s not just about strengthening local organisation. We also need a national campaign which can challenge austerity as a political project, which raises substantial questions about the priorities of our society and how it could be different. It is through empowering people to pose these questions, and to begin to offer their own answers to them, that genuine social transformation happens. It’s asking too much of a broad coalition like the People’s Assembly to demand it provide all the answers; but the role it can play in breaking open space in which to ask questions could be invaluable. That’s why I’ll be on the demonstration on Saturday, and I hope to see many of you there.