28 March 2011

Demonstrating as the Fat Bloc

A coalition of around half a million people took to London's streets on Saturday to protest various things. Sister-demonstrations took place in other British cities. The protest was one of the biggest that has ever taken place in the UK, half a million in a population of about 60,000 is a significant number.

This article from the Guardian covers many of the people involved in the demonstration: Anti-cuts march: the protesters. You might also want to have a look at Freedom Press' Action Map March 26th Demo for an idea of the more radical groups involved.

Why did I go? I maintain anarchism as a beautiful dream, but I'm also a pragmatist and I think the state should support vulnerable groups directly, I don't see this as the role of 'Big Society', charities or private businesses. Britain is a rich country and can afford to do this. I'm appalled by the current round of cuts in services, which will devastate marginalised people and undermine the welfare state.

I didn't think the demonstration's explicit goals will be realised. The government's cuts are based on capitalist and neoliberal ideologies which have a global sweep and are bigger than the Con-Dem government in the UK. But I do think that the demonstration achieved other important things:
  • It was a gigantic peaceful gathering for most people
  • It was life-affirming to see so many different people together on the streets
  • When you see a sight like this, you feel less isolated, you feel visible and in solidarity with other people
  • It gives a sense of hope and encouragement in otherwise extremely grim times
  • It is part of the current radicalisation of otherwise disenfranchised people, especially young 'uns
I also enjoyed the raw news footage of people kicking in bank windows, attacking the Olympic countdown clock, mooning the press, and chasing the police, and I hope that the people paid to clean up the damage got double time (the mess must surely be less than the trash that will litter the streets after the forthcoming and totally hateful royal wedding).

I decided to march a while ago but I couldn't decide who to march with. I knew I didn't want to get kettled or involved in any trouble, I didn't want to get arrested. This meant avoiding some groups with whom I have political sympathies. To cut a long story short, my partner and I decided to make our own banner late on Friday night. We played around with joke slogans, my favourites: 'Camelegg – No, Cameltoe – yes!' and the evergreen 'Die Tory Scum' but in the end we just wrote Fat Bloc, with an anarchist symbol in the word fat. It was my idea, I thought of it as a serious joke; if other groups could have their own bloc, then why not us? We made the banner with felt-tips and glitter, DIY forever!

For most of the demo the Fat Bloc consisted of me and two others. The most miniscule Bloc ever! It was very cute. Clearly the three of us can handle the possibility of ridicule. People responded to us in many ways ranging from embarrassment and confusion, which only encouraged us more, to many thumbs-up, smiles of recognition and appreciation, verbal support, people wanting their pictures taken with us, many other cameras on us, and no negative snark that I heard in four hours of marching. None!

The best things were when a guy from a migrant workers' group came to stand with us, yay for coalition-building; when someone who may have been popstar of yore Holly Johnson took our picture; and when we got high-fived. I loved sneaking up behind unsuspecting protestors so that they became unwitting members of the Fat Bloc, teehee.

Inevitably, there were a few people with banners condemning 'fat cats' and 'fat pigs' and demanding the government 'cuts the flab'. We yelled them down! We said "Working class people are fat too!" "Don't stereotype fat people!" "We love fat cats!" "Keep the flab!" Lord only knows if they understood but I like to think there were a few sheepish faces and that they'll think twice before using fat stereotypes again.

Friends came and went as we demonstrated, others said they were looking out for us, and later on we met up with a bigger group of pals. People admired our glittery sign. It was great to stand together, such fun, and a really happy memory for me was seeing my friends Bill and Tammy coming towards us from out of the crowd. It's amazing to have fat community.

I had a great time being part of the Fat Bloc and would do it again, and encourage others to form their own Fat Blocs. It is good to be visible on the streets as peaceful, friendly, and radical fat people, to show that we are part of social justice movements too and that no-one should give us shit. I loved the way that our placard was ambiguous enough for people to read into it what they wanted, and also that it meant something good and useful for people of all kinds.


acceptancewoman said...

High Five!
Thumbs Up!

I've been to protests lately, too, and wasn't sure where I fit in. Sure, there are many that I could join, but I'm thinking "Just Another Fat Chick for Justice" or some such slogan would be a perfect sign. I really want to say "Tax Me!" as the state in the U.S. I live in doesn't have an income tax, and it's a major problem.

But I have been energized by attending peaceful protests and I'm feeling more and more at home protesting at my state's capitol.

Charlotte Cooper said...

Keep doing what you're doing.