Part 7: A Protest

A brief history of Glasgow in 8 columns, part 7: A Protest.

It is September 1915. Barbour’s Army, along with 20,000 Glaswegian tenants, have been on a rent-strike for five months already. Their husbands are away fighting a useless war, yet their rent gets increased more and more since there is an influx of people from rural areas looking for work in the industrial parts of Glasgow. Activity of striking tenants is spreading to other parts of the country and, whenever there is an attempt to evict someone for non-payment, the women use flour bombs and other kitchen-based missiles. In two months, they will lead great protests at the Glasgow debt court wherein 18 tenants will be prosecuted for non-payment. A month later, emergency legislation will be introduced that caps rent at pre-war levels. It takes more than another century for the leader of these strikes, Mary Barbour, to be celebrated with a statue in her home town, Govan.

Sometimes, it feels like nothing changes. It is 2018 and Scotland’s tenant union Living Rent still has to protest at letting agencies who are exploiting their tenants. Often, though, direct actions like this can have a positive result.

It is the 21st of November 1981 and my dad is one of the 400,000 people protesting against nuclear weapons on Museum Square in Amsterdam. It’s cold, probably, but he’s wearing black Doc Marten boots and a denim jacket, when those were still worn for being sturdy rather than hipster. ‘Ban de bom! Ban de bom!’ reverberates on the square, one message coming from thousands of mouths. 

I remember hearing stories of demonstrations from my dad. Standing up to power, making your voice heard, together with hundreds or thousands of like-minded people – I remember wishing I could be part of something like that. What I didn’t realize, of course, is that having to go out and protest means that the authority, whether that’s the government, a landlord or the council, is not taking your concerns seriously, or into consideration at all. 

It is September 2017 and I’m part of a protest on the steps of Buchanan Street, in support of women in Ireland and Northern Ireland who have no access to abortions. ‘Not the church / Not the state / Women must decide their fate!’ we sing. There are beautiful signs and speeches. Two months later, an abortion referendum in Ireland is announced, with the fantastic vote to repeal the 8th amendment at the end of May 2018. 

At least I can say I got what I wanted. In my three years of living in Glasgow, I have been part of numerous protests, and seen others live-streamed on my laptop. Watching protests around the world, like the Women’s March on January 21st 2017, seeing emotional speeches, and witnessing people from all walks of life come together as one, gives me chills. Sometimes it makes me cry. Being part of them, like the march from Glasgow University to George Square with striking professors and university staff, feels powerful: it is taking action, rather than watching something horrible happen and doing nothing. 

It is three days ago, 14th of June 2018, and a silent march is held in North Kensington, London to remember those who lost their life during the Grenfell Tower fire. A 72-second silence is held, and the names of the dead are read out by different members of the community. Sometimes, joining a march can be an important cathartic experience yet no real change happens as a result. A silent march has gone around the neighbourhood every 14th of the month since June 2017, yet even now more than half of the families that lost their homes are still living in temporary accommodation. The council and the government’s promise that all residents would be rehoused before the anniversary of the fire seems a bit like the US politicians’ ‘thoughts and prayers’ after yet another shooting. Empty promises don’t give anyone a stable living situation to get their life back on track, just like thoughts and prayers don’t save lives, but gun control does. While the student-led March for Our Lives, on 24th March 2018, was one of the largest protests in the history of America, more guns are still seen as the appropriate answer to gun violence. 

 Going out on the street is a way to connect with real people, and to make a statement to random by-passers.  You can post on Facebook all you want, but often you aren’t really telling anyone anything new. And in the time of trolls, social media isn’t exactly the best place to have a fruitful debate. Chanting slogans, whether it is ‘my body / my choice’ or ‘say it loud / say it clear / refugees are welcome here’, is a way to lift some of that pressure, anger and sadness that builds up every time you read the news. 

It is June 12, 1982, and the first day of the permanent peace camp next to Faslane Naval Base in Argyll and Bute, that has been occupied continuously since. Faslane is the home of British nuclear weapons, with the nuclear Trident missile heads being manufactured here. Despite this protest, and the Scottish Greens and the SNP’s opposition of the deployment of nuclear weapons, there is no indication that the base will be closed any time soon. Instead, despite Glasgow’s proud history of standing up against war and militarism, the SNP is supporting an arms fair that is to be held in the SEC of the end of the month – a building that is 90 per cent owned by Glasgow City Council. Exhibitors will include BAE Systems and Babcock, companies behind the renewal of the UK’s nuclear defence system, and an Israeli manufacturer that will show off weaponry used in the Gaza blockade. There will be a demonstration on the 26th of June. I hope to see you there. 

[Aike Jansen]

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