According to the Manchester Evening News (M.E.N.) just 17 arrests were made between Sunday and Wednesday. Considering the huge numbers of people participating in the activities around the Conservative Party Conference (CPC), this is astounding and should be being praised as an absolute success - 80,000 people at the National Demonstration on Sunday, several thousand people at the People's Post rally on Monday, and more across the range of events and protests arranged by the People's Assembly and other organisations. Yet the vast media coverage of the activities around the CPC have been negative, choosing instead to represent protestors as violent and aggressive.
On Wednesday 6th October the Hubster and I had arranged to start work late, in order to show our support for the anti-CPC activities taking place this week, and for positive change. We'd planned to join the Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) for half an hour before having to head off. On arrival at the meeting place, just by Central Library, there were just a handful of people, and a huge police presence including armed officers with huge guns, and snipers on the rooftop of the library.
We met a couple of others with the same quizzical faces asking are we in the right place? We assumed from the security that we were, but that people had either moved on or hadn't arrived yet. Well, it was a Wednesday, it was a work day, it was rush hour, and it was raining. We decided to stay put instead of find the others, as we had half an hour, and wanted to make good use. Not ones for shouting at people, and without flyers or placards, we wondered how we could contribute to this demonstration. There were a couple of young women anarchists standing with their flag (peaceful), there were a few couples dotted around, occasionally shouting people are dying because of the cuts and Jeremy Corbyn is a decent guy (again, peaceful).
And there were the Quakers. A group of about 8, some holding placards and others distributing flyers about the importance of equality, and of the Quaker vigil they were holding that day. The main woman distributing flyers was in a wheelchair, and was getting absolutely drenched. She was also feeling a bit disgruntled at having been asked to move by the police for obstruction, however the people stood around her hadn't. With the Quakers we found our calling for half an hour, and offered up our brolly to this woman. We were standing there with hoods, me holding the brolly over her, and her being the absolute model of perfection when it comes to distributing flyers to people who seem to be against everything you're fighting for. With calls of sir and madam, and we're Quakers, would you like a flyer about our vigil today? this woman was met with such peace and positivity. Some ignored her, some pretended not to have seen her, but the vast majority took a flyer with thanks. I like to think of the hundreds of Quaker flyers in the venue on the last day of the Conference, hopefully reaching someone - even if only one - because that's where it starts.
The stark contrast in this half hour was of 16 police officers and 4 armed officers forcefully taking down a guy next to the library. This filled those peaceful protesters with the sense of insecurity, questions of what country is this? and exclamations of look at the guns! Look at the snipers! Reportedly the man had been acting suspiciously on the tram. To us he looked harmless (of course I hope he was, but likewise for how he was treated I almost want to hear that he was armed or something, to justify the force). This made the headlines briefly, but if he's found to be innocent will this hit the headlines again? Possibly not. Will the peaceful and positive messages and demonstrations make the headlines? Probably not, at least not as much as the one egg which was thrown - at a guy who was taunting the crowd. Isn't there a thing called keeping the peace? Couldn't he have been stopped for antagonising the crowd?
The thing that strikes me about each event I've attended, and each I've heard of from friends, relatives, strangers, is the peaceful nature of events, and the positivity - the buzz that's running through the people. Yes, there are a few people who get bad press, who behave in a way which drags down the image of the majority - but think of what they're fighting for, think of what needs to change - and try to imagine what on earth the Conservatives were thinking when they brought the conference to Manchester.