My protesting days were mostly several decades ago; the early eighties was a rich time to become more politically aware, as Reagan and Thatcher stepped in to dismantle the post-war consensus. It feels to me these days that we are living through the last part of that swing of the pendulum, and I am optimistic in some ways that we will start the swing back to equality and progress after these turbulent times.
My college girlfriend was well-versed in the feminist politics of the time, and I am still deeply grateful to her for her consciousness-raising work on me (as we called it in those days). We found plenty of things to protest, and plenty of events, many of them musical, to attend: the protracted miners’ strike and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament were my two starting points. Ken Livingstone was in his first stint at the Greater London Council and organising enough opposition to the government that the latter simply abolished the council, along with the other predominantly left-wing city councils. The year I lived in Paris was full of anti-racism efforts, and the burgeoning anti-Apartheid movement, which also was going strong in London.
Having missed the marches around the inauguration and the airport demonstrations a week ago, and having only joined the post-election march because it was passing directly in front of my house, this past weekend I made an effort to attend the protest in Civic Center plaza. I remembered the last time I had been there in a big crowd was watching the World Cup on a giant screen, and the mood was equally as buoyant and inclusive. The rain moved through just in time (on a lunch-time run, I had come back over Liberty Hill to see a rainbow fittingly stretched low across the Castro), and the sun shone across the plaza until it dipped behind City Hall.
Having been energised by seeing pictures of banners that people were preparing for the event, I wondered what I could bring. Then I remembered one of the diversity trainings we had done at Zen Center in my early years there, where people talked about how long their families had been in the States; it was a surprise to me in those days that most people were only a generation or two removed from immigration, and that I was just a little more freshly through the process. So I wrote a sign that said ‘I am an immigrant’ and hung it round my neck. It was heartening that when I arrived at the plaza, the first person I saw also had a sign that started ‘I am an immigrant’ – she was also English as it turned out (she appears briefly a little earlier in the video linked to below).
There were many inspiring speakers – refugees and immigrants, children of refugees and immigrants, from Vietnam, the Middle East, and South America (places where the US has been busy interfering in the political process…); a speaker from the ACLU, and former representative Mike Honda who talked about the internment of the Japanese community. Perhaps most moving for me was the call to prayer that was offered. In my years working at the BBC World Service, where I met and worked with people from all over the globe, I spend many overnight shifts with the Arabic service, and the first piece of programming each day, around 4am local time, was a section of the Koran, on very old tape, beautifully intoned.
I have no doubt that there will be more occasions to protest before all this is over; as I left the area and its wonderfully diverse crowd, I was thinking to myself, this is what humanity looks like:
The gentleman at the mic is doing the call to prayer; the organisers are at the back of the stage; the woman with the blonde hair was in charge of security for the afternoon.