Stand up and get march­ing

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - OPINION - with Erica Neustadt of Change4Chal­font

It’s turn­ing out to be a sad sum­mer, isn’t it? The con­fir­ma­tion of the mas­sive, in­sti­tu­tional be­trayal of Hills­bor­ough was swiftly fol­lowed by the nas­ti­est, most dis­hon­est na­tional cam­paign I have ever seen, re­sult­ing in a hugely di­vi­sive ref­er­en­dum.

Whilst it’s a good thing that peo­ple were en­gaged, al­most as never be­fore, in pol­i­tics, it’s sad that there’s so much po­lar­i­sa­tion, dis­tor­tion and per­sonal am­bi­tion shap­ing our world.

And it doesn’t seem to end: just now, the Chilcot re­port has been pub­lished, and what an ex­tra­or­di­nary and sorry story it tells. Not that we didn’t know al­ready, but to have it con­firmed is an ad­di­tional blow.

When I was at col­lege, the min­ers were on strike and march­ing; friends of mine demon­strated in favour of this, and against that, and I al­ways held back. Hav­ing once prac­ti­cally drowned in a mas­sive press of peo­ple leav­ing Wem­b­ley Sta­dium, I had an aver­sion to crowds. Be­sides, I thought that marches were anath­ema to in­di­vid­ual ex­pres­sion – the ban­ners de­clared your po­si­tion and oblit­er­ated sub­tle dif­fer­ences.

But over the years I have changed, and now I do pitch up for causes I feel pas­sion­ately about; I have demon­strated at power sta­tions, marched on par­lia­ment, chanted, shouted, em­braced im­mi­grants who have lined up ask­ing for hugs and re­as­sur­ances that we don’t want them to leave. And rather than wor­ry­ing that I am los­ing my in­di­vid­u­al­ity, I feel that I am ex­er­cis­ing a fun­da­men­tal right. If I can’t in­flu­ence any­thing at the bal­lot box, which sadly seems my fate – is it me or is it our vot­ing sys­tem? – then I can lift up my voice, phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally, and call out that I don’t agree, and that I want some­thing dif­fer­ent.

Many peo­ple can say that they did just that, when they turned up in their droves and a mil­lion peo­ple – phe­nom­e­nal! – marched against the in­va­sion of Iraq in 2003. My daugh­ter was a month old so we didn’t go, and I will al­ways re­gret it. The peo­ple who did, who stood up to make their voices heard, who took to the streets in protest against an il­le­gal war, should be proud. You may say that it didn’t make any dif­fer­ence, and cer­tainly it didn’t stop our coun­try tak­ing up arms, but it sig­nals true de­feat and ap­a­thy when we no longer get off the sofa, put on some com­fort­able shoes, and march.

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