The TUC's Head of Campaigns and Communications Nigel Stanley explains how to join and prepare for the March for the Alternative tomorrow, Saturday, March 26th.
Journalists keep asking, but really we have no idea how many people will be attending the TUC’s March for the Alternative on Saturday. All we know is that it is going to be huge.
With more than 800 coaches and nine trains bringing people from outside London, and every indication that large numbers are coming from London and surrounding counties, it is bound to be the biggest TUC event for decades.
The next question we get is whether we expect trouble and the same problems that hit the student protests before Christmas. This is not the place to get into a detailed post-mortem of what went wrong at those, but our event is very different. There have been months of planning, and a very clear agreed route. We will have more than 300 well-trained senior stewards and many more route stewards. There will be an extensive SMS and Twitter communications network that will stop the rumours that can cause problems.
We have put real efforts into making this a disability friendly event too – perhaps more than any previous such demonstration. We have special assembly points and vehicle access near the main assembly, a short march from St James St and a static demonstration at the entrance to Hyde Park. And of course we have engaged with the police. We have a right to protest and they – and other agencies – have a duty to facilitate that. Our view has always been that the more we plan the day together the more likely it is that everything will go smoothly.
And that is what we have done, with clear understanding of each other’s role, detailed stewarding plans and the good communication that will be so essential with the public safety implications of such a big turn-out. So we have every expectation that this will be a huge united show of opposition to deep, rapid and unfair spending cuts. We have not hesitated on calling on our members and those who want to join with us to bring their families. The Woodcraft Folk are even laying on children’s activities in Hyde Park.
The real challenge for us on the day will be the sheer force of numbers. So we are sending some clear messages to people planning to come on Saturday:
Stagger your arrival times: The march assembles from 11am, but it will still be leaving at 2pm and possibly even later.
Arrive from the rear of the march: The front will be at Embankment, but unless you are coming very early please use stations further back, and that could mean as far as Tower Hill. When the Embankment is full we will need to route people to the rear via side streets. There is detailed advice on our website.
Follow @march26march on Twitter for our official information on where to join the march and what is going on. People may have to wait in side roads to join the main assembly area if it’s full.
Avoid the feeder marches: We don’t doubt their good intentions, but they simply make it more difficult for everyone else. They interfere with the arrangements we have made for getting those with disabilities to the event. People who have been waiting patiently in our assembly area should not be expected to stop while others are merged in.
Prepare for a long day and big march with food, drink, suitable clothing and sensible footwear.
Think about your homewards journey: The nearest stations will be rammed, but there are a surprising number of stations within walking distance of Hyde Park. And early arrivals in Hyde Park should feel free to leave before the rally ends. That frees room for those coming later and will help stagger journeys home.
We know that some people sneer at simply “marching from A to B” perhaps particularly those who could never mobilise the numbers the TUC will tract on Saturday. But while it’s perhaps true that the classic demonstration can sometimes pass unnoticed, the sheer size of this event will send a powerful message in its own right.
Of course it’s not the only campaign event we need, nor do we expect the government to announce a u-turn on March 27th. The TUC has been clear that we don’t expect a top-down campaign against the cuts, but rather lots of different approaches – but this broad campaign gets stronger every day and we have already seen victories on at least some issues.
The March for the Alternative is the best opportunity for a powerful national mobilisation – not the end, not even the peak of the campaign but a springboard for more local, sectoral and national activity.
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