By Hannah Bailey
I arrived early to Stoke Park. At 12:50 I overheard a groundsman speaking on the phone. He said ‘They’re coming up the road now? I hope it’s a smaller crowd than Saturday’.
Sorry not sorry for the inconvenience, friend. This matters.
The crowd of protestors marched, chanting, across the park, holding passionate signs – ‘If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention’; ‘No human being is illegal’; ‘If you’re not anti-racist, you’re compliant’; ‘The racism that killed George Floyd was made in Britain’; ‘Racism is a pandemic too’.
Chants erupted and overlapped with each other. ‘No justice, no peace.’ ‘Say his name’. ‘No justice, no peace.’ ‘Black lives matter’.
Five police officers were in attendance.
The demonstration began with all protestors lying face-down for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, to reflect ex-officer Derek Chauvin’s slow murder of George Floyd.
Immediately afterwards, the organisers encouraged speakers to come to the centre of the gathering and express their ideas in a free platform. It felt powerful and fair to acknowledge the murder that has catalysed this popular outcry before focusing on the experiences of those in attendance.
The first speaker expressed the vital importance of community, solidarity, and support of the movement.
This was a recurring theme – many voices reiterated the crucial message that current events are not a trend. Yes, it’s vital to be an active anti-racist now, but anti-racist behaviours must become the norm. The outcry for an end to racial injustice is not one moment of loudness. Change will come through education, commitment, and consistent challenges against racism. Several speakers anticipated a point in a few weeks when the Black Lives Matter movement will fade from popular attention, and emphasised that it is everyone’s collective responsibility to ‘keep shouting when this starts to fade out’.
‘You have to keep being an ally without expecting a pat on the back’, stated one protestor.
Education was a central point to many speeches. Acknowledging the young age of many in attendance, one protestor said ‘We can educate others as much as we want but the real change is us. I need you in politics. I need you as CEOs. I need you to work hard. The people in power now? It’s unlikely that we’ll change their minds. Real change will come when we are in politics, when we change the laws. So stay in school. Be the change that we need.’
This was echoed by a later speaker. Born in 1971, this speaker shared their experience of an education system that doesn’t seem much changed – ‘What did I know about Africa? Loincloths. Animals. What did I know about Asia? Paddy fields. The education system indoctrinates you to believe that certain people are above, and certain people are below.
“If you don’t see colour, you need to get your eyes tested. You have to see colour, but colour can’t be a problem. While we’re divided, those up top can do whatever they want. Stop fighting each other. Look at your leaders. This has to stop. It starts with proper education. You young people here, you are the change, get the old leaders out. If you’ve got a brain in your head, be the change.’
Advice was shared about individual actions to keep supporting the cause. The crowd was encouraged to write to their MPs directly to hold our elected representatives accountable, and apply more pressure on them to implement systemic change.
Protestors were encouraged to have conversations with people who don’t agree. ‘The problem lies with the people who aren’t here’.
‘Why aren’t my white friends here? Their mums won’t let them. Right. Stop trying to make excuses like this doesn’t concern you.’
One speaker described their difficulties with social anxiety, and reiterated the crucial importance of speaking out despite being afraid. Their suggestion of ‘if you are scared to speak, write a song about it’ provoked a strong supportive response from the crowd.
The signs and chants are right. Silence is violence. Silence is compliance. There is no excuse for inaction. Do what you can, and keep doing it, and keep telling others to keep doing it. In the words of a speaker today:
‘You stand with us here but do you stand with us in your homes? Your schools? Your workplaces? All lives don’t matter until black lives matter. When George Floyd died, I said “oh my days, another one?” When will it stop? In six weeks time, some new celebrity will have got married or something. What happens then? Will you stand up?’
The crowd responded passionately, ‘YES. Black Lives Matter.’
A silence fell. The speaker held this silence before saying, in a voice filled with pain and empathy, “George Floyd cried for his mother.
“That’s how desperate George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Mark Duggan, and others were.
“Desperate to live.
“What kind of fuckery is that?
My mum told me “please be safe”, because she knew the consequences of me protesting for my right to live.
Why is that a controversial statement?
I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.’