Monday, March 30, 2009

Putting People First

I didn't go on the Put People First demo on Saturday, but have been reading the reports from people who did go and am now puzzled.

The demo was organised by a "coalition of development charities, trade unions, faith groups, environmentalists and other organisations, formed in response to call for a fair, sustainable route out of recession". It called on our leaders to adopt 12 policy changes around democratic governance of the economy; decent jobs and public services for all; ending global poverty and inequality and building a green economy.

The first thing that is puzzling me is why, if there are 12 quite technical policy changes that your organisation believes ought to be adopted, it would seem like a good idea to organise a demonstration around them. There are much more effective ways of using the time and resources which must have gone into organising this demo to achieve this kind of aim. And any demo with twelve policy priorities under four separate headings will end up, as this one did, without any clear message whatsoever and people turning up to promote lots of different and unrelated causes.

The explanation which makes most sense to me is that the organisers felt that what they needed was to show and/or build their ability to get lots of people out on the streets to support their other campaigning and lobbying efforts, as a sort of campaigning prop. So the policy platform was drawn up with the aim of getting as many groups as possible to be able to sign up to it - with the aim that in turn those organisations could draw on their shared publicity resources and supporter lists to be able to get lots of people to march in support of their aims. If that's the case, 35,000 people marching falls short of the benchmark needed to really impress the media and others in positions of power, especially when you consider that between them the organisers have publicity budgets of millions of pounds and millions of e-mail addresses to contact supporters.

So the final explanation I can think of is that this wasn't intended as a one-off event, but instead is the start of building a new alliance which will gather strength and support over time. But I don't think this kind of top-down, big-charity-led campaign is the sort which lends itself to building up grassroots support, and starting off a campaign with a demonstration in London isn't a good way to build it up.

I fully support all the aims, and I look forward to being proved wrong over the weeks and months ahead, but I don't think the tactics of the Put People First campaign are at all right.


At 7:07 am , Anonymous Duncan said...

I broadly agree. I was with some Labour types sandwiched inbetween the Salvation Army and some World Hunger types. Just in front of us was a Tamil group. The Gaza people just behind.

What was striking to me, and I know this doesn't sound too important, was the lack of any common chants... So I heard shouting about world hunger behind me and chants about Israel in front.

It also felt a very unfriednly march. Very little interaction between different groups.

At 9:34 pm , Anonymous pedro said...

I think the TUC started it, then other groups either jumped or were encouraged to jump on the bandwagon,

Worth noting the relationship between G8 protest groups and the UK government's lobbying position at Gleneagles and asking yourself if it was a slightly crap attempt to emulate the success of 2005.

If you think this sounds like a conspiracy theory then ask yourself why Ed Miliband was up on rolling news for interviews about the protest (with well known government supporter and general charidee lefty Tony Robinson) at 0930hrs on a Saturday morning.

Considered in this light it did exactly what it was meant to - two page spread in the Observer, S.Times, and Indy on Sunday.

But the demonstration was crap - people didn't really seem to care much, the greens were smugly unwashed, and the Palestinian Groups were incredibly off topic and borderline tasteless as ever.

I must be getting old.


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