Recently I’ve been trying to do more on-the-street protest and action, rather than just digital/petitions/donations. I’ve also realised that London protests and marches are an excellent way to catch-up with friends and family, and that they are most enjoyable when you have someone to share the experience with. With all of the absolute garbage coming our way from Trump, and from sexist fascist arseholes like this Polish MEP, I was keen to get on the streets and put the walk where the talk is for gender equality. So this afternoon I went on the March 4 Women in London. It was an afternoon of short speeches, live music, and a march, organised by a number of charities working to support women, and led by Care International. It’s scheduled to happen every year on the weekend before International Women’s Day, and this was the fifth year it’s been held.
I have to say, the march was fantastically organised. Unlike the previous protest I went on (‘support refugees/stop Trump’) which I talked about briefly here, the March4Women was engaging, fast-paced, informative, and actually enjoyable. I think Care International put some real effort and excellent staff into making the event happen, and I really have to salute them. There were so many excellent aspects:
- The compère was charismatic, engaging, easy-going and confident, so she really held the audience’s attention and made the transition between speakers smooth and professional. She knew how to use a microphone, which is a surprisingly rare skill at protests!
- THE PA SYSTEM. Oh. My. God. So many protests/marches have such poor PA systems. This one was crystal clear, and incredibly loud when necessary but not turned up all the time. As long as the speakers even vaguely held the mic near their faces, the sound technician managed to make them sound clear and audible. They even managed to mic the live singers and acoustic guitars really well. It was such a joy and novelty to actually be able to hear the speakers clearly!
- There was a variety of speakers – different ethnicities, genders, nationalities.
- The speakers clearly signposted what the event was about – not just the main subject (equality) but also this year’s specialist topic (refugees). But they didn’t try and include absolutely every vaguely-related campaign to the point that they lost their identity, as I’ve seen in the past.
- There weren’t so many speakers that it was overwhelming – the ‘support refugees/stop Trump’ protest suffered from endless speakers, one after the other, until you couldn’t remember who was who or what they had said. I was really glad March4Women wasn’t a repeat of that.
- The speakers gave us information that made it very clear what the campaign was for, and why it was needed, and helped to educate everyone there. But there wasn’t too much. Just enough to give you a strong sense of why we were marching.
- Whoever arranged the line-up did an excellent job arranging the speakers in order of skill/inspiration, so that the last person on before the march was the best speaker and the most able to inspire us all. It kept the crowd’s interest and enthusiasm climbing, rather than yo-yoing us around.
- March4Women pulled some star power! Annie Lennox (really good speaker), the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan (unsurprisingly perhaps, but also an excellent speaker) and music (including the first performance of a track!) from Emeli Sande (whose voice was astounding), as well as Natasha Beddingfield, Kate Nash and Melanie C. It was such an amazing way to begin the march, it really made the day feel special.
The one thing I thought we were missing was at least one trans speaker/any discussion of trans rights/struggles. The event was explicitly signposted as welcoming to everyone, and I saw trans women and campaigners on the March so I infer that they did not feel completely excluded. However it’s one area where we as feminists still really need not only to support, but to become educated about.
In a stand-out moment for me, Sadiq Khan said during his speech that he had become afraid recently, not that our progress would slow or stop, but what equality we’ve gained would actually be taken away from us. I’ve been feeling that way for some time, and frustrated that I haven’t heard politicians saying the same thing. It was a relief to hear this thought voiced by someone else, particularly a Labour party representative. As I’ve talked about recently, I’m really struggling with my Labour party membership at the moment, and feeling pretty alienated from the Party. It was a pleasure to find that there are engaged, interesting, electable representatives who haven’t got their heads buried in the sand or blinkered by the petty, toothless, irrelevant chaos that currently seems to have swamped the Labour Party.
It was such a joy to be surrounded by such a variety of people with similar goals. Unapologetic feminists who want to work for equality across the world for all people. I’m glad I went, not just for the campaign itself, but because it made me feel positive once again that there are people who not only care, but actually have the ability to achieve change. I will definitely make the effort to come out to the march again next year, and I hope it continues to grow and thrive. The rise of populist, right-wing, narrow-minded politicians into the centre of politics and government in the last year or so has to be a wake-up call. If we don’t fight, we won’t just have to wait for equality, we will actually lose what legal recourse to equal rights we have.