Posted in March logistics on February 23, 2011
The power of social media to organise protest rapidly and informally is very powerful. As well as obvious examples close to home, we only have to look at what is happening across North Africa and the Middle East.
But it can also spread disinformation and untruths very quickly. Many no doubt start and are passed on innocently and in good faith, but perhaps not with all of them.
So here are some of the urban myths about the March for the Alternative:
Myth 1: We have banned placards
Not true, and we have no idea how anyone would enforce such a ban even if we were stupid enough to try to impose one.
The truth is that we have asked unions to think about producing flags rather than placards. This is because they are less likely to be dumped at the end of the march – where we have to pick up the bill for their disposal – and are much easier to both get in bulk to, and then distribute at, the assembly point. Our experience is that people would rather have flags than carry heavier placards for what is likely to be a long march.
We think that makes sense for other groups too, but this is not something we could – or would – impose.
Myth 2: All coaches are going to Wembley
Not true. What is true is that the pressure of numbers and the associated road closures means that coaches will not be able to drop off at the assembly point, or pick up at Hyde Park. We need to keep the relatively limited access we have at these points for disabled access and other essential vehicles for the organisation of the event. We are therefore identifying drop-off, pick-up and coach parking points that are either as close as possible to the assembly point or are a straightforward journey by public transport.
We are expecting a huge number of coaches and finding sufficient places for all of them is a huge challenge. Union members expect us to arrange a safe and well-organised event. Suggesting that we have a coach free-for-all would not allow us to meet that.
There are three big regular coach parks in London: Wembley, the O2 and Excel. The O2 is already busy and we are planning therefore to use both Wembley and Excel as options. Indeed Wembley is not big enough to hold all the coaches we expect to come.
We know that neither is as close as we would like, but both have nearby tube stations in Wembley Park and Canning Town that are step-free and allow tube journeys without changing to Waterloo and Southwark. These are also step-free and are good stations for the assembly point. It is 15 minutes by tube from Canning Town to Southwark. This is quicker than it would take for a coach on a normal Saturday, let alone on a day when central London will be heavily congested. See TFL’s downloadable tube access map for how limited step free access is on the tube in central London.
But we are working on further options too. Already some coaches have been slotted into New Covent Garden’s coach park and some on road parking we have arranged. We are also working on other arrangements that we don’t want to talk about until they are firm – and it is not necessarily the case that drop-off points will be at the coach parks we are using.
Myth 3: We are banning ‘trouble makers’
Not true. This latest rumour apparently relies on secret TUC documents. We have no idea where this one has come from or know what it means. But we do not have a list of banned people, nor do we have the resources – even if we wanted to – to stop named individuals joining the march.
Of course we expect people who join the march to respect our organisation and our stewarding. The TUC and our member unions are organising this event, but we welcome anyone who want to support the broad objectives of the march and accepts our plans for the day to do so. We know that many will. Of course we would certainly ask anyone with for example racist placards that grossly offend other marchers to leave. But we have organised enough marches to know that not everyone coming will sign up to every detail of TUC policy or have placards that would secure majority support at TUC Congress.
Shockingly true: We are working closely with the police
This one is true. Of course we are. We plead guilty.
This is going to be a huge event – and the mission given to us our affiliated unions is to make this a well-organised, safe and family-friendly event. This requires us to work very closely with all manner of other organisations from the St John Ambulance to the Royal Parks, from local councils to TfL.
This of course includes the police. We have a democratic right to express our views through this event, and expect the police to facilitate that. And this is exactly what is happening. It does not mean that we do not retain the right to criticise when we think policing is inappropriate. But it also means that the more we co-operate the more likely it is that the day is organised well – and we effectively get our message across without distraction. There are real public safety issues with huge crowds and we would be neglecting our duty to our members and supporters if we did not work together.
It does not mean that we think other forms of protest are inappropriate, or that our event is the end of the campaign. But March 26th is about the biggest possible orderly mobilisation of people from all walks of life coming together in a united and peaceful way to say that there is an alternative to these deep and damaging cuts. Everyone who respects that is more than welcome.