After a 6am alarm, a drive from the shadow of Snowdon to Bangor Station, a four-and-a-half hour train journey, I was finally in Cardiff. My conscience had been troubling me that I was confining my left-wing commitment purely to blogging, so yesterday morning found me joining a hundred or so like-minded people (many 40 years younger than me!) at the foot of a statue to my hero, Aneurin Bevan at the Occupy Cardiff protest.
Just before we set off I was handed a leaflet, ‘What to do if arrested’. Suddenly the reality of what I was doing hit me. I had no plans to break the law but could easily be included with a group less cautious than I am! When we left, I had been hoping we would be greater in number, carrying more banners, but I had my walking boots and waterproofs against the rain that set in at 2pm precisely, and was prepared for a two-hour march. Two minutes after setting-off we had crossed the busy road to Cardiff Castle – and we had arrived! Swiftly jumping down from the pavement to the grass alongside the castle, the group set up tents and started its first General Assembly – a key component of the Occupy movement – which allows anyone to speak.
That was the point when the weaknesses of operating an egalitarian group began to show themselves. Hesitation over who was facilitating the Assembly, a loud-hailer which was not up to the task, people not shown how to use the loud-hailer, batteries that were quickly exhausted with no replacement; all leading to disappointment that we couldn’t hear what was said. It would have helped to have more banners, some musicians, and some rehearsed chants to make for better engagement of all present. I believe there is a lesson here – having leadership, co-ordination and reference to a model that works elsewhere does not detract from the aims of equality for all. My other disappointment was despite a Cymdeithas yr Iaith banner, I heard no Welsh spoken. However, I was glad to see a later Tweet that the protest was the first time the, “We are the 99 per-cent” slogan had been heard in Welsh.
The police stood round in ridiculously over-the-top numbers looking embarrassed. There were mounted police, ordinary officers, community support officers, police cars, vans and, I suspect, every demonstrator could have been allocated his or her personal officer. Sadly, those officers waded in shortly after I left for my long trek back to North Wales, to remove the fledgling protest and the tents and some arrests were made.
I was energised by the passion and commitment of the participants and will take my experiences back to the nascent Occupy Bangor group. Hopefully, there will be a clear backlash against this attack on peaceful protest and the first Welsh expression of the Occupy movement will re-emerge to declare “We are the 99 per-cent”.