Louise Guthrie writes...
“Say no to austerity! Protest against the cuts!” – These are the words I find myself hollering down the middle of Brick Lane on a balmy and tranquil Sunday afternoon. What is going on?
Not that Brick Lane is an unusual place for me to be hanging out, particularly on market day. But normally I’d be quietly buying fruit and veg, or queueing for a salt-beef beigel (with English mustard) and a cup of stewed and frothy tea at the renowned Jewish bakery on the corner.
So this is a definite change in tack. “Come and join us on the biggest ever anti-austerity rally, Saturday 20 June at 12 pm, at the Bank of England” I yell. This is a real shift in focus from my more typical Sunday p.m. routine of eyeing up the blueberries, looking for easy-peel clementines, bagging 5 ripe avocados, and securing 2 pounds of bananas for a pound.
The fruit still looks tempting, but today the priorities are somewhat different.
I’m comparatively new to leafleting, although I’m quickly clocking up some valuable experience in the rapidly diminishing run-up to June’s big event. I’ve given out flyers at a comedy gig, outside cinemas, and at busy tube-stations in central London rush-hour.
Today I’ve gleaned that in a colourful and vibrant market area like this, it’s nice to engage in a touch of meaningful discourse with people and to indulge in a sliver of (hopefully) lucid exchange with any interested parties in passing. Just a few well-chosen words about saving our NHS, welfare state, public services, our trade unions and the social fabric of our country can help raise awareness. I might even exchange the odd bit of light banter with some punters. I’m still learning on the job.
So I move along with my fellow volunteers, who are merrily weaving their way through the crowds who pass our People’s Assembly stall. Our crew deftly hand out flyers and vociferously promote the big day to all who saunter by.
And it’s such a good day to be out and about doing this. No-one in or around the long and pulsating microcosm of London's shifting ethnic patterns that is Brick Lane appears to be in any hurry. The Sunday market shoppers, the tourists, artists, musicians and Brick Lane Trendies may well be out in force, but they’re relaxed and taking their time. The place is buzzing and there’s ample scope for a dash of repartee, especially when people are this open and receptive.
But there’s no real time for us to linger. We have a job to do. And we’re going to do the deed along the whole of Brick Lane. So we extricate ourselves from casual Sunday strollers and converge in a purposeful line. A forthright and good-natured member of our troops vocally paves the way for us through her mega-phone, arresting folk’s attention with her speedy patter, so that we can move in and do to rest with our flyers (and our general charm.) We march (or is it more of a meander?) our way from one end of the Lane to the other, and all the way back again…..
The vibe here is positive. Indian restaurant proprietors are happy to pop out of their doors and hear what we have to say. London’s edgy and artistic crowd range from being mildly interested to positively engaged by our message. Some people even come up and ask for leaflets, rather than waiting for them to be pro-offered. Brick Lane, as it turns out, is ideal stomping ground for a nice “leisurely” Sunday afternoon’s campaigning.
Sure, leafleting somewhere like Holborn tube station has its merits. (Where else can you find quite such dense masses of humanity relentlessly streaming towards you from 5 - 6 pm on a Wednesday? Answers on a post-card, please). But right now on the Sabbath no-one on this sunny animated thoroughfare is particularly desperate to get themselves onto the Central or Piccadilly Line in less than 60 seconds, and then as far away as is humanly possible in under 1 hour. In fact People’s Assembly could do a slow conga here. (No, we didn’t, but maybe next time?)
And good humour abounds. When one of our squad remarks to a couple of patrolling policemen they likely haven’t seen a decent pay-rise for quite some time, our law-enforcers grin affably and reply that they’ll “be along for the demo.” We hope they can make it.
We’ve distributed hundreds of leaflets; we’ve made ourselves highly visible and nothing if not heard. Good job, well done.
So we return to base and pack away our stall. As we unwind over a well-earned beverage on the corner of the Lane, one ever-vigilant member of our team, (not content with just sitting and passively watching the world go by), actively breaks rank to hijack a passing pink doughnut with sprinkles (called Antonio) who obligingly poses for us with a demo-flyer. (We are unsure why he dresses as said doughnut, but assume this is a weekends-only indulgence.) Respect to this lovely piece of eye-candy for letting us fleetingly saviour his sweetness.
If Doughnut Man can do it, so can you
So, do get involved in organising actions, street stalls and leafleting sessions with your local People’s Assembly.