Block the Bridge – Save the NHS
On Sunday, I was on Westminister Bridge in London when around 3,000 other UKuncut supporters and NHS defenders blocked the bridge, in an act of anger and civil disobedience. Why are we angry? The bill for NHS reforms that our Government has been rushing through Parliament threatens to rip apart the patients before profits values our NHS currently holds and has been heavily condemned by health professionals. Polls consistently say over 60% of GPs oppose the reforms and just last week 400 experts sent an open letter to the House of Lords via The Telegraph newspaper, asking them to oppose the changes on the grounds it will harm the NHS and everyone who relies on it.
As Big Ben struck 1pm I came over all faint. We all did. Falling to the ground we staged a sort-of die-in. One with chanting (“Andrew Lansley!” was the call, “TOSSER!” the response) and lots of flashes as journalists got their scoop. However, it wasn’t quite enough to stop tourists. Sick of being stepped over we stood up and formed a human chain across the width of the bridge. Those staff and patients of St. Thomas’s Hospital were let through; everyone else was told “sorry, the bridge is closed.” Naturally some people didn’t like this, one man even asked if we wanted to take it elsewhere, but most accepted it and chose to take an alternative route.
Whilst we were in the human chain a Palestinian-American man took to the megaphone to explain why he was there. He told us about his grandmother who had fallen badly ill several years ago. Fortunately she survived and went on to make a good recovery but his family are still paying off her medical bills. Another protester treated us to her version of rapper NxtGen’s ‘Andrew Lansley Rap’ and was greeted with cheers and applause.
As the chain broke up and people spread out across the bridge it became clear how lively the atmosphere would be. Many were dressed in scrubs or their uniforms, plenty had placards and towards the south side of the bridge two huge tripods had been put up, each with a protester on top and from which hung a giant banner: Save Our NHS. People sat around talking, met friends (and followers, for those on Twitter) and danced to the samba bands. Soon a general assembly gathered in the middle of the bridge, in homage to those held at Wall Street by the occupiers. There were speakers and issues were not limited to the NHS. Elsewhere comedy shows were held, Josie Long went down a storm and throughout the afternoon morale remained high.
At some point in the day comments went round saying people were going to Parliament Square. Eager not to have a repeat of the mass arrests of 26th March and with rumours that if you left the bridge via the North side you would not be allowed back on I decided not to go. I’m glad I didn’t, not because there was any violence but because it would’ve been a waste of time. My friends who went soon returned to the bridge, they hadn’t been stopped by any police.
Struggling with a headache and cough I went for a drink and sit down and, whilst I was there news reached us that a small group of people had moved to Lambeth Bridge and had been kettled. All 63 were later released and no arrests were made. At first those running the UKuncut twitter page seemed eager to distance themselves from those on the bridge (something which, after criticism, they apologised for) but many, including myself felt a sense of solidarity with those who’d broken away. After all, how much disruption were we actually causing?
The bridge had already been closed earlier in the day for a half marathon, traffic was already diverted (two helpful tourists informed us there was a sign claiming there was “major roadworks” on the bridge so drivers should expect delays) and we caused far less disruption than we would’ve if we’d block the bridge on, say, this Wednesday - a weekday and the day the bill will actually go through. Obviously a weekend ensured more people could attend but student demonstrations, such as that being held on 9th November, the anniversary of last year’s first protest, still manage to draw in coach loads of people from around the country, gain far more national attention from the media and those making the decisions (and its not always negative attention) and genuinely feel more successful. As an “Uncutter” myself I think what we do to raise the issue of tax avoidance and the cuts in general and say we will damn well not stand for it is effective Bringing politics to the high street means that those who usually remain oblivious to politics can no longer ignore it, and closing Topshop on a busy Saturday lunchtime sends a clear message to Philip Green that we can, and will, continue to take action against his tax avoidance. Tomorrow will give some indication of how effective Sunday’s protest was, I personally was glad to be there but, if the bill goes through, I will feel like I could have - and should have - done more.
GPs join NHS reform ‘Block the Bridge’ protest:
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