Sunday, February 26, 2006

A Very Bourgeois Revolution

A couple of friends and I have had a long-standing joke about organising an "I'm alright, Jack" march. One without any particular purpose, but to stand as a counterpoint to the May Day and anti-war style marches. Yesterday, marching in Oxford in support of the building of the animal research laboratory, I think I got an image of what that might be like.

The Pro-Test march was remarkably refined, right down to the stewards, who would genuinely say things like "if you wouldn't mind walking on the other side of the road, that would be great". Very orderly, no hint of any trouble, even when the handful of animal rights protestors were trying to provoke us.

That wasn't to say there was no determination on the part of the crowd. Indeed, it was a testament to how badly the animal rights activists have managed their campaign. People in Oxford are sick and tired of having their buildings closed down on Saturday mornings because of protests; sick of having to walk to their libraries past protestors chanting the same old slogans, and indulging in what is nothing short of harrassment. If I was to stand outside, say, an accountant's office shouting "Shame on you!" to every employee, I'd be arrested. That's not to mention the threats and campaigns of intimidation that see anyone connected to Oxford University seen as a legitimate target.

That's why there were people yesterday from all over the country. Not just a very large number of students (it was one of the best social occasions I've been to at Oxford) or academics, but alumni travelling across the country to show their support too. It's like Steve Irwin chasing snakes - "If you poke it in the eye, it gets reeeeally pissed off". Well, Oxford's at that level now. The number of people out on the streets yesterday shows the level of provocation of the ALF and their friends.

They still have a partial victory. Most of my friends who didn't march were surprised that there wasn't any trouble at all. Some admitted to being scared to turn out because they figured things might kick off. Yet we still massively outnumbered them, and although we may have joked about the march finishing off with a serving of tea and a finger buffet, there was a clear determination to show the animal rights activists we won't be cowed, that we do want our university to be carrying out vital research, and that we're prepared to protest in large numbers to make our point. It might not have been your average protest march, but that doesn't diminish the strength of feeling.