I am on Westminster bridge on the Block the Bridge demonstration of October 9th. (http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/blog/block-the-bridge-block-the-bill). Access to the bridge is controlled at both ends by police cordons and vans. It is early and most of the protest activity with people chanting and waving banners is concentrated at the Westminster end. I enter the bridge at that end, fight my way through the protestors and walk towards the St. Thomas Hospital end.
A young man walking in the opposite direction approaches me and asks : “Are you looking for the demonstration?. I am taken aback as I have and HAD to go through the crowd at the Westminster end to get where I was. I think he means some unpublicised direct action and I say ‘Yes’. He directs me towards the Westminster end where I had come from. There follows a sort bizarre dialogue with me asking if there was any sort of direct action planned and him showing me the crowd behind me. I was left quite bemused.
It is only when recounting this incident to my friends that I realised what it implied. I have white hair – a lot of it – and the only explanation is that the sight of an old woman signified to the young activist that I needed help and was incapable of recognising a demonstration. And these assumptions were so strong that they obscured completely the actual situation: I was coming from the ‘demonstration’ and he just could not grasp that I had to go through the protestors to get to the middle of the bridge where we met.
When I told my friends who were walking behind me that I found this an example of deeply embedded ageism, one of them agreed. The other chastised me for being ungenerous as the only motivation of the young man was to be helpful and that we should be grateful when people offer us some help.
A protest march, an old woman, a well-meaning young person.
This incident is spookily similar to the one described by Barbara Macdonald (Look Me in the Eye: Old Women, Aging and Ageism) of her experience at a Reclaim the Night March. I wonder to what degree reading her account and thoughts has primed me to make sense of my own experience.