Wednesday 30th November was the public sector strike and rallies over pensions. I was committed to present the U3A film at the Lexi and was very frustrated that I could not get my friends together to join the protest march in London as a group of Older Feminists.
I do not usually feel comfortable during protest marches but I felt that this march was important. After I retired I spent some time taking video recordings and documenting the old people who participated in the protests. I did feel good as an observer. But I did not keep up with the new technology and abandoned this project a few years ago.
The evening before the screening I was told that the cinema had been booked for a child’s birthday party and that our film session would have to be cancelled! Again the question arose in my head “Is it ageism or complete incompetence?” A friend suggested ‘maybe both’? Although furious about the waste of my time and the inconvenience to so many members of our U3A group, I was pleased to have the opportunity of joining in the protest . A sentence had wormed itself in my mind since the Day of Action had been declared: Who Will Speak for the old and disabled? the title of an article in the Guardian 10 days ago (see below)
On the spur or the moment as if driven by this sentence, I decided to go on my own to the march and as I could not get organised in time to make the Assembly point I thought I would meet the march as it entered the Strand and wait for the women’s block. I knew that the OFN banner would not be there so I made myself a little light A4 poster to put around my neck. It said
SCRAP TRIDENT FUND SOCIAL CARE
WELFARE NOT WARFARE
NO POVERTY DECENT PENSIONS.
I stood on the central reservation facing the coming march waiting for the Women Against the Cuts block. Something strange happened then. As the people were marching I felt that those looking in my direction showed an interest that I am not used to – Lots of young people took photos of me or of my modest little poster. Lots of people made the thumbs up sign and some came to say they agreed. Lots of people smiled at me. I really felt that I was making some sort of impression. The Women Against the Cuts block passed. I decided to remain in the same place observing that another body in a group carrying the same official looking placards makes little difference but that the old woman standing for social care actually nudged the consciousness of the onlookers. In other words the old woman was visible.
It is not that there were not in nearly every block one or two old women, more old men and some old couples. But there were mainly there as trade unionists with the conventional placards and chants.
The OFN banner was not there. It was too heavy for the few women who were there to carry. Other OFN women could not come because they could not march for too long…that is the way old people become invisible. Lots of ideas came to my mind on the different ways we could participate in protests and declare that we are here in solidarity or with our own demands. The ritual of protest marches could easily adapted to suit our own needs.