I don’t think there is a singular act that forces change upon a powerful organisation or state. As I’ve discussed previously with Susan Evans’ poem “#irony”, there are many forms of activism that put pressure on the powerful to change their ways, or go away altogether. Some are explicitly violent, justifiably in response to years of violence by government forces, as in South Africa. Others, on the face of it are peaceful, as in the Velvet Revolution in the former Czechoslovak republic or the Orange version in the Ukraine. Similarly, with organisations like major corporations, a variety of actions can be utilised in protest at such policies as forced redundancies or the exploitation of natural resources. But there are also a lot of behind-the-scenes conflict resolution discussions that often end the dispute in question, as was the case in Northern Ireland.
However, there are times when there needs to be protest even when the possibility of positive change has passed. A voice, or a mass of voices, coming together show the powerful in question that although they may have got away with it this time, a battle does not win a war. One of the most powerful forms of activism is marching. Marching comes in many guises outside of protest; from the obvious formation of armies going to battle, through to pipe bands. But as a form of protest the sight of hundreds of thousands of people, a great swathe of banners and heads pictured from above is a powerful image with a powerful message. Notable marches include Gandhi’s Salt March against colonial taxation, the civil rights March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, and the many people who peacefully converged on Tiananmen Square in China, with tragic consequences.
The UK has a long tradition of such marches, most notably the Jarrow March in 1936, in protest at unemployment and poverty in the North East. Previous to that was the mass trespass onto Kinder Scout in the Peak District, which is portrayed by the poet Peter Riley in his ‘The Ascent of Kinder Scout’. But previous to both, in 1905 is probably a less well known march as described in Emma Lee’s poem, The Shoemakers’ Walk. “Laid off after the Boer War, shoemakers/from Leicester walked to London – /later inspiring the Jarrow marchers -/lacking work and welfare, wanting a solution.” Of course, they were lambasted by the media, as such marches are today, “The Times reported them as shiftless,/and stated their march should fail./They were a menace, village idiots, restless.” Ultimately they were not successful in their demands. “Fifty thousand met Trafalgar Square./A message’s bland formality:/The King is unable to accede to your/request. Slow return to Leicester city.” But nonetheless they were successful in laying down a marker (in one case a physical one with the artwork of seven windows at Leicester’s St Mark’s Church, called “The Triumph and Apotheosis of Labour”). A united voice to say such treatment of the working classes will not go unheeded nor passively accepted. A marker that is still resonant today.
Emma Lee’s most recent collection is “Ghosts in the Desert” (IDP, 2015). She co-edited “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” (Five Leaves, 2015) and “Welcome to Leicester” (Dahlia Publishing, 2016). Emma reviews for The High Window Journal, The Journal, London Grip and Sabotage Reviews and blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com.”
The Shoemakers’ Walk
Laid off after the Boer War, shoemakers
from Leicester walked to London –
later inspiring the Jarrow marchers –
lacking work and welfare, wanting a solution.
The Times reported them as shiftless,
and stated their march should fail.
They were a menace, village idiots, restless.
Headlines weren’t their worst trial.
The men walked through Northampton,
blisters, sunburn and sprained ankles,
fed by people in villages like Lavendon,
walking on refilling water bottles.
“The Triumph and Apotheosis of Labour”,
panels inspired by the march,
paid for by Beaumanor Hall’s owner,
were installed in St Mark’s Church.
Fifty thousand met in Trafalgar Square.
A message’s bland formality:
The King is unable to accede to your
request. Slow return to Leicester city.
The welfare state was built
when Amos Sherriff became Mayor.
A plaque put in the market
to remember the shoemakers.
(On 4/6/1905, 497 men set out from Leicester for London, led by Amos Sherriff who became Mayor of Leicester in 1922; Sophia Perry Herrick was owner of Beaumanor Hall)