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How do we turn a march into a movement?

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IN 1536 popular uprisings against the Henrician Reformation would become known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. As the insurrection spread a leader emerged in the person of lawyer Robert Aske. The insurgents gathered in Doncaster where the Royal Army found itself outnumbered, awaiting reinforcements. The King issued assurances of concessions and clemency and Aske stood down. In 1537 Aske was hanged in chains, castrated, disembowelled and finally beheaded for treason. His fate is a salutary lesson on perfidiousness.

After 18 months of flattening curves, crying freedom and not vaccinating children it is a lesson in which we should be well schooled. If tempted to let our guard down at the government’s apparent wavering on vaccine passports remember Robert Aske’s naivety. Which brings us to Sajid Javid’s announcement that the passports were ‘ditched’. Those with their eye on the ball would have considered this not an abandonment but a moratorium. Like Schwarzenegger’s Terminator they’ll be back and, after the latest government threats, sooner rather than later. 

It is vital, therefore, that no one is lulled into a false sense of security. Until the Coronavirus Act is repealed, attacks on our civil liberties will continue unabated. As the marches against lockdown, mandatory vaccines and vaccine passports demonstrate, many in the country wish this Act, and all it has ushered in, gone. The numbers are there but how can they be harnessed? How can they become an effective opposition?  In other words: how do you turn a march into a movement?

There is scant time to wait for a new pro-freedom party to make political inroads. The long game is not an option. This is not, however, to advocate for violence and lawlessness. Indeed, research shows that non-violent movements have a much greater chance of success, with the fall of East Germany, the removal of the Marcos regime and Otpor, the Serbian civil resistance movement which ended Milosevic’s tyranny, just a few examples. Professor Erica Chenoweth of the Carr Center for Human Rights maintains that success is almost always guaranteed if movements can reach 3.5 per cent support amongst the population and cites three crucial factors: 

Disruption – Shutting down cities by mobilising in large numbers. 

Public sympathy and support – If 3.5 per cent mobilise it is guaranteed that many more sympathise.

Defection – The status quo is abandoned by the elite. 

 Change is therefore achievable. However, at present, those opposing our new dystopia are having little success. There are several problems. I salute everyone who has marched, stood in the park and joined Telegram groups but, frankly, what is it achieving? The fascist juggernaut is bulldozing our freedoms at an ever-increasing speed. We have no co-ordination, just myriad groups and individuals who are marching under different banners or none. We have no name, no slogan, no emblem, no song, no colours that identify us as one movement. As vapid as government slogans have been – ‘Stay Safe’, ‘Hands. Space. Face’, ‘Stay Home’ – they have seeped into the nation’s consciousness. Shouting ‘freedom’ like a Braveheart extra is not going to cut it. What is our message? Against lockdowns? Yes. Against masks? Yes. Against Covid vaccines? Yes. Against vaccine passports? Yes. But do the public have any idea what we want? ‘Probably some anti-vaxx thingy?’

A single issue needs to be the focus. Gandhi’s defiance of the Salt Tax, for example, was a symbol of a much greater battle, that of independence, centring attention on an issue which affected everyone but did not seem that important in the scheme of things.

A massive march every fourth Saturday is not disruption. Smaller marches intra-monthly is not disruption. Rather than celebrating over a million marchers, how about ten marches each 100,000-strong? Yes, this needs organisation, commitment and co-ordination but it can be done. Crowdfund for a PR firm, an ethical one which has not yet accepted the government’s thirty pieces of silver. Market the movement like a brand-new product.

If people turn up to marches alone, organise groups they can walk with, gather names and sort them into regions and smaller areas within those regions so, when the march is over, they can continue to co-operate at home. De-Marxify the idea of cadres and vanguardism and apply it to the Covid Age. They are waiting for winter; they will move to lock us down and we will be finished. Unfortunately a full plan is beyond the scope of this article but, hopefully, it might spark a conversation on what is to be done before it is too late.

Robert Aske failed to suspect the King of duplicity – we have no excuse. We know what they are going to do. 

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Mary McGreechin
Mary McGreechin is a medical historian and researcher from Glasgow.

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