THEY showed up in their hundreds of thousands. Young and old, from every race and creed. May 29, 2021 is a day I will never forget, when humanity protested for freedom.
Thanks to a friend, I made a last-minute decision to go to the London protest. My first but her third! We agreed to meet at the Nelson Mandela statue at the south west corner of Parliament Square just before 1pm. As I made my way from Victoria Station, I was guided by the swelling chants from the groups of people making their own way there.
Surprisingly, the police presence was scarce, apart from a few parked cars and a few pairs of officers flanking the perimeter.
Around 1pm, there was already a huge crowd forming, a few thousand at least, all primed for protest. My friend (a veteran protester) brought two placards, whereas I just brought my backpack. Very quickly the crowd grew to tens of thousands. Parliament Square became a sea of colourful flags, banners, balloons, yellow umbrellas, red and green smoke bombs – even the odd firework was let off. Music blared from all directions, whilst people chatted with their friends and family.
I happened to be standing next to where the former nurse, mother of four and Google-defined ‘British conspiracy theorist’ Kate Shemirani was being interviewed, and later she stood with a megaphone in hand and talked directly to the crowds. Dressed in hot pink surgical scrubs, she gave a running commentary on the dangers of vaccines. Given some high-profile vaccine-related deaths which even the mainstream media are having to take notice of – such as the BBC radio presenter Lisa Shaw who died of blood clots after taking the AstraZeneca vaccine – the crowd listened intently.
Making for higher ground to get some better shots of the crowd with my iPhone, I burrowed my way between a group of professional photographers. As luck would have it, Professor Dolores Cahill, the molecular biologist and immunologist, came to stand just below me and addressed the sea of people. In the surge of people, it was impossible to decipher what she said.
The atmosphere was charged, powered by the crowd’s demands: ‘Freedom!’ ‘End restrictions now!’ ‘No to vaccine passports!’ People had gathered from far and wide and for a variety of reasons. Some were against the vaccines, some against the introduction of vaccine passports, others against the mandatory masks and for some it was a simple opportunity to meet up with like-minded people. What united them though was their cry for their basic human rights to be restored after a year of draconian lockdowns and restrictions. I glanced around at the statues of Churchill, Mandela and Gandhi and thought, would they have been marching with us today? Without a doubt. They all stood for freedom.
And then we were on the move again.
As we began the slow march up Whitehall, a sense of togetherness of people from a vast array of backgrounds was palpable – their cry for freedom a powerful unifying factor.
It was being chanted from megaphones and from all directions. Parents walked with their children; infants were perched on their fathers’ shoulders. It was obvious that the march was not just for the present generation, it was for the future ones too.
Soon enough, we could see Nelson’s Column ahead of us. Trafalgar Square was the other meeting point for more protesters to gather. At times, it felt like being in one massive street party with people dancing and beating on drums.
When we finally reached Trafalgar Square, I looked back down towards Whitehall and saw what looked like hundreds of thousands of people. This was no small protest, no matter what the mainstream media reports. They represented the very many, not just the few, who question the government’s response to Covid; people who are alarmed and angry with just how much has been taken away from them: jobs, businesses, education, mental health and, for some, the very lives of their loved ones. Remember the non-Covid deaths due to lockdowns are estimated to be over 200,000.
One banner read, ‘For love and freedom’ and that in its very essence was why the people were there.
As the crowds kept pouring into Trafalgar Square it felt like New Year’s Eve on steroids. We weren’t just marching for freedom, we were celebrating life. We’ve learned the hard way over this last year of unjustifiable lockdown that one without the other is not how it was ever meant to be.