Saturday, November 24, 2012

Huge demonstration to save Lewisham Hospital

This afternoon's demonstration against cuts to services at Lewisham Hospital was phenomenal. Speakers at the end said the crowd was estimated as up to 15,000, and as somebody who has been on more than a few demonstrations over the years, I don't think they were far out (I would say somewhere between 10 and 15,000).

The demonstration made its way from Lewisham town centre to Ladywell Fields and the hospital, and left nobody in doubt that the threat to close Accident and Emergency and other services is extremely unpopular.

The front of the march - the 'Florence wouldn't put up with this' banner was made by nurses at Kings College.
 What is the definition of a good demonstration? Well size is part of it. I know lots of people I know were there today, but I only bumped into a handful of them. That is a very good sign. 10-15,000 from one part of London over a local issue (albeit with national implications) would be remarkable at any time. In the rain on a cold November day it is something else.  I watched the whole march go by and joined in towards the end, by the time I got to Ladywell Fields I had missed many of the speakers - another sign of a demonstration bigger than anybody expected.

It must have been the biggest demonstration in Lewisham for at least 30 years - you would need to go back to the New Cross Fire 1981 or the anti-National Front demonstration of 1977 to find similar numbers, and those were national mobilisations. Today was mainly local people. 

Another sign of a great demonstration is there is an explosion of creativity, with home-made banners and placards. My personal favourite was the one above. Who knows what possessed a group of young girls to bring a banner quoting a Bonnie Tyler song on the march, but it was very apt: 'Every now and then I fall apart, and I need you now tonight, and I need you more than ever'.

'No taking services away, don't let people die, cuts cost lives'
A good demonstration mobilises way beyond the usual suspects. Of course there are the usual political organisation and trade union banners, they are part of it and have as much right to be there as anybody else. But they are a minority amongst a sea of people. Bob from Brockley tweeted today: 'Most diverse (ethnically, age, etc) demo I've been on. Really representative of Lewisham street'. He was right.

A good demonstration strikes a chord. Its meaning is immediately understood and shared by all who see it. Nobody in Lewisham needs anybody to explain why cutting back their local hospital is a terrible idea. They have been born there, seen their friends and family get well there, or sometimes die there. That is why shoppers were clapping as the demonstration passed, and why drivers stuck in the traffic were tooting their horns in support rather than getting angry.

'I could have died by the time the ambulance reached Woolwich'
photo by Nikki Spencer at Twitter
 It was good to see some banners from beyond Lewisham, like this William Morris-referencing one from Greenwich and Bexley Trades Union Council. This isn't just about Lewisham, the specific changes will affect South London more generally. And as all the 'save the NHS' chants recognised today, this is a national issue (actually an international issue of the conflict between human needs and austerity).

Of course, a good demonstration has music:

'We save lives, not money'
A good demonstration has a strong sense of purpose that mere weather cannot defeat.

South London Solidarity Federation banner amongst the umbrellas

'Matt Kershaw, Jeremy *unt's puppet, Lay off our A&E'

Lewisham Pensioners Forum banner on the march
So by these standards, today was certainly a good day. Will it prove to have been an effective demonstration, in terms of making a difference?  We shall see, this is just the start of the campaign - but a very good start. What is clear is that the overwhelming majority of people in the Lewisham and wider area are totally opposed to the closure of the Accident and Emergency department at Lewisham Hospital, and the threat to other services there. Fundamental questions are raised about the meaning of democracy by the fact that unaccountable hatchet men can even put forward this proposal, let alone that ConDem  politicians with no mandate to slash the NHS can consider rubber stamping such proposals. 

Next steps:

There is a Save Lewisham Hospital public meeting on Wednesday 28 November, 7 pm at Broadway Theatre, Catford, with speakers including local GP Dr Louise Irvine.

You can respond to the 'consultation' on the plans until 13 December, details here.


RLM said...

Wonderful post - moving to see all of Lewisham out there today and great that you captured the mood so well.

Anonymous said...

Ok just watch out articles which A play down the number of those who attended B who attended eg 'usual suspects - anarchists socialists unions 'extremists' 'benefit scroungers' etc etc if you see anything like this this flag it. Let me know. Alteady in previious posts on this story ive seen odd words and phrases leak into searches.

George Hallam said...

"15,000 from one part of London over a local issue"

Let's not get carried away. 8,000 people march through the north entrance to the park.

That based on a rate of 150 people per minute. Obviously there were many people who participated who didn’t get to be counted; but not 7,000.

Whatever the exact number, for an event organised at short notice and based on a single borough, this was a very large demonstration. But that’s just a quantitative measure

The really significant point is the QUALITY of the demonstration.
a) The overwhelming majority of those involved were ordinary, local people.
b) Compared with most demonstrations we were highly organised. Because we were demonstrating near a hospital it was vital that we didn’t disrupt access for patients, visitors and, not least, ambulances. Yes there was a lot of spontaneity, but we had thousands of people walking round through narrow pedestrian passages and along the pavement in front of the Hospital to complete a moving circle.

We are organised and we are not going to melt away like the anti-war movement did after the ‘million-strong march’ of 2003. We are serious and this means being objective about everything we do. We don’t need or want inflated estimates of the numbers on demonstrations.

. said...

George, I was quoting the 15,000 figure given by one of the organisers from the stage towards the end of the rally. I agree that would be at the higher end of the estimates, but prior to that a straw poll of several demo veteran friends all came up with figures in the 10 to 12,000 range.

Your count of 8,000 going through the north gate might be a bit more scientific, but I do know that some people (particularly with small children) didn't make it as far as the park on slow, wet march and that for similar reasons some people went straight to the end rather than coming in through north entrance. So if 8,000 is a reasonably accurate count for people going in through that gate, it is in my view highly likely that at least 10,000 people took part in the demonstration for at least part of the route, possibly more.

I agree though that the quality of the demonstration is more significant than the numbers. And even with the lowest 8,000 figure that would still be the largest demonstration in Lewisham for a generation.

George Hallam said...

10,000? Cut out my heart! Throw my liver to the dogs! You would destroy my reputation for scientific objectivity.

Alright, I'll be generious: what would you say to 9,000?

That would mean that we mobilised 500 more people on Saturday 24th November 2012 than Henry V had men at Agincourt on Friday, 25th October 1415

"He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day."

Anonymous said...

Always been a great fan of Transpontine and this post proves why
The march was spectacular on all levels
Diversity, the number of young people and importantly key consultants, nurses and union activists from the hospital – all so refreshing
As stated elsewhere in comments you know when you’ve got the public behind you, everyone around me kept saying this is fantastic, its raining, cold , dark and we are here in our thousands (I too estimate 10,000) certainly not 2,000 reported by the BBC
The start was less than auspicious but soon mushroomed
The time constraints of 30 days is difficult, but the campaign will go on
Vital that everyone MUST respond to the consultation document asap (its online)
Its important that people have activities to do – plenty of work to be done – Maybe the school kids come do something, the choir a special early Xmas recital
If this closure is announced I foresee barricades in the street

Vital that the campaign remains as broad and focused as possible and that the staff in the hospital are kept informed and on side

Well done again to the people of Lewisham


carole said...

You pen pushers just remember that will be less votes.
I am soo pleased that all of us were together in this- i hope and pray that this day will make a difference.
Our Hospital cannot close.