Political Weekend (Part 1)

The day started, as so many of my days do, with being woken at midday by a phonecall, reminding me to be somewhere.

This reminder was for the antiwar rally at 2pm. Simon M and I had a vague plan for brunch and flag construction at his place beforehand. The brunch was pasta, and the flags were 2 5-foot by 3 affairs with the designs of Lebanon and Palastine (UKP5 each from Ebay), to be attatched to 8-foot beanpoles rescued from a shed, by crocodile clips hastily purchased from a hardware shop.

I'm always nervewracked before a rally or demo, and bouyed up afterwards. This one started - in good trotskyist tradition - half an hour late and ran to twice the intended 45 minutes. All 6 speakers overran, most a little boringly but one was great - because he got heckled.

The heckler's line was that although we call ourselves antiamerican (we don't), we're all hypocrites because we love MacDonnald's (untrue) and watch Disney films (not noticably). Richard L may write the most cringingly "satirical" songs and insist on bellowing them before and after any rallys - the kids all love him, but not for the reasons he thinks. But woe betide the heckler who questions his sincerity.

The poor dumb fellow got reduced to lightningstruck speechlessness by a blistering improvised declaration of the visceral horror of war and the urgent need for tolerance and peace. Wonderful stuff, creating the biggest applause of the event - for a normally mild mannered IT tech with a catalogue of dreadful songs.

People came and went, but at it's height there were over a hundred of us clustered around the guildhall steps. More than half of these were youngsters - mostly schoolchildren - who showed none of the reticence that debilitates middle-class 30-somethings like myself. We're not sure where a lot of them came from - they were unfamilliar faces not on any of the usual lists of reliable rally-goers. A few seemed to be individuals who just happened to be around, saw the placards and banners, and decided to get involved.

After the rally itself, there was a short march through the shopping precinct, chanting anti-war and pro-palastinian slogans - led by a group of the schoolchildren. The end point of the march was Tesco, where we handed out leaflets urging shoppers to boycott Israeli goods - largely symbolic, both for us protesters and for any shoppers who actually boycott, but symbolic gestures aren't always entirely useless.

Most of us dispersed afterwards - after leaving contact details for future events on my clipboard - but about 20 opted for one of the other good Trotskyist traditions - the pub. This usually means a gay pub, because all the dozens of others are desperately unwelcoming.

Portsmouth's premier gay pub was closed...so we crossed to street to Portsmouth's second gay pub. There are actually two others, but one is painfully pretentions, and the other caters to the grungy student crowd.

Inside the Boulevard (what do you mean, "screamingly gay name"?), Tom (Roxanne C's incredibly sensible but somehow insecure other half) announced he's officially joining the SWP. And I got to meet a comrade new to the area - Adam. He's 21, already experienced in socialist politics, and if he isn't as gay as the Boulevard then I'm a monkey's uncle.

The time having somehow reached 1900, John M took me out for a curry, with a comrade called Mick, visiting our town with the other star speaker of the rally, Chanie Rosenberg.

She's the widow of Tony Cliff, who is one of the absolutely all-time greats of British socialism - a man of breathtaking intellect and a personality like a force of nature. It's one of my regrets that I'll only know him through books and articles.

And so to bed, reading a borrowed copy of American Psycho and trying to digest that curry.

The political weekend isn't over. On Sunday, some of us are going to see Ken Loach's latest film, The Wind that Shakes the Barley. Then there's a forum on Trotsky. Adam will be there :-). And then Gareth E has asked me to get him up to speed on some of the more philosophical aspects of marxism.

Anyone would think I was one of those strange people obsessed with politics.

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