Protest Sign

Sometimes I forget that every day is history in the making. I was reminded last Wednesday when the US Embassy advised Americans in the UK to avoid London due to planned student demonstrations against budget cuts to schools and social services. We were specifically told to stay away from Malet Street in the Bloomsbury area, which happens to be where Paul teaches every day. He left early Wednesday morning to get to school and I had planned to join him later in the afternoon.  So I went along as planned. As I climbed on the bus I usually take, the driver announced that the bus would not be going its normal route due to the scheduled student demonstrations. I jumped off the bus and headed over to the Tube which was running as usual. When I debarked, the lack of traffic was noticeable, as was the significant police presence. I missed all the action, but in the distance I heard the chants of the demonstrators and in front of me lay the protest signs they left behind: Capitalism – Game Over; Education for the Masses Not Just the Ruling Classes; No Public Sector Cuts; and Free Education – Tax the Rich. 

Tent City

The demonstrations were well organized and the demonstrators well-behaved. The demonstration culminated at St. Paul’s Cathedral, where a different set of demonstrators had been camping out for the last few weeks, so we decided to go there as well. Again, the demonstrators were well organized and peaceful. Paths had been carved between the tents so people could easily make their way to the cathedral. An area was set up for information, and another area set up for contributions of food and clothing for the protestors. We climbed up the steps and into St. Paul’s as they were setting up for Evensong. The quiet of the church was an interesting contrast to the speeches and protest songs heard from the plaza outside. Both settings were peaceful and thought-provoking. It isn’t every day you see democracy in action, but last Wednesday I felt I did. 

Gathering for Protest and Remembrance

A few weeks ago I noticed people wearing red poppies in their lapels and realized Remembrance Day was upon us. Remembrance Day is sort of a combination of our Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. Initiated after World War I, Remembrance Day (like our Veteran’s Day) is held the 11th day of the 11th month, and a moment of silence is held at the 11th hour. Literally, everything came to a standstill at 11 AM last Friday as people bowed their heads and quietly remembered those who lost their lives to war.  A Ceremony was held in Trafalger Square and at the Cenotaph in Whitehall where the government buildings are located (and probably at other places as well). The Sunday following November 11, more ceremonies are held in communities across the UK. We were visiting Arundel, a little village south of London, and happened upon their observances. We caught the tail end of a procession after which everyone gathered around the town square. Again, at the stroke of 11 AM all went silent – not even a baby cried. After the moment of silence various civic organizations were announced as they placed wreaths of red poppies in the square. Songs were sung and prayers were offered. The ceremonies were dignified, thoughtful and inclusive.

 From what I understand, the red poppy became the symbol of Remembrance Day because they were the only flower that would grow in the blood-drenched battlefields after the Great War (WWI). But Londoners don’t need the poppy to remind them of the costs of war. The ruins of buildings hit during WWII and numerous war memorials stand as witness in various areas around town.
It is a wonder that St. Paul’s Cathedral still stands. It is a testament to strength of democracy that people can protest peacefully, while commemorating those who have fallen in its defense.