JJ Barnes

JJ Barnes writes about parenting, feminism, current affairs and writing

By - JJBarnes

My first political protest march and democracy not being a spectator sport.

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I had never been on a political protest march before yesterday. There’s been causes I’ve believed in, terrible things I’ve wanted to protest again, but I had never actually marched.

  1. I wouldn’t feel safe taking my children to a march. Some would blame this on inexperience, and several children were in the crowd, but having now marched I still wouldn’t take them. I would be terrified they’d run off and get lost in the crowd, would get tired or bored and refuse to walk, or need to break every five minutes to wee or eat. But it means that attending a march requires children being babysat for long enough to travel, march and return on the date required. Not always simple.
  • 2. I get anxiety in crowds. I hate feeling trapped, surrounded by people, it’s a nightmare for me. The idea of being in a massive crowd of people all swarming in one direction terrifies me. It means that no matter how much I believe marching is a good thing, doing it myself has been something I’ve struggled with.

Yesterday it all lined up. All three children were being looked after. We were headed into Birmingham on a train and a hotel had been booked (a hotel experience I will share with you at another time because boy howdy does that need sharing with you).

Stop The Coup march

Determined to go to the march, my partner by my side who was willing to do as much or as little of the march as I felt happy with, we set off.

The crowd was gathered in Victoria Square. I became giddy with awkward and anxiety riddled excitement. The European Union flags, berets and posters. The enthusiasm and energy. I suddenly felt the urge to vote for something.

We lingered to the back, avoiding anything too fiercely crammed for my comfort, then we marched. My enthusiasm and joy at the whole experience was at a slight contrast to the fiercely politically minded marchers and their determined chants of justified rage. My shouts of “Stop the coup!” and “bollocks to Boris!” were significantly less furious, no less genuine and committed, but less impactful because of being tainted by happiness. Not happiness that the march had to happen, but happiness that I was there and I was doing it!

Marching with my man attachment

My bubbling over energetic enthusiasm caught the attention of a very capable grey haired woman in sensible shoes and her attached man person. She enquired as to how many political marches I’ve been on and when I said it was my first she was delighted. She had marched in the 80’s chanting “Maggie Maggie Maggie out out out!” don’t you know. Whilst she seemed to find my goofy enthusiasm somewhat endearing in a ‘this lamb needs a good shepherd’ way, the attached man seemed somewhat offended that I had not been more active until my thirty third year. I didn’t explain at length about my commitment to always voting and educating my daughters on the importance of rights for women etc, because honestly I was having too much of a blast. However, one thing he said has stuck with me.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Man attached to sensible shoe wearing woman.

For democracy to work we have to make it work. If we sit around doing nothing, not using our voices and not telling the world what we want and why, then the people in power have full control and make all the decisions. Democracy cannot be a spectator sport or it become fascism. Democracy needs us to march, needs us to shout, needs us to chant. If we don’t, if we just sit around and watch to see if anybody else is going to do it, nobody will do it.

Stop The Coup march

That said, I probably won’t be a committed and regular marcher. I still won’t take my children, and a march in a city I already know and love and feel safe in is different to somewhere new where my anxiety will be kicking off in different and alarming ways. But I will march again. I will march andI will shout and even if my delight at being an active participant in political action annoys people, at least my body will be amongst the crowd and add to the numbers. And, because he’s good and kind, my man attachment will be there to hold my hand, sing “where’s your mandate gone, where’s your mandate gone?” with me, and leave without question if it all gets too much.

Democracy is a not a spectator sport. It requires human input. And I bloody loved every damn second of inputting.

It would have been the highlight of my week…except later that night I got engaged. It would take something big to beat the experience of marching to the top spot, but the kind and gentle man who marched because I wanted to, sang because I wanted to, held my hand so I wouldn’t feel too anxious, and loved me because of my awkward enthusiasm wanting to marry my did it.

Books by JJ Barnes
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