I went in to town today in between checking out an allotment site (more on that later) and going to lunch at FFW. I wanted to sort out a Nationwide ISA and in order to transfer funds I had to go to the branch in the town centre. Next to the City Hall. This is probably meaning nothing to anyone outside Sheffield right now but anyone living in Sheffield knows that the LibDem conference is being held at the City Hall in Sheffield over the weekend and we have a bitter taste of what it might feel like to live in a police state.
There was something of a protest going on based on the fact that a lot of us voted LibDem at the last election as they professed to be the most 'liberal' party in the country, only to find our party supporting a lot of policies that we would never countenance, not least the privitisation of the NHS.
As it happens the police were relatively pleasant, probably joyful to receive excessive overtime and danger payments in a time of pay cuts.
I made my way through the barricades to my building society and signed the relevant paperwork. Other than the staff and me there was no-one in the branch. Excellent! Some of the staff were terrified. As one women said, 'It only takes one idiot to kick off and they'll be breaking our windows and who knows what else'.
Curious and, it must be admitted, feeling a certain level of dissatisfaction myself, I went for a wander into the heart of the protest. It was an astoundingly good natured event. Despite the banners and shouts I never for a moment felt in danger from anyone on the protest side of the divide although the barking of the police dogs from inside the barriers around the City Hall was very scary. The local Samba band made the event feel like a festival and the number of people with young kids dispelled any notion that this was a dangerous protest. As I walked away I felt a little sorry for the police, unable to partake of this moment of togetherness. Sheffield is a wonderful place to be and on a cool spring day to feel at one with people protesting the dismantling of our social system was good.
It was very strange to see large forces of police, out on the edge, 'protecting' the people from the people. It reminded me of the sad divisions and fear generated by the miner's strike. I hope we can keep our senses together and remember that protest is one of the things that stops us making stupid mistakes and that disagreeing with government policies and decisions does not make us either bad or dangerous people.
Strangely, outside Sheffield I don't think anyone is very aware of these protests. My choice would be to make my feelings known at the next election but I may be wrong and that might be too late. I'm very glad that there are people still passionate enough to protest in this sad and scared little island.