It is a universal law of activism that the larger the march, the more time it will take to begin moving. The Iona Community contingent, who had assembled in Wellington Church to attach banners to poles and line up in good order behind our Leader, crossed the road to Kelvingrove Park (conveniently one minute away), where the participants in the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice were gathering to march to Glasgow Green, three miles away, for a rally. The start time was 11.30am, the rally was scheduled for 3pm-plenty of time to walk three miles, you might think.
At 1.30pm, we were still in Kelvingrove, waiting for our turn to leave the park en route for Glasgow Green. Marchers were assembled in blocs; environment and development groups, trade unions, grassroots community campaigns, youth groups, migrant and racial justice networks, farmers, health workers and more, with representatives of indigenous communities at the front. We were part of a faith and beliefs bloc, somewhere in the middle of the marching order, and by the time the front of the march arrived at the Green, the last groups were still leaving Kelvingrove. It took us nearly three hours to walk the three miles. This was how big the march was!
As we stood in Kelvingrove awaiting our marching orders (or rather, nudges), the rain poured down on us relentlessly hour after hour, the grass turned to mud and gusts of wind played havoc with home-made banners. But the mood of the marchers was positive, determined and undaunted by the elements. The diversity of groups and individuals taking place was incredible, probably the widest coalition I’ve ever seen in a long history of activism. Campaigners for the retention of local Glasgow public libraries, or highlighting the plight of the Uighurs in China are not immediately obvious bedfellows, but it was recognisable that this was fundamentally a march for life on earth, regardless of which aspect of that life was nearest to the hearts of the marchers. Though most people got to Glasgow Green too late to hear the speeches given by indigenous people from around the world, their solidarity was evident.
This was the biggest march I remember in Glasgow- 100,000 people was the police estimate-and it was entirely peaceful. Apart from some rather unnecessary kettling, which seemed more for the purpose of justifying the huge policing operation at this COP, the only arrests made were of 21 scientists from Scientist Rebellion dressed in their lab coats, who had chained themselves to a bridge in the city centre. And it was by a very long way the cleanest march I’ve seen-everyone took their litter home with them!
But something struck me forcibly; a similarity with the other very large Glasgow march I had taken part in, which was the anti-war march of February 2003 against Britain’s participation in the Iraq War. On that day in 2003, I had looked at the vast crowds gathered in Glasgow Green and realised that this had not been just a demonstration of the usual suspects, the activists and anarchists and CND people. It had been a march of Middle Scotland. I remember thinking that when I saw one banner, St Margaret’s Newlands say No to War’, that the government was really in trouble. It was the beginning of the end for the Labour Party in Scotland. Yesterday was the same; Middle Scotland on the move, in Glasgow and across the country, from north to south, east to west.
The Glasgow march was only one of many taking place elsewhere. 100 demonstrations in the UK, including in London and Cardiff, were joined by events in another hundred countries across the world. In Edinburgh, the Iona Community held a Big Sing outside the Scottish Parliament, with many joining in online, and even on Iona, the Abbey Resident Group marched from the jetty to the Abbey, where they sang songs of protest, lament and hope in St Oran’s Chapel.
In other news, Boris Johnston said countries must be ready to ‘make the bold compromises and ambitious commitments needed’ in the crucial second and final week of COP26. But the Shadow Business Secretary has warned that the world is a long way off from where it needs to be to take the major steps to ensure global warming does not exceed 1.5C. He urged the Prime Minister to personally head up the negotiations in the final days of COP26, rather than engaging in empty exhortation and commentary. I cannot be the only person to feel a degree of trepidation at that prospect.
Many prayers will be needed in the week to come.
– Kathy Galloway
Kathy Galloway is a writer, activist and practical theologian. She has worked for the Iona Community, Christian Aid and Church Action on Poverty. She lives in Glasgow, Scotland.
photo © William Gibson