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Organised by Divest East Sussex, Eco Action Families Brighton, Lewes Climate Hub, Lewes Green Party, Seaford Environmental Alliance, Transition Town Hastings, Transition Town Lewes, XR Brighton, XR Eastbourne, XR Lewes a large group gathered outside Lewes Station on Tuesday morning. On a Lewes scale this was a modest enterprise of eager activists who were armed with drums, whistles, placards and flags. For a larger turn out we’d need to do this outside working hours (and probably at night with burning torches and fireworks).
A good humoured group, I was amongst their number. I looked around for familiar faces: Green Party Candidates for the 2023 District Elections, three current District Councillors and a fellow Town Councillor.
I took along my poolside whistle from the swimming club. I had had ideas of creating a large paper drum to wear, or a top hot in the style of an oil drum but decided to give these a miss. Being, aptly, the first day of a heatwave, like everyone, I kept to shorts and a T-shirt. Stripes were there thing to wear; whistles the simplest thing to take along. Though I admired the ingenious drums some had made from pots and pans. We were out noised by a band of drummers and the occasional blast from a portable speaker system; could we have faced arrest? Hasn’t noisy protest been banned?
Thinking I’d be on a short amble from the Station, up Station Street and onto the High Street to East Sussex County Hall I was surprised when we turned right at the Lansdowne and headed towards Friar’s Walk. I went along with it. Outside the Bus Station, itself a subject that is generating a lot of noisy protest, we met up with the Lightship Greta.
The two groups, approaching the size of a small bonfire society now, or some Year 11 students from a village school doing their ‘Moving On’ parade, made their way up School Hill. I had my white Green Party umbrella to deploy – as a parasol. Its message is ‘Down Blame me for the Weather; I voted Green’.
Onwards past the War Memorial and a wave from the steps of the Town Hall from the Town Clerk and two of her staff. Along the way people hung out of windows to watch and wave, or said supportive words and took a leaflet. We passed one grim looking gentleman in a Porsche SUV; caught in the march like a giant turtle in a fishing net I was surprised he had his window down. In Edinburgh there was a spate of letting the air out of these monsters of the road.
It was both a colourful and a noisy march. Lewes does this kind of thing with aplomb. There were stewards everywhere monitoring and managing us, and also managing the traffic with Stop/Go signs. Stuck for 5-10 minutes most occupants of cars/vans etc: appeared good humoured. I don’t suppose they could protest.
On the High Street I made sure I got plenty a photos that included the elms planted by Lewes Urban Arboretum which I would like to feature in a painting that imagines the street 50 and 150 years hence. I’m still conjuring up the story I can tell, beyond a dull set of before and after pictures showing trees that have grown a bit bigger (or died, fallen over, been replaced …)
Finally on to the ground of East Sussex County Hall, a ghastly edifice of concrete and glass declaring boldy its 1960s origins. We ‘made a lot of noise’, stopped at the entrance for TV and photo ops, then circled the building with the intention, clearly picked up, of rattling the councillors then in session voting on investment by East Sussex County Council in oil giants Shell and BP.
Does it have an impact? Would it make councillors more stubborn than compliant? Are marches, however noisy and colourful effective? They attract interest and build their numbers. I wonder if it changes the minds of those who matter though. Rather, local and regional elections needs to see progressive and Green councillors elected.