May Day – Aberystwyth’s Third Policing Bill Protest

Another weekend, another hometown protest. I’m wondering, cautiously, if this might just mean that we’re returning to some sort of normality.

May Day is traditionally the date when you can more or less expect a protest, and so I wasn’t surprised to find that the local organisation opposing the policing bill had chosen it for their third protest. I photographed the third almost a month ago, and have written about it in an earlier post.

This one would mirror the first in some respects, and differ in others, but we’ll come to that as I go along.

So, same start – meet at the clock tower at one and await developments. When I arrived at about twenty to the hour it looked like it’d be a pretty small group – the weather wasn’t too promising- but people drifted in, and by five past there were a fair number present – I didn’t have time for a head count, but I’d say it was roughly the size of the first of these protests.

So, the drum band got themselves organised, and the signs and banners were unlimbered, and the flags were waved, and after a brief intro over a megaphone we were off.

Things proceeded as expected to the bottom of the main shopping street (what’s left of it – the number of empty stores would make you weep, but that’s a story for another day).

And then continued along one of the major roads.

I settled in to photograph as many signs as I could.

The parade would eventually wind its way past the town hall and onto the promenade, pausing every so often to ensure it didn’t separate.

The organiser’s facebook post had encouraged people to bring signs or wear costumes commemorating protests from times past, to underline the role of protest in the democratic process. There were Red Flags (it’s May Day after all), Votes For Women Sashes, Anarchy Flags, and what I’m fairly sure is the Roma flag. Slightly more eclectic than the first protest.

The speakers would also be different. From memory, at the first of these protests that I attended the speakers were mainly politicians of one sort or another. Members or leaders of political parties who were running for office in some form or another, a few Unions or collectives. This time round we had:

  • One speaker on behalf of nomadic peoples.
  • One speaker on behalf of Palestinian refugees.
  • The President of Aberystwyth University’s LGBT Society.
  • One speaker advocating for her daughter – currently in prison due (according to the speaker) to a botched investigation by a corrupt and racist Dyfed Powys Police.
  • One lawyer, who spoke regarding the deaths of minorities after contact with the police.
  • One young lady from Cardiff, speaking on behalf of herself and young people.
  • Ben Lake, MP for Ceredigion (Plaid Cymru).

(Please note – this list of people and affiliations is correct to the best of my recollection, but is based on memory not on recording).

Those were the speakers – I’m not going to start pulling apart their specific causes. The drift of it was that they all represented groups or people who either would suffer as a result of the proposed bill, who had traditionally benefited from the right to protest, or who for whatever reason feel that the police should not be handed any additional powers (or in some cases, all of the above).

The exception was the last speaker – the MP who’d been looking a little ill at ease as he listened to some of the other speakers, and who’d introduce himself as “the least popular speaker….a son and a grandson of policemen.” He spoke about the voting process, and appealed for people to maintain a united front. The point I’m trying to make is that the lineup of speakers had shifted quite a bit –there’s a lot of causes under the same umbrella, and a number of whom had travelled a fair distance to attend and speak.

I doubt it will be the last of these protests. Hopefully I’ll be there. As before, this one ended with the speeches (and a choir) and people drifted away in ones and twos.

Addendum.

Before the march got under way, I was approached by a young lady who asked if I was with the press. I replied, truthfully, that I wasn’t but that the press have used my images at various times.

She asked, very nicely, if I’d consider asking people for permission before photographing, or blur out people’s faces if they didn’t wish to be photographed.

I told her I don’t do that. I tried to be polite.

I stated that I was in a public place, photographing other people in a public place, and was exercising my democratic right. She had some information on her phone which I’d probably have looked at if the conversation had lasted any longer, but when your opening position is that you won’t be doing any such thing then that doesn’t make for long discussions. It was a perfectly polite request, but it took me a little by surprise.

I’ve not had this question before – although I’ve been asked if I’m a reporter, and on one occasion whether I’m an undercover policeman. It was probably only a matter of time until I was asked this at some event or other (sign of the times), but it just struck me as odd that it would be at a march dedicated to preserving civil liberties. I’ll probably be asked again, and I’ll have the same answer. For me any form of censorship, even if it’s voluntary or self imposed, is something to be resisted and fought against, not something to embrace. I’m probably making far too much of a simple request, but the incongruity of it struck me.

I could also name a dozen photographers whose coverage of protest has been critical in affecting change for the better.

The above is factual account of the march organised by Ceredigion Against The Policing Bill in Aberystwyth on May 1st 2021. Conversations and details are based on the author’s memory, and while every effort has been made to present them accurately they may be imperfect.

All images used are my own, and I retain all copyright to them.

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