World Day for Animals in Laboratories took place in Nottingham on Saturday 26 April. About 500 people gathered with banners, stalls, chatting to each other, some eating Veggies’ food, listening to speeches which inevitably dragged on. The police were around but not too many of them, including police liaison officers in blue tunics to show how friendly they were.
We then moved off on mainly pedestrianized roads so no traffic was held up. Amplified chanting played through megaphones gave the march a metronomic feel. What was absent was real anger and no-one called out as we passed hated places such as McDonald’s and even the British Heart Foundation. There were more speeches halfway through – which were hard to hear from the back – before the procession continued. Later on John Curtin got on the megaphone and gave his usual emotional performance.
As far as I’m aware we didn’t go near the University though I might be wrong. More speeches followed, then a “publicity stunt” where lots of activists formed a circle and fell down one by one to the banging of a drum that symbolised the deaths of laboratory animals. Afterwards people began drifting away and the event was over by about 3.30pm.
How would it rank on the list of World Day marches? Not very highly, but this is not meant as a criticism towards those who worked so hard to make it happen as I was at last year’s gathering and there weren’t many volunteers. Organising any large event can be a thankless task, especially in the current climate.
The movement has been tamed and subdued. I recall about 7-8 years ago when Mel Broughton from Speak urged us to be “disciplined” in an effort to make a virtue out of necessity because the group faced an injunction. Now we march but it’s almost marching by numbers. Gone is the spontaneity and anger.
Protest, however, doesn’t take place in a vacuum. World Day has occurred against the backdrop of the recent conviction for conspiracy to blackmail of Debbie Vincent and the impending trial of the SOCPA7. The battle against animal testing is now a battle with state repression and that is an entirely different matter.
As the London coach returned in the evening we drove past the Francis Crick Institute, a massive new animal lab which is nearing completion beside the British Library. It has taken years to build and yet has been largely unopposed. This is a reflection of the state we are in.
Nevertheless I don’t regret the trip to Nottingham. I discussed it with a friend and we concluded even a relatively small and muted affair is preferable to nothing at all. As long as there is a flame of dissent – no matter how small and flickering – there is always the chance it can grow. The future is unwritten!
Thanks for this report on the World Day for Animals in Labs demo. I’ve always thought of it as such an important event over the years, and (as you say) even now it is at least keeping the flame alive for an unwritten future.