Well, it was quite an extraordinary day in Oxford yesterday. Around 1,000 people turned for the Pro-Test march – which was as much about shouting down the animal rights protestors as it was supporting the new housing centre being built in the heart of town – and about 300 or so of the usual animal rights protestors also turned up to protest – as much about the Pro-Test march as about the new lab.
The police did an extraordinary job of shepharding both marches both taking place in a very small area while preventing any clashes and, crucially, not interfering with either.
That it didn’t turn ugly is quite something. And let’s be honest, the high possibility that it would was a fundamental reason behind the very high turnout from the media.
I’ll do a longer piece on the marches themselves when I have a minute, but I thought I’d just stick up some of my photos from the day – especially having seen some the poor ones that appeared in the national press this morning.
My overall feeling was that it was a good day for democracy and for this country. I also think that despite strong and defiant (and slightly disturbing) words from Speak spokesman Mel Broughton, that the Pro-Test march ruled the day.
A huge number of people turned out, but the entire march was marked by good humour. Shifting 1,000 people down three streets – stopping them, and then turning them about 180 degrees to walk the same path back again is not easy.
Part of the reason it worked was the extremely bright move of having a different set of speakers at each point. The young lad that accidentally kicked all this off, Laurie Pycroft, was first to speak at the meeting place in Broad Strett. As was Prof John Stein, and Evan Harris MP.
When stopped next the centre at the heart of the argument – and only 100 yards away from the animal rights protestors, Prof Tipu Aziz as well as a bio-chem student and a health journalist spoke. At then, finally, at the end of the march at Radcliffe Square, the march organisers gave themselves a speech or two.
The level of speech was high. People were intelligent, passionate and coherent. It reallt felt like we were witnessing an important event. And perhaps we were – this is possibly the first time people have stood up publicly in *favour* of animal experimentation. It is, let’s face it, something that welcomes discretion far more than vocal support.
But the animal rights protestors have really pushed it too far and have irritated people to such a degree that they have sparked a counter-march.
As for the animal rights protest – fronted as usual by Speak – it was a surprisingly big turnout. I really thought that they were stupid to march at all, and should simply have postponed their march until next Saturday, but they attracted a large number of people – around 300.
They also expressed somethemselves passionately. But, objectively, it has to be said a high proportion of the Speak protestors were verbally aggressive and abusive where Pro-Test marchers simply weren’t.
Mel Broughton, Speak’s spokesman, gave a rousing address while balancing on a small post on Broad Street, but his words were full of threats and anger. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling.
When photographing, you always try to seek out interesting looking people. What struck me about the two marches though was how unpleasant Speak marchers were in comparison to Pro-Test. When you saw someone who was on the Speak march who didn’t look threatening, they stood out. The opposite was true with the other march.
The march also highlighted the other differences. Pro-Test’s march was all about information and positive benefits; Speak’s was all about anger and secrets. I recorded at various points during the day and the tone and words of protestors on both sides were immediately apparent. Anger one side; reason the other. I’ll do a podcast at some point soon.
If nothing else, Pro-Test will have shone much-needed light on the animal rights protestors. For a group purporting to be interested in helping animals, in the wider duty of care owed by humans to animals, they are an incredibly unsympathetic bunch.
Of course they were under pressure and were no doubt hugely irritated by the media attention granted Pro-Test when they honestly believe they are right. Nonetheless, an important point was made.
What will be interesting to see is the longevity of both protests. Will Pro-Test be a one-off – will people honestly be bothered to do another march? What’s the point?
Speak will certainly continue to run protests – but will the moderate members that make up most of the organisation return? Faced with large numbers of people who disagreed with them, they saw the moral high ground turn into spitting fury. That is not something that most people want to subject themselves to very often.
It will be interesting to see.