On Saturday, I joined a few (reports vary between ten and over twenty thousand) like-minded people on a stroll through London to let David Cameron know that we aren’t very happy.
The reason is the Pope’s state visit to the UK. I’d been thinking about joining a protest since I found out about the visit earlier this year, but was undecided this week. It seems that Bristol didn’t have anything organised – although this isn’t too surprising, since Benedict wasn’t visiting the West Country – so I’d have to go to London, and it might have been considered rude of me to go off for a day while my sister was supposed to be visiting me! After confirming with her that it was all cool, I sat down to work out if I should go or not.
The following day, Pope Benedict said that Atheism was to blame for the Nazi atrocities of World War Two. A quick change to my Facebook status for the day – “Pete Fullergreen does not like being compared to Adolf Hitler by a man who condones child rape” – and I booked the tickets. I may only be one person, but the more ‘one persons’ that marched the less easy it would be for the government to ignore the fact that they are spending our tax money illogically.
It was an absolutely amazing day. I’ve never been to London completely alone before, I’ve always met someone there to guide me around or gone with someone else. I was a bit nervous about getting lost in the big city, especially since trying to find the start of the march had me walking with an awful lot of people carrying yellow ‘Pilgrim Packs’. I thought I was probably safer finding the place without help. The march stretched on ahead beyond my sight, although I could see the back (and ended up at the end once). The signs were terrific – a lot of Father Ted “Careful Now” (which I initially thought was a message about condoms) and “Down With That Sort Of Thing” (which I completely mistook as a vague protest until someone pointed it out to me). There were dozens of statements – “Pope’s Homophobia Costs Lives” etc, and a few very specific cases – “Money for the arts, not old farts”. Several people mentioning the taxpayer-funded nature of the visit, one of my favourites being “I want my £40 back”. I felt exactly the same way. It’s a matter I may be writing to my MP about.
There were cleverer signs too – “Jesus Had Two Daddies” and “Abstinence Makes The Church Grow Fondlers”, as well as the more confrontational “Kiss My Ring!” An awful lot of people had pope-dress on, one was in black with pink trim addressing the marchers from a nearby building at one point, getting cheers for each benevolent, condescending wave, and one almighty cheer for screaming “FUCK THE POPE!”
The condom brigade, wearing inflated condoms around their heads, bouncing around condom balloons, were shouting at any Catholics they saw walking to Hyde Park for the Mass later that day (they were easy to spot, because of the yellow pilgrim packs) “Condoms For Catholics? Any Catholics need a condom?”
I met a lot of good people that day, and heard some incredible speeches by Richard Dawkins, Peter Tatchell, and many others (too many to remember), including a Catholic bishop from New York. My only regret is that David Cameron was not in Downing Street to hear us outside, and that despite figures being estimated as high as twenty thousand (I’ll ignore the ‘maybe thirty’ that I’d heard somewhere), no-one is going to apologise to us for spending tax money so unwisely for fear of angering the Pope.
I also regret that no-one challenged the Pope – when he mentioned how wonderful it was that Britain fought the Nazi evil, he warned the Britain’s secularism was allowing ‘aggressive atheism’ to take over and blamed the same for leading to the Nazi atrocities. No-one challenged him, they clapped politely. No-one said “I thought it was racism that made them do those horrible things, not atheism?” or “How come they locked up Jews and homosexuals but not Catholics, if they didn’t like religion?” No-one said “Actually, wasn’t Hitler a Catholic who never renounced his faith and wasn’t excommunicated?” and “Didn’t Hitler always oppose state atheism as a mark of Communism?” Indeed, no-one said “Didn’t the Catholic church sign a treaty six years before the war agreeing not to oppose the Nazi party in democratic elections with their own Catholic party, and to support German Nationalism and the German Reich alongside Catholic teachings in exchange for not being drafted into a possible war – that would have been against the Treaty of Versailles, but still accounted for in this concordat of 1933?”
Nope, no-one was going to present anything other than fawning politeness to the Pope. We let him address members of parliament in Westminster, telling them to be wary of removing religion from law (fun fact: Catholic Canon Law has been introduced in a few countries, banning abortions, divorce and placing warnings on condom packets that they do not protect against HIV) and be wary of secularism marginalising religion “especially Christianity”. He even said that some of those nasty secularists are trying to ban Christmas, which as far as I am aware has not been true in the many, many years that hack tabloids have been reporting those stories. It’s as bad a story as when “England flags are being banned!” appeared all over the media and Facebook during the World Cup – actually reported alongside hundreds of pictures of people displaying England flags, and underneath newspaper competitions to win England flags and St-George’s-Cross emblazoned goodies. Not really much of a ban.
I was glad that I took part in the march – it’s my first march for any cause. I’ve never even seen a gay pride march (although based on the recommendation of friends, I’d love to join one). But I am aware that nothing will change. Nothing will actually get done. But at least I got out there and shouted with the rest of them. If everyone who thought “it won’t make a difference, so I won’t bother” had actually come out instead, then maybe it would have made a difference. Ironic, isn’t it?