Saturday’s Hands Around Parliament event for Assange was massively uplifting. We hoped for 5,000 and feared we would fall short and fail to link the chain due to transport strikes. But in fact 12,000 people showed up for what became a glorious celebration of dissent and a festival of mutual support.
I walked the entire circuit across the face of the Houses of Parliament, though Westminster Park, across Lambeth Bridge, along Lambeth Palace and St Thomas’ Hospital, across Westminster Bridge and back into Parliament Square, and can assure you the chain was fully complete – indeed in places replete – with determined people proudly expressing their opposition to the persecution of Assange, and proclaiming their dissent in an atmosphere that was one of joy and celebration.
Thousands of protesters gathered in London on Saturday in the first ever Human Chain around Parliament: calling for the release of Julian Assange | via @DiEM_25 #SurroundParliament #FreeAssangeNOW pic.twitter.com/xaj8sHknpH
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) October 9, 2022
Walking the circuit, I spoke with many hundreds and bumped into small organised groups who had come from France, Belgium, Germany and the United States, and individuals who had traveled especially from as far away as Chile, Australia and New Zealand. I met more than a few tourists who had joined in the demonstration after simply coming to look at Westminster. And I met hundreds of readers of this blog, many of whom had actively campaigned against my own imprisonment. I appear in an improbable number of selfies. It was like an afternoon in a warm bath of comradeship.
But what was most striking was that this was a gathering of individuals, with real personal concern for freedom, the truth and the right to dissent. There were no large organisations involved and no money behind it. The diversity was beautiful – almost every race and culture on the planet was there, and also every social class. I quite literally chatted with a Duchess and with a Big Issue seller within a minute of each other.
Thousands of demonstrators form a human ring around the Houses of Parliament to protest Julian Assange's planned extradition to the USA #surroundparliament #Assange #freejulianassange #protest #london #Parliament #HumanChain4Assange #FreeAssangeNOW #humanchain pic.twitter.com/zEjgbBAsK9
— Richard Ings (@richardcings) October 8, 2022
There was also by far the most diverse age profile I have ever seen on an Assange protest. Thousands of young people had come out to support Julian and Freedom of Speech – that is something I had never witnessed before, which had always worried me.
From talking with them on Saturday, I think that climate change activism is motivating young people. They are then realising that climate change cannot be tackled without understanding who truly wields political power, and coming up hard against increasing restrictions on the right to protest to try to change society.
Russell Brand and Jeremy Corbyn were among those who turned up in support. I met many, many old friends and veterans of other campaigns. The fight to save Julian continues through the courts and continues in both local and international politics.
If we believe in free speech, then Julian Assange should be free from Belmarsh prison.
Thank you to the thousands of people who formed a human chain around Parliament to oppose his extradition, and stand up for independent & democratic journalism everywhere. pic.twitter.com/8tbnJDKNPs
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) October 8, 2022
Needless to say, Saturday’s event was not much covered in mainstream media, which reported that “hundreds” of supporters had turned out. You could not form that chain over several kilometers with just hundreds of people. I jokingly suggested that we had made a mistake by completing the chain – if we had failed, the media would have put it on TV to mock us!
This was the biggest Assange event so far, and a remarkable achievement given the transport network was entirely crippled by strike action that day. It felt more mainstream in the numbers and kinds of people who were represented. That a man is suffering without end, for publishing nothing but the truth about war crimes, is coming home to more and more people.
That degree of support means to continue to build. All extraditions are political, and the display of public concern is helpful. But the inspiring effect of Saturday on those of us campaigning is invaluable. I feel a huge burst of new energy and commitment, and I know that others do too. Stella gave Julian an account of it on the phone, and it gave him a big boost. He needs it, as he is currently down with Covid and in even greater isolation at the prison.
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