Hundreds of people gathered in east London yesterday to discuss activism and global issues in the wake of recent protests in the United Kingdom and abroad.
More than 60 speakers delivered a series of lectures and workshops at different venues across Shoreditch in 6 Billion Ways, a free all day event aimed at “informing and mobilising a wide range of people on local and global justice issues” including the anti-cuts movement, trade justice, online activism, climate change and the global food crisis.
Former Faithless guitarist Dave Randall was involved in the discussion ‘Rebel Rock: Can music change the world?’ in which he said “a different world is not only possible, but necessary.”
Other guest speakers at the event included former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg, leader of the Green Party Caroline Lucas, student activist Simon Hardy, human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce and director of the Third World Forum Samir Amin.
In one of the day’s most popular events, political activists were told to take inspiration from the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. Egpytian activist Gigi Ibrahim described her first-hand experience of the demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that forced Hosni Mubarak out of power three weeks ago.
“We weren’t preparing for a revolution,” she told the audience. “But as more and more people joined the rally on 25 January from the poorer areas of Cairo, the crowd spontaneously began chanting for the regime’s downfall.”
Ibrahim, 24, vividly described the dramatic events that unfolded in Cairo over the following two weeks, as pro-Mubarak “thugs on horseback” and police clashed with protesters.
“Tahrir Square was basically a battle zone. The pavements were broken up by unarmed protesters fighting back the thugs with molotov cocktails and the police with guns. The army stood by while peaceful protesters were shot,” she said.
But government repression only strengthened protesters’ resolve, Ibrahim said. “The strength of the movement was in its diversity. All of Egypt’s people were represented on Tahrir Square, people from all walks of life; rich and poor, Muslim and Christian, men and women, covered and uncovered.”
Nadia Idle, from anti-poverty campaign group War on Want, said that interest in the event had far surpassed the last time it was held two years ago.
“A combination of public spending cuts at home and a series of extraordinary revolutions and protests in the Middle East have galvanised people,” she said. “There’s been a real buzz about the place today.”
Anna Smith, from War on Want, said: “6 Billion Ways is a really good way of bringing people together. As War on Want is a membership organisation, we always need to engage people in our work to raise awareness of the connection between poverty in the developing world and the politics that we experience in this country. This event is not just a way of people finding out more its also a way for people to plan actions for steps we can take to bring about real long-lasting change.”
The 6 Billion Ways event ended with a major rally in Shoreditch Town Hall, where a crowd of hundreds heard Nick Dearden, head of the Jubilee Debt Campaign and one of the event’s main organisers, appeal for people to take action at home to create “just and sustainable world”, saying that “activism is part of what it means to be a citizen.”
After a day of lectures and discussions, people headed to the central venue, Rich Mix, for some entertainment where the Movimientos Carnival Party took place with global music from Peyoti for President, Eri Okan and DJ Cal Jader. Latin inspired band, Movimientos, said: “We’ve brought together two of the most conscious global music acts in the UK to coincide with the start of the Rio Carnival.”
Organisers of the event hope that more people will participate in protest of spending cuts at the Unison rally on March 26, a few days Chancellor George Osborne announces the Budget.
One campaigner, Chaz Singh, said: “The message that needs to come out of today is that when it comes to the 26th March and when it comes to the next steps for the movement, how are we going to be able to solve the problems that we have in our society today? How are we going to be able to stop these horrible measures that are being put through by Cameron and Clegg? It’s about coming out on the street together and that’s how we’re going to win.”
Additional reporting by Charlie Cooper