Sunday, 18 August 2019

Peterloo Bicentenary and Jeremy Deller

We’ve all been inspired by Jeremy Deller’s fine image of William Morris throwing Roman Abramovich’s super-yacht to the bottom of the sea (see my post for 11 July 2013), so naturally I also wanted to see his new monument to the dead of Peterloo, and what better occasion to do so than today’s march to and rally in Albert Square, Manchester, marking the bicentenary of the massacre of those 18 men, women and one child?

I assembled with about 200 others in Whitworth Park and we then marched up Oxford Road to Albert Square, being filmed by local Fascists at one point, apparently.  Nine other marches made their way into the centre, re-enacting the original routes of August 1819.  Many fine trade union banners were on display, and Bolton Socialist Club, Jewish Voices for Labour, Extinction Rebellion and other placards and symbols were there too.  In Albert Square one highlight was Chris Williamson M.P.’s powerful brief speech on oppression and struggle, ending with his recital of the last stanza of Shelley’s ‘Mask of Anarchy’: ‘Ye are many, they are few’.  Another was provided by organiser Steve Hall, who read out the names of those killed by the yeomanry on that dark day in 1819, together with the nature of their injuries; this was followed by a minute’s silence in their honour.

The Deller monument is a couple of minutes’ walk away, between the old Central Station and the Midland Hotel – the very site of the original massacre.  It is a beautiful, understated, politically resonant artefact.  Not just because each of its 11 concentric stone circles, made of different varieties of local stone, carries the names of the dead and their places of origin, but because the top circle has arrows pointing to more recent attacks by armed troops on unarmed protestors.  Bogside Derry, 1972 and Tianamen Square, 1989 are there, among others, and the most recent reads ‘Taksim Gezi Park, Istanbul, Turkey, 2013’.  Hong Kong tomorrow, perhaps?  This will be a place of active political assembly for Manchester from now on, not just a monument to be aesthetically contemplated; and an important debate about the issue of disabled access to it rumbles on.

‘Our job is to keep hope alive,’ declared Chris Williamson, invoking a key Morrisian term.  The genial fellowship and quiet determination of this march and rally, as of Deller’s Peterloo monument itself, evoked the martyrs of the past to steady us in politically dark times, of which that small group of local Fascists was a significant reminder.  

1 comment:

Tony Pinkney said...

Some good images from Albert Square on Twitter, as you'd expect. See: