Anyway, I, and a few other Open Rights Group/Pirate Party types from here, met up in Manchester, figured out where our march was starting (no, not here, over the road and round the corner) and turned up well ahead of time.
Where we were met by... not that many people. There seemed to have been some kind of SANFU with organising, getting the word out, and generally figuring out the level of interest, because we ended up with 3-4 times the number of placards than protesters! So despite for not being particularly eager to carry a banner, I, along with 20-odd other disreputable-looking types ended up juggling 3 of the things on the somewhat disappointing, but relatively brief, leg 1 of the march.
Then we met up with the 150-odd strong Manchester Rally for Legal Aid, who kindly allowed us to leave our excess signs with some of their non-marching organisers (thanks!). With greatly increased numbers, many of whom were lawyers, I suddenly felt a lot more protected! When their speeches were done, we did leg 2 our our march, which was a lot more like the sort of thing I was expecting.
Then we met up with everyone. Protesting cuts to the NHS, cuts to teachers, badger culls (with nifty face painting), cuts to a fusilier regiment (bonus chant - "Cull badgers, not the army!"), anti-UKIP/fascism, plus groups from Unison, Unite, Socialist Workers, and a whole lot more besides.
I was quite surprised by the atmosphere of the march. Despite everyone being there because they were really annoyed about something, there was a positive friendly atmosphere everywhere. I suspect that mostly came from knowing that everyone around you is in the same situation, and that you're all actually trying to do something constructive about it. Whatever it was, I didn't feel as if the crowd was unpredictable or unstable at any point, and had very little of the nervousness I normally get around large groups of people. Even when we marched past the hotel where the Conservative members were staying, and the chants rose in volume and emotional intensity, there was still more of a sense of people trying to actually get a point across, rather than them just being angry.
There was also a couple of people near us with hand-drums suspended from around their waist between their legs (Djembes?) who helped with the atmosphere a lot. They were really good, and managed to keep up some interesting upbeat rhythms while we walked. It didn't give off a carnival atmosphere or anything, but it certainly raised spirits, which was welcome.
Also, I totally overdressed. Manchester, at the end of September? That'll be cold, and probably rainy, in need of wrapping up warm, right? Nope, glorious sunshine. I'm glad I went with my normal rucksack rather than the tiny one I almost took, as I was just about able to cram my big coat in it and not get completely exhausted.
It was definitely an interesting experience. I'm glad I went. And it, along with a couple of the conversations I had that day, have made me think about the political process a bit more - which I hope to post about when those thought have settled down some.