Why I was on march: 'I've never protested like this. I'm a private whinger'

Everyone on yesterday's protest in London had their own reason to be there. <i>The IoS</i> canvassed a broad range of the marchers and found they came from all walks of life

The Union Stalwart

Helen Andrews, 58, secondary school science teacher from Rochdale, Manchester

"I'm here for lots of reasons but really it's about saying to the government that ordinary people should not have to pay for the excesses of the bankers. I've come down on one of the NUT's chartered trains from the north-west. I've been an NUT organiser and member since 1973 and I've lost count of how many marches I've been on. I've marched to save pensions, against academies and more generally against cuts."

"I'm very weary. It was an absolutely massive turn out. It must be the next biggest after the Stop the War March. I was down on the embankment down by Waterloo Bridge. Various NUT groups wanted to come together, but that wasn't possible because we could simply not get together. It was phenomenal, and incredibly good natured. Every one had the same aim. Their specific issues my have been different but their overall message was exactly the same, that we have to fight these services cuts, that they were bad for public service, that they are bad for people, and there are other ways of dealing with all of this. There was a very small group of anarchist who set out create deliberate mischief and damage. That is absolutely out of order, that's not what anybody is about. It's just wrong and detracts from a very large, peaceful demonstration that has a very serious point to make. If you have a huge demonstration you will always get that, it's part of democracy. I just wish they weren't there."

Expecting to get home at after 10pm, and left the house at 5.30am this morning.

The die-hard leftie

Charlie Kimber, 53, National secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, from Hackney, east London

"I got here at 6.30 this morning to set up. I am at Charing Cross. Looking down Villiers Street I can ranks of workers moving down with their banners. There are paramedics, firefighters, teaching assistants, huge numbers of working class people.

"Everyone is trying to get the message across, that we have to fight back against the cuts, and this has to be the start of something.

My first march was in 1975, and I have taken part in them ever since. This is one of the biggest I have ever been on. In terms of trade union marches it is absolutely huge.

"Lots of people I have been speaking to say it's the first march they have been on. There is a slightly celebratory feeling, with so many people having turned out, but at the same time there is anger about the cuts."

It's been a massive demonstration, bigger than any of us anticipated. I think it's been very inspiring the thought there is that size of potential resistance to what the government is doing.

The nurse who fears for the NHS

James Anthony, 28, nurse from Birmingham

"I went because of what the government is doing to the NHS at the worst possible time. They will destroy the fabric of it. There is a real sense that we were all there to change things, and that after yesterday we won't be ignored by the government any more. I went down on a coach with 50 people from Birmingham's two university hospitals. We recently found out that our hospital – Queen Elizabeth – is facing £22million of cuts. The cuts have had a massive impact on Birmingham, where the council has had one of the biggest cuts in funding. It's a real carnival atmosphere today. There was so much noise, I was completely blown away."

It has been a fantastic day, and great to see how many people have supported the cause. It's very significant and has passed peacefully. But there's no doubt that the government will have to listen today. You can put in a Robin Hood tax or clamp down on tax evasion. But there is no need for these cuts. It feels like more than half-a-million people, and I don't think we'll make it to Hyde Park. But I'm really glad I've came.

The radical student

Mark Bergfeld, 24, student organiser and NUS presidential candidate from London

I'm at Trafalgar Square which we're turning into Tahrir square. We just unfurled a banner saying 'We demand regime change'. People are dancing to Samba music it's a great atmosphere and there are thousands of us here.

We can be very pleased. With more than 400,000 people marching we're now occupying Trafalgar Square as planned. A lot of people are carrying around sleeping bags. We hope we can see thousands of people stay overnight in Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park.

I came in with the education bloc from Malet street. I've been leafleting for it and I'd say we've given out around 50,000 leaflets. The sheer size of the demo means that we'll be a minority of people in Trafalgar square but it will still be sizeable.

People will be going back to their workplaces on Monday and will start talking about how can we go forward in our campaigns. I've seen loads of people with sleeping bags but now it's starting to rain so we'll see.

I'm marching because of the trebling of tuition fees and the scrapping of EMA. We need to see this as a launch pad for further strike action and campaign for a general strike.

The armchair protestor

Anya-Nicola Darr, 59, former third sector worker and FE teacher from Budleigh Salterton, near Exeter

"I've got this auto-immune illness (Sjögren's syndrome and also Fibromyalgia) and I walk with a stick, so it would have been hard for me to go on the march itself. I decided to set up the Armchair Army protest on Twitter and Facebook. I have seven administrators helping me with it. People have joined in from the top of Scotland and the bottom of Cornwall, all people who can't get to the march. Many are the rural poor, who are severely under-represented. I thought it would be a few hundred, but we have thousands of members, and it is growing all the time. It is absolutely manic.

"This only started less than three weeks ago, and I had not even used Facebook before. I realised that so many of us were frustrated because we couldn't get to the march and show out support.

"I seriously will face bankruptcy if I lose a single pound of my income. There's no way I'll be well enough to go back to work now and my husband is retired. We have no way to get any more money.

It was an absolutely massive turn out. It must be the next biggest after the Stop the War March. I was down on the embankment down by Waterloo Bridge. Various NUT groups wanted to come together, but that wasn't possible because we could simply not get together. It was phenomenal, and incredibly good natured. Every one had the same aim. Their specific issues my have been different but their overall message was exactly the same, that we have to fight these services cuts, that they were bad for public service, that they are bad for people, and there are other ways of dealing with all of this.

My information is that there was a very small group of anarchists who set out create deliberate mischief and damage. That is absolutely out of order, that's not what anybody is about.

The buggy bloc mum who has never marched before

Catherine Ovenden, 31, full-time mother of two from Totton, Hampshire. Marching with daughter Amy, three, in a buggy.

"I have never been on a march before, but in Hampshire we are losing a third of our Sure Start centres. They are a lifeline, and I want them to be available to people in the future.

I've never protested about anything publicly before – it's always been under my breath. I'm more of a private whinger. But Sure Start has been amazing for my two girls and I wanted to do something.

"I am mad with the local council and I am mad with the government. I voted Lib Dem, then we got the coalition, which was a bit rubbish. But I didn't realise they would let councils make decisions like this.

"When I voted at the election going on a march like this genuinely never crossed my mind – I probably wouldn't have believed you."

The day was better than I expected, we had the most lovely time and met some lovely people. Everyone was really friendly. We had an amazing time, it was such a festival happy carnival atmosphere and Amy was playing with puppets and dancing and laughing.

But I'd signed up for texts from the TUC stewards and they sent a text at around 3pm saying some trouble had started at the Ritz hotel and at Oxford Street.

We'd had a good four hours marching. I got a gut feeling that the atmosphere was changing slightly and just felt uncomfortable – that's the only way I could describe it.

There was nothing untoward that I saw and I didn't feel in danger at all but I just didn't feel comfortable and it just seemed a good time to quit while we were ahead and go home."

The anarchist

Jason Cortez, 45, mental health professional from Deptford

"I'm with the South London Solidarity Federation and I went on the march because we needed to come forward with a clear message. We're not going to accept these cuts, and the government can't impose them on us.

This march was a show of solidarity. There were swathes of people. But one march alone is not enough. It wasn't enough to stop a war in 2003.

We have to use our collective power in the next couple of months for strikes, occupations and disruptions. Wildcat strikes are still an effective weapon. We need to disrupt the flow of capital, disrupt transport hubs and stop the flow production.

The TUC are complacent, these strikes are all they have done and one day is simply not enough. Cuts proposed by the government are going to affect the poorest parts of society like the disabled and the working class. The argument of national debt is simply not enough. In 1947 we had a bigger deficit, the country was broke and yet we forced them to build a welfare state.

I know we can stop these cuts from happening if we impose our will on the state. I believe we're going to see an upsurge in resistance. Yesterday is going to be a significant marker in a long-term movement. It will be clear in the months to come."

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