Protest the Pope Sketch: The Richard Dawkins revolution
by Peter Wozniak
An incoherent milling crowd of protestors was turned into a raging, if rather polite, anti-Benedict (and anti-Goerge Osborne) rabble by one of the most unlikely people imaginable.
What was clear from the moment the protestors gathered at Hyde Park corner this afternoon was that everyone there had a different axe to grind.
From an aid worker who waved a placard denouncing the Pope’s policy on condoms as ‘genocide’, to newcomers to the movement angered by his attacks on “aggressive secularism”, this was clearly not a crowd with a unified sense of purpose other than general dislike of his holiness.
This was best displayed by an argument between two furious protestors, one insisting that on no account should they move from their current spot, the other leading a breakaway group: “We’re going to Hard Rock Cafe!”, she yelled with righteous zeal.
‘Oh dear’, it was tempting to think, as hordes of uniformed Catholic schoolgirls streamed serenely past our rather ragtag assembly – ‘this will break up even before it’s even started’.
Even the campaign’s organisers betrayed a touch of worry that the “broad coalition” of objectors was coming from a “a whole range of different perspectives”.
Peter Tatchell however, leading the march to Downing Street, and beaming before the mass of press attention, dismissed any such suggestions as flimsy.
“Here we are, an organisation with no office and no funding, and we’ve got this [now admittedly engorged] turnout, it’s pretty fantastic!”.
And yet, we suspicious hacks weren’t quite convinced. The rotating parade of loudspeaker handlers didn’t seem to know which part of the Pope’s views they were more angry about – child abuse, contraception, homosexuality, even “transphobia” (to general bewilderment of the masses, who gave it a good cheer even if they didn’t know what on earth it was).
The protests numbers certainly couldn’t be dismissed, with the eboulliant organiser Michael Tranchino sounding relieved and more than a bit surprised when he declaimed in his thick Italian accent: “There are 10,000 of us”!?
It seemed however that there were about 7 different protests going on at once (with placards ranging from “Down with this sort of thing”, to unreproduceable expletive-ridden tirades): what they needed was someone to bring this cacophony of generally good-natured objection all together into one chorus of disapproval.
The child abuse scandal seemed to generate the most ill-feeling, as the organisers put up a series of abuse ‘survivors’ (is it normal for people to die from child abuse alone, I wondered?) speaking of their dreadful treatment at the hands of Catholic priests.
A combination of calculated rabble-rousing from Richard Dawkins, Peter Tatchell playing the crowd like a violin, and socialist worker pamphleteers ensured the revolutionary spirit was complete.
In any other situation, a protest against a State visit by the head of the Vatican together with chanting against George Osborne’s spending cuts (“Cut the Pope! Not our services!) would seem incongruous. Anywhere but Whitehall this Saturday afternoon.