Take the first step – our march and demo guide for first timers

The big national 18 June cost of living march and rally is fast approaching. But if this is going to be your first march, what can you expect? Simon Jackson picks the brains of two of UNISON’s most experienced stewards to find out

So, you’ve never been on a march, or a protest, or to a rally?

Me neither. I spoke to one of my colleagues about it recently and she told me that, before the first march she ever went on, she thought you would have to ‘join the back of the queue’ when you arrive. You don’t.

She’s a veteran marcher now, but I understand how she felt. It’s intimidating – not knowing what to expect, not knowing how to get involved or even the basics such as what you should bring on the day.

But UNISON has some pretty experienced marchers who will be there, stewarding, on 18 June. Two of these stewarding stalwarts agreed to sit down and talk me through every aspect of the day – Colin Derrig, national officer for retired members and Shelley Cole team administrator in UNISON’s professional services unit.

So, let’s start at the beginning.

Shelley, Colin, thanks for walking me through this (pun intended) – what’s this demo all about?

Shelley: On 18 June, tens of thousands of people from UNISON and many other trade unions will be gathering at Portland Place from 10:30am. They’ll be there at the TUC’s (Trade Unions Congress) national march and rally to ‘Demand Better’ from the government on the cost of living.

Colin: At midday, they’ll start the approximate mile and a half long walk through central London to Parliament Square, although there is also a shorter march that will form up at Whitehall Place from 11am. At 1pm, when the marches arrive in Parliament Square, there will be a rally right outside parliament with a range of speakers.

March route

What should I expect?

Colin: One key thing to know, is that demonstrations and marches are obviously a great way to engage with thousands of other people and feel part of something much bigger, but they’re also not restrictive at all – they’re whatever you want them to be.

You don’t have to go for the whole thing. If you just want to go to the rally in Parliament Square, that’s absolutely fine. If you want to join in the middle of the march and leave when you get to Parliament, that’s fine too.

You can march in the heart of the sea of purple and green, chanting yourself breathless, or you can take it easier further back in the UNISON column, where it will be less crowded. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you do, or even how you do it, the important bit is to do something.

Shelley: On the day, if you are going to gather at Portland Place, first thing to do is to look for the big section of purple and green, that’s where UNISON will be gathering.

Once you’re there, you might see some of us in orange hi-viz jackets, they’ll be stewards like me and Colin. We’re there to keep everyone safe, having a good time and to answer any questions you have whether it’s where the nearest toilet is, what route the march will take, or even the words to the most common chants.

So, how do I get involved?

Shelley: June 18 is a national demonstration but, really, it starts locally. The first step is to get in touch with your branch, or your region, and find out what has already been organised, you might find there’s already a contingent going and it’s great way to get to know people in your area.

Event page

Colin: The other thing to know is that you don’t have to be a UNISON member to attend. That means you can bring your friends or bring your family or your kids, the more the merrier. One of the great things about demos or rallies with UNISON is that there’s always an amazing family-friendly atmosphere.

How do I get there?

Shelley: If there’s already a group from your branch or area going, they might have already booked coaches and you can get a spot on one. Some branches may be going by train or organising car-shares. If not, there’s a link on the TUC’s website where you might be able to get a spot on another union’s coach leaving from your area.

Coach booking

Colin: On the journey to the demo, if you’re travelling with people, take the opportunity to find out why they’re marching, I know lots of people that have made great friends on marches. I’ve made some as well.

What do I need to bring?

Colin: First thing I’d suggest is comfortable shoes. It’s not a hard walk but it’s better to be on the safe side. Obviously, the British weather can be unpredictable, so a light waterproof jacket is always useful, but we’d expect it to be good in mid-June, so equally important is sun cream.

Shelley: Make sure to bring plenty of water/fluids and, although you’re always welcome to pop into one of the shops we pass on the route, a lot of people bring their own sandwiches. Marching is hungry work.

How to make the most of it?

Colin: That’s the more practical stuff. But something that I think is just as important is getting into the spirit of the march. The cost of living is obviously a very serious issue but, when we’re on the march, we’re there as a part of the UNISON community and we’re trying to make it as enjoyable as possible.

Shelley: Exactly, so become part of the ‘sea of purple and green’, or if you don’t have anything in those colours in your wardrobe, your branch might have some spare t-shirts or flags. And they might have some placards, or you can make and bring your own.

Whistles, vuvuzelas, mini drums, anything that makes noise is great as well! We want people to know who we are and why we’re there. At the start it can feel weird getting involved in the chants as you march but once you start – you won’t look back.

Colin: And don’t forget to take loads of photos, both for yourself, and for your branch. Not only is it a great memento to be able to say ‘I was there’ but it’s really important that we don’t just have a sea of purple and green on London’s streets, but we have one of the best feeds of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in the aftermath too!

3 thoughts on “Take the first step – our march and demo guide for first timers

  1. Andrea Knowles says:

    I will be taking my smallest activist (my child, 9) on their first march. It is so important that we stand together on this. Join us.

  2. Sathisan Nair says:

    The route i think it’s short route.Exepecting over 100,000 much more,by the march arrives at Westminster the starters not even started at O,Circus.

  3. roland willows says:

    needs to be sorted out due to the time frames and the up coming rise in utility bills, cost of living and general taking care of ourselves and others backdrop, we have stuttered behind all other industries so working in the public sector will need a total revamp in the near future, starting with the agreed pay increase which never came to fruition but is urgently needed for us and many others below the breadline in the public and private sector,

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