The rain held off, the people came and the media captured our joy.
After a rapid, very short month of sometimes frantic planning and on-the-hoof rethinking of the day, All Together Bristol finally happened and I for one am overjoyed at the result. Thirty-two days after our first forum exploration of what we might do, what we shouldn’t do, and what we — eventually — simply must do, the turnout and the message was just perfect.
After the day before, when Bristol seemed wracked by fear and conflict, hate and prejudice, the All Together Bristol approach was just right.
But what actually happened?
We gathered on Queen Square. Gradually people came together, from a cross the four corners of the square, site of the EDL march the previous day, and kicking off point for our walk to Millennium Square. A platform, a microphone and flowers appeared. People were handed helpers jackets. It’s interesting how people respond to a hi-viz. Immediately the wearer is transformed into a creature ordained with extra powers of knowledge or ability. But, notably, without any hint of the inevitable marshal nature of the police lines from the day before. There: I’ve mentioned it. It’s tricky not to. The EDL effect is invasive and destructive, but there was one good thing about their visit to Bristol: we met on 15th July and showed the city how peace can prevail.
The media were everywhere. Radio Bristol, ITV, BBC TV, This is Bristol and also The Post. One of our core aims was to get good press coverage. That happened for sure. First items on both ITV and BBC local news. Radio Bristol Sunday morning, thisisbristol.co.uk including a video montage. Depending on who did the counting we were between 300 and 400 people, but thousands more will have seen the full extent and positive power of what we achieved.
But, again, what actually happened?
The flowers worked. The walking worked. Walking with flowers worked.
And, significantly, for about an hour afterwards, as I just hung around the square, there were people talking, groups continuing to share and engage. Amongst the buzz and business of Millennium Square, as it is every summer Sunday afternoon, there was an extra dimension of hopeful imagination. Where we go from here needs to be discerned. That we need to continue to work together needs no thought at all.
That is what actually happened. We met, we talked, we shared and we saw each other as members of the same group, as people. Of course there are distinguishing features, and there are differences which challenge. But challenge and conflict are entirely different things. Conflict destroys. Challenge builds. On July 15th in Millennium Square we all challenged. We all were challenged: to live together.