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Marching demonstrates our nation's preserve; The 'demo' is increasingly claimed by the middle classes and transformed into a respectable show of defiance. Rachel Porter looks at the changing face of protest which has led to this weekend's 'grey power' march.

When pensioners who have to scrape their pennies together to avoid a stint in prison do not bother going to London to demonstrate, you could be forgiven for thinking there is nothing that could mobilise 21st century Britain.

But, as a nation known for its quiet reserve, Britain has a rich history of public demonstration.

And, as anti-war demonstrations have most recently demonstrated, more and more of us are choosing to make our opinions known via the banner instead of the ballot box.

The late 1960s will always be thought of as the golden age of protest, beginning in May 1968 when Parisian students decided they'd had enough of sex-segregated dormitories and started a revolution that sent ripples across the world.

While American students were holding 'sit-ins' in protest against the war in Vietnam, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) was gathering pace on this side of the Atlantic.

The infamous bra-burners marched for equal pay in 1969 and later for abortion and contraception rights.

Under Thatcher, public displays of discontent were less frequent with many believing the Iron Lady had managed to quash Britain's collective spirit.

But the miners' strikes in the mid-80s saw entire communities mobilised by the prospect of pit-closures and the collapse of the coal industry.

Aside from a spate of anti-Poll Tax rallies in the early 1990s, the decade passed with barely a whimper.

But in the first few years of the new millennium, the British passion for demonstration has been reignited.

The May Day riots in 2000 began as a peaceful protest against globalisation before organised gangs of extremists fought police and wreaked havoc on London's streets.

Since then crowds have descended on the capital to campaign against a number of issues, from top-up fees to Third World debt.

But when more than a million people took to the streets last year against plans for war in Iraq, it was clear that Britain's tradition of protest was still going strong.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 16, 2004
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