20 Years On: Remembering the Anti-Poll Tax Demonstrations
In the aftermath of the G20 protests, Anne McMeekin finds out about a commemoration of one of the most successful displays of people power
Margaret Thatcher liked to call it the community charge. To the rest of us it was the poll tax – one of the most universally loathed tax reforms ever to pass through the House of Commons.
To commemorate 20 years since the introduction of the poll tax and the rioting and unrest that went with it, the People’s Palace is hosting 20 Years On: Remembering the Anti–Poll Tax Demonstrations in collaboration with the Village Storytelling Centre. It is a day of events to remind people of what happened, how it happened and how people-power really did make a difference.
A mixture of performances, storytelling groups and demonstrations, the day is aimed at reopening debate and investigating whether protest can still make a difference today. ‘One of the things we wanted to look at is whether people are still influenced by collective action in the way they were 20 years ago,’ says Clare Gray, learning and access curator for Glasgow City Council. ‘Do people protest and try and change things as a group and if they do that now how do they do it? We wanted to find out if people are protesting in a different way – one of the things the Village Storytelling Centre has looked at is whether people want to assist others on a more personal level now rather than being out on the streets protesting.’
One way of exploring this on the day is the Demonstration at the Palace, which gives people the opportunity to protest without remit. ‘The demonstration and banner-making activity is aimed at under 16s so we’ll be keeping it at an appropriate level of discussion,’ says Gray. ‘But part of what we want to find out is what people would protest about if they were to protest and indeed would protest be the action they would choose to make their opinions heard or is there a way that people prefer to communicate now – we might be writing letters to parliament.’
In spite of some frank discussions about the more controversial sides of the original poll tax protests in the storytelling groups, Gray says they’re keen to keep the day suitable for everyone. ‘It’s about getting young people to think about whether there’s anything they want to change and that they could actually have the power to change it,’ she says. ‘It’s as much a family event as it is based on protest – we wanted to create an event where people who wouldn’t normally engage themselves in thinking about protest could come along and enjoy as well.’
20 Years On: Remembering the Anti-Poll Tax Demonstrations, the People’s Palace, Sat 18 Apr.