Karl Howarth covers the recent protests about homelessness in Norwich and the subsequent occupation of City Hall by Class War.
On 15th of April, there was a nationwide day of action for the homeless population to try and show solidarity, as well as raise awareness of their plight. The ConDem government have been victimising the most vulnerable members of our society during their reign, and their austerity has caused thousands to lose their homes.
The Norwich March for the Homeless was organised as an event on Facebook collaboratively by Elle Joanna Jacobs and Zoe Rayner-Terror, as well as local soup kitchen organisations the People’s Picnic and the Norwich Soup Movement. These are both independent, grass-roots organisations founded in 2013.
In a statement concerning the march, the People’s Picnic had this to say:
“We recently attended the March for Homeless, it was great to see so many forward thinking individuals unite together to show support and raise awareness to the prevalent issues surrounding homelessness across the country. The subject is one that is either not often addressed in modern politics or portrayed in a negative light by the media so it is sometimes easy to forget that it could happen to any one of us, in fact we are just one pay check away in many instances. Homelessness is a complex issue with a multitude of depths, we have often found that providing a roof over somebodies head is just hitting the tip of the iceberg, similar to putting a plaster over a gaping wound. It may provide temporary relief but extra support is needed to ensure people do not fall back into a vicious cycle. A cycle which is very much kept in motion by the Conservative government through its abhorrent welfare sanctions and withdrawal of vital services. So for us it goes a lot deeper than simply handing out food to the hungry or fighting for the right to housing, it’s about developing relationships, taking the time to truly listen to people, and through doing this it enables us to build a stronger more autonomous community, one where we can help support and value each other. Additionally, I would have to say the most important factor to us is that we are now proud to call many of those who come to The People’s Picnic our friends.”
The march itself was great, if not a bit pleasant. Starting at the war memorial, we looped around the city centre, going via Castle Meadow before returning. There were a few cringe-worthy chants, and we marched on the pavement rather than the road, but I firmly believe that we did raise awareness of the realities of homelessness to local politicians and voters. Only a few political figures attended the march, including a couple of members of the council and Norwich’s very own Sheriff, William Armstrong, who I’m told “turned up off his own back”. He didn’t, I noticed, forget to bring his ostentatious gold chains that signify his high status, however. Also attending was Class War’s Norwich South candidate, David Peel, with whom we formed the “Kett County Class War” bloc. It was interesting to hear the classic “we’ve got to get rid of the rich” chant originating from somewhere other than behind our banner.
Ultimately, the march didn’t last very long, and we saw the hundred or so people disperse fairly quickly, leaving only the organiser’s stands, the Class War bloc and a few protesters. After a brief discussion, Class War decided to take the protest to City Hall in order to get the march’s message out to the people of Norwich. They successfully occupied the balcony, displaying the Kett County Class War banner over the railing, demanding through a loudspeaker an end to homelessness and an end to the rich.
Transcribed from a video of the occupation, Peel said: “Homelessness in Norwich is a crime. Stop homelessness now! There are too many people in this city sleeping rough: not able to get food, not able to get shelter. It’s time for homelessness to stop. Homelessness is a crime because the rich buy up houses all over the country and leave them empty. They leave them empty while people sleep rough in the streets. And it is a crime to do that! It’s time we stopped the rich. It’s time we got rid of the rich, because the rich are in the way. The rich are ruining this country and the homeless, we the homeless, have paid the price! It’s time to stop!
“Class War stands for squatting! We don’t think we should sit down and wait for Labour or the Tories to build more houses, my god, we’ll be waiting for ever! We’d be dead before we get them. We need housing now. People are dying on the streets of this country: tens of thousands of people…” [at which point they were escorted off by police and security to the chorus of Class War and anti-police chants].