The Demonstrator

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Terry Collins fights for a better world. But Terry has a secret.

            Terry Collins rolled over and silenced the insistent buzzing of the alarm clock by hitting the snooze button. He lay on his back looking at the daylight that was already leaking around the curtains and across the bedroom ceiling. Suddenly he was wide awake. The familiar feeling of anticipation stirred in him as he remembered what day it was. The day of the big demo.

            By rights, he thought, he should have been tired, having spent the previous evening going door to door trying to sell copies of the Party newspaper. As usual he had been given a list of addresses in his area, and he had dutifully visited every one of them. The addresses came from a variety of sources. The majority were of people who had attended seminars or lectures, or signed petitions. Sometimes he was given a lead by a friend or he saw a letter in the local press that looked promising. He would then check the phone book to see if the full address was listed, and then pay a visit. But most of them came from the lists provided by the Party. He sometimes worried about how the Party acquired its lists, about whether it was strictly legal. He couldn't afford to have any trouble with the police.

            The aim, of course, was not just to sell newspapers. The aim was to recruit for the Party. Door-stepping potential members was a disheartening activity. Terry wondered how many doors he had knocked on over the years. Must be thousands. And how many members had he recruited? Not many. The thought that he lacked the necessary charisma depressed him. Not for his own sake, but for the cause. The idea was that anyone who expressed any left-wing sympathies could be a potential member, so someone from the Party would call, ostensibly to sell the paper, and try and engage them in political debate. It was a hit and miss affair, but it was useful, necessary work, and no comrade could ask for more than that.

            He had covered a large area of Harringay but, disappointingly, few of the people he met could be classed as proletarians. A lot were teachers or social workers; Terry himself worked for Hackney council in the housing benefit department so his credentials weren't any better. Still, at least he resisted the lure of capitalism. No mortgages for him, no savings plan, no investments. His pay, what was left after he had donated to the Party, went into the Co-Op bank. He recognised that some compromise was inevitable. Simply to live at all at this stage of history involved a concession to capitalism.

            Most of the people he called on hadn't bought a paper. Some had chatted for a while on the doorstep and he had mentioned the big demonstration. Quite a few said they were going to be there. This, at least, was encouraging. Terry thought that big demonstrations were the way forward for the party, and the war in the Middle East provided a perfect focus for dissent. It showed that people were looking for change, that they were willing to take action. But all that energy needed to be harnessed and directed. That was where the Party came in. Also, Terry had to admit, despite the risk of being noticed by the police, he enjoyed a good demo. They gave him a feeling of hope and comradeship. He thought of the old lady who had invited him in for a cup of tea the previous night.

            "Oh yes, I'll be there," She had assured him when he had brought up the subject of the demonstration, "If enough people take to the streets then even the politicians will have to take notice." She had been eager to explain how she had been a lifelong member of the Labour Party, up until the invasion of Iraq. She talked at length about her days as a union organiser. Terry had enjoyed the chat but thought her age made her use to the Party doubtful. He half suspected she was lonely and just wanted someone to talk to. He promised to call again.

            The alarm started to buzz again. 6.10 AM. Terry switched it off and pulled himself out of bed.

 

            The Stop The War march was due to start at midday. Terry's group of the Revolutionary Worker's Party had arranged to meet at the University of London Student's Union at nine o'clock. The party was well organized but there were always a few last minute details to be ironed out.

            "Terry! Over here mate!" Colin Yeovil was on the branch committee. Terry didn't like him. He was a good speaker and his knowledge was impressive, but he was also overbearing and arrogant. He was a postgraduate student at the LSE and had risen rapidly after joining the Party three years ago. Terry realised that part of his dislike was born of envy; envy of Colin's youth, his good looks, and his popularity.

            "All right Colin — how's things?"

            "Fine, fine, I just want you to take charge of these," Colin indicated a large pile of placards.

            "Oh, right."

            "Yeah, there's bound to be people turning up with nothing to hold, so we'll get as many of these dished out as we can."

            "Okay." Colin was already moving away as Terry eyed the placards. They were large squares of light card tacked to short sticks, with STOP THE WAR NOW! in large black letters. The Party logo was boldly positioned in the top left hand corner. There were obviously too many for one man to carry so Terry dashed around, getting everyone to take four or five each while Colin addressed the group.

            "There'll be all sorts on this march — from Muslim Fundamentalists to us, and everyone in between. In particular a lot of disillusioned Labour Party members." Someone gave an ironic cheer. "Yes! Exactly! These people are angry — they feel let down, betrayed, powerless. What we need to do is show them that there is an alternative. If you don't like the way the world is — then change it!" People were nodding in agreement, "But if you want things to change, you must take action. Protesting is only the first step — joining the Party is a positive action! At this point in history there is only one policy worth pursuing — build the revolutionary party!" As Colin spoke, Terry made his way around with the placards. He had heard the speech before. "It should be a good day for recruiting potential members — there shouldn't be any trouble." There was a clattering noise as Terry dropped an armful of placards. Colin looked towards the interruption. "Yeah, no trouble — that should suit you Terry!" There was good natured laughter. Terry frowned. He had a reputation for always trying to avoid trouble. Of course, no one knew why.

            It was more than twenty years ago, long before he joined the party, that Terry went on his first demo. Thirteen black teenagers had been burned to death in a house fire in New Cross. They had been celebrating a birthday when the fire started, and immediately the local community suspected arson. But the police refused to investigate. No evidence they said. The community took to the streets to protest. Then the National Front started sniffing around, so a big demonstration was organized to send them the message that they weren't welcome. Terry, who was into the Two-Tone scene at the time, went along.

            There had been nothing peaceful about that demo. The NF had turned up. First insults were hurled, then bricks and bottles. The police were laying into people on both sides. Terry found himself being pushed and pulled, this way and that, as the crowd surged backwards and forwards. Eventually Terry, and three or four others who decided they'd had enough, cut through a side street and headed back towards Bermondsey. It was starting to get dark as they passed the old Millwall ground. Terry noticed another small group of men coming down the street towards them. There were about a dozen of them, but because of the poor light, the two groups were quite close before Terry realised who they were. They were skinheads, one of them still carrying a Union Jack.

            Later, Terry couldn't decide how long it took for someone to make a move. It had seemed like a long time. The two groups just stood there eyeing each other up. Eventually one of the skins spoke.

            "Fucking nigger loving pricks!" He shoved Terry hard in the chest.

            "Fucking Nazis, the lot of you!" Terry managed to get the words out in spite of his fear.

            "Fuck off back where you come from!" One of them spat the words into Terry's face. Then a fist hit him on the side of the head. He reeled across the street and felt more blows landing on his back.

            "Run for it!" Someone shouted. Terry ran. He could hear the sound of boots on the pavement close behind him. He turned left into a different street. He glanced over his shoulder and saw that there was only one skin behind him now. Then his foot caught on an uneven paving stone and he went sprawling across the path. He rolled over then looked up in time to see a large boot swinging towards his head. He jerked backwards and the boot missed. He scrambled on all fours, trying to get away. The boot thudded into his stomach. Instinctively he grabbed hold of the skin's leg and held on. The skin tried to stamp on him with the other foot, lost his balance and collapsed on top of him. As they struggled on the ground Terry found himself looking up into the man's face. He felt hands closing around his throat.

            Looking back, it all seemed to happen so fast. The fingers were digging painfully into his throat. He was gasping for air and looking up into the skin's hate filled eyes. Desperately he tried to free himself. As he struggled he felt his hand fall on to something hard and angular. He grasped it and swung it at his attacker's head. He felt the jar of impact. The skin swore and rolled sideways. Terry pushed him away and raised himself up on his knees. He looked at the jagged lump of paving stone in his hand smeared with the skin's blood.

            He could never adequately explain why he did what he did next. As the skin lay there on his face groaning, Terry took the stone in both hands and brought it down as hard as he could, on the back of the prone man's head. There was a thud. The man fell silent. Terry knew straight away what he had done. He stood up and looked at the stone in his hand. He had gripped it so tightly it had cut into his flesh and it was covered with his own blood as well as the skin's. He let it fall from his hand and looked around him. The streets were empty. He started to run.

            For the next few weeks Terry waited for a knock on the door. He scoured the papers for information and learned the name of the man he had killed. He had sleepless nights and considered giving himself up. The weeks turned into months and still nothing happened. Over the next two years Terry moved several times. He stopped seeing his friends and turned into a loner. Although the fear never left him, he slowly realised that he had got away with murder. He eventually got a job with Hackney Council and started to think about having a future. He attended evening classes, studying history and politics. One of the tutors had been a member of the Revolutionary Workers Party and Terry had started to read Marx. It had been a revelation. Suddenly his life had started to make sense. Less than a year later he had joined the Party. Soon he started to attend marches and demonstrations, although he was always careful to stay well away from the police or trouble of any sort. After a while he could even enjoy them. But the thought of the dead skin was always there somewhere in the back of his mind, and now he had something else to worry about.

            There was always the chance, at any demo, that you could come to the attention of the police. Things could get rowdy, scuffles could break out. Before you knew it the police would be in there arresting people. But it wasn't just the thought of violence that bothered Terry now. The latest anti-terrorism legislation gave the police the power to lift any one off the street if they wanted to, and if you were arrested, then they would take a sample of your DNA. It was automatic and compulsory, even if you were never actually charged. It could then be compared with any DNA evidence from unsolved crimes. The police had found it a very useful tool. Most murderers and rapists usually committed other less serious crimes, so, sooner or later, their DNA would be sampled. The police were solving cases going back thirty or forty years. Terry could not know for sure whether or not the stone he had used that day had been found by the police, or whether it had enough of his DNA on it to convict him. But he could not look at a policeman without the thought entering his mind.

 

            The demonstration was massive. Terry had never seen so many people on the streets. Some said there were a quarter of a million people marching, or maybe even half a million. There were groups from all over the country, from all walks of life, all united in their opposition to the war. Terry marched with his group, joining in the chanting and shouting as loud as he could. His heart surged with the sheer joy of it. If only this energy could be properly directed, he thought. A quote ran through his head — "As long as I breathe I shall fight for the future, that radiant future, in which man, strong and beautiful, will become master of the drifting stream of his own history." It would be a long fight. Terry didn't expect to live to see the end of it. If only the people around him could see the truth. They thought that getting the government to change its policy in the Middle East would solve everything. They didn't realise that the war was just an inevitable consequence of the capitalist system. They thought it was the action of a few evil men, as though human nature was an unchanging essence rather than a product of history. One day they would realise that they would have to give up more than a few hours of their time in order to change the world. But until then, though they liked to bite the hand that fed them, they would never bite it off. In a way Terry felt sorry for them.

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