I think most of you would like to know that the event
today organised by the Central London Humanists in partnership with a number of other organisations as part of the Protest the Pope campaign has been an amazing success with estimates of attendance ranging between 6 and 10 times the numbers that had been expected. Estimates ranged between 12 and 20 thousand. But numbers are not really all that important - so long as they weren't embarrassingly small and they weren't!
Everyone who came attended, as you would expect, as an individual. They came with their own orders of priority of concerns. Some were religious. I strolled along chatting very amiably with a similarly bearded guy, even older than me, who told me that he was CofE and would be telling his church congregation all about the event. He wasn't anti-catholic but shared our concerns about equality and human rights and of course about child abuse. I spoke with a young Muslim who supported secularism and was totally opposed to stoning as a punishment. But in the main people were free thinkers, atheists, agnostics, Humanists, secularists, human rights defenders. All were angry but in a positive and friendly way. They were angry about child abuse. They were angry about homophobia and sexism and many other of the unpleasant, unkind and disgusting attitudes, not least on secularism and the beliefs and views of people like us, opined by this Pope in his rigid interpretation of Catholic dogma. And, of course we were protesting the fact that his odious views were, in effect, being honoured by this state visit.
Later after we had been moved on, by the police, from our original destination because of larger than expected numbers a series of eloquent speakers addressed, or, at times it seemed to me, conversed with the crowd.
Do not be surprised that we do not get the coverage in the media that we would like or that we reckon we deserve. Remember this is a well rehearsed nexus of state power, establishments, political and economic forces which have plotted and conceived this State visit. They sat in pomp and glory in Westminster Hall, Blair and Brown, Patton and all. I can just imagine the discussions with private secretaries that the likes of atheist Clegg had. He would have been informed of the pros and cons on diplomatic grounds of being seen not to be showing the right amount of deference etc. Speaker Bercow no doubt advised as to just how far to go in reminding the Pope of Parliament's historical independence to satisfy the Anglican as well as the political establishment
The pomp was bound to be, and actually is, very photogenic and media friendly. Seeing a medieval-style sovereign ruling by divine right and being adored by so many who genuinely believe that a touch from his hand or a gaze from his eyes is the next best thing to being in the presence of Jesus himself, makes for riveting television for many.
However one might expect some of the speeches at our protest to have been covered for there were some truly spine tingling moments: for example when we were addressed by a Catholic priest who had come out as being gay and had set up, he said, the first aids clinic in New York. He expressed his astonishment at the irony that the only place that he could feel welcome and able to express his religious belief freely was thanks to the secular nature of this society and at a meeting such as the one we were providing. Then there was a call for the police to arrest an international criminal and the police were told it won't be difficult to find 'him' because we know exactly where he will be very shortly.
Richard Dawkins spoke brilliantly, as always. Calm, forensic in his analysis and pitiless in his acute and reasoned condemnation. I won't list all the others who spoke here.
Back to our group which has been continuing to grow apace, I must make special mention of Marco Tranchino, who has very much been the driving force behind the protest events and without whom much of it may never have taken place. Today he was the MC for the event, a difficult and streneous job, which he carried out superbly. He introduced each speaker flawlessly with wit and style.
I would like also to note the tremendous media work of Andrew Copson, Terry Sanderson and Peter Tatchell,.
Of course many other people have worked hard to make the whole Protest the Pope campaign possible and many CLHG people have played their part.
You can be proud of them all.
With best wishes and appreciation for your support, this has been a personal note from your secretary,
(n.b. please excuse any errors or omissions)