Whether it’s because of the loneliness of self-isolation or because they believe that Covid-19 is a giant cover-up for something much more sinister, meet some of the people behind the Manchester anti-lockdown protests
“Take down 5G; save lives!” This chant boomed through speakers across Piccadilly Gardens on Saturday afternoon – it was hard not to notice if you were anywhere in the area.
These protests have almost become a staple since the start of lockdown in March; hundreds of people can be seen most weeks, gathering in large crowds, shaking hands, and not wearing masks in defiance of government restrictions surrounding the global coronavirus pandemic.
It is fair to say that these protests attract a wide range of people, all with a different reason for being there. While some protesters were wearing Anonymous masks and carrying provocative banners, others were cautiously observing from the side-lines.
You could see young parents with prams, different age groups and ethnicities, all having their own reasons for being there but ultimately brought together for an afternoon.
One of the people who was very keen to speak to me was Jerry – an 81 year-old gentleman, whom I met at the protest. He knew the risks associated with his age and the government advice but, diligently pulling up his mask over his nose, he told me that he was here mostly because of the overwhelming loneliness that he had experienced during these past few months.
He told me about remembering the bombings of WW2 and that he tries to keep up a humorous outlook on life these days: “I wake up, I check the obituary in the newspaper and if my name isn’t in it, then I get up and get on with my day.”
Another group of people are represented by Linda and Tom, who are good friends. They believe that the coronavirus outbreak is a large scale cover up for an insidious child trafficking ring – one of the more outrageous conspiracy theories surrounding Covid-19.
While I was talking to them, some young people ran up to Linda and ripped her poster out of her hands. She didn’t seem phased: “I am a peaceful protester […] there is no point in me reacting to their aggression.”
Michael – another attendee I spoke to – also believed that the coronavirus pandemic was a cover-up, but instead for economic reasons and as a way for the government to take gradually away our freedoms.
He showed me a couple of printed out and carefully laminated documents from the Internet and laughed when I told him that I was a journalist.
“The media is the virus” his plaque read and yet he didn’t mind talking to me – a representative of the very media he was protesting against.
I think the bottom line here is that it’s never been more important to be able to have these conversations with each other and at least try to understand each other’s point of view.
Everyone I spoke to was friendly, despite the fact that I wore my mask and sanitised my hands after each encounter.
I am by no means endorsing any of these views but I do think we should stop demonising each other in a world that is already so torn apart. A good start is to have a conversation with someone you disagree with – maybe that’s the ultimate protest.