The banner is assembled. The placards are prepared. We’ve only been in our new city for two months but Jenny and I are already going on a political protest – our first in eleven years. As it happens that was also in Edinburgh, when 200,000 people demanded that our leaders ‘Make Poverty History’. Today, setting off from church, there are four of us.
As we carry our banner down the Royal Mile, I think of the actor, Martin Sheen, who is compelled, as a Christian, to protest against social injustice and speaks of his joy the first time he was arrested on the picket line: ‘Your faith has to cost you something.’ I am not expecting to be arrested today. After all, we aren’t out to ban the bomb, save the whale or even stay in the EU. Our target is Sunday parking charges.
Outside the City Chambers, we find a dozen Columbans (as our church members call themselves), a TV crew ready to broadcast our cause to the nation, and a handful of other protestors, campaigning against a proposed cycle-lane. I am slightly alarmed that, on TV, we may appear to have joined the Jeremy Clarkson brigade. Not a very Columban thing to do.
Undeterred, we divide our forces. Some stay outside to heckle as the councillors arrive and ‘handle the media’. I join others in the chamber – after all, my best demo-chant lacks conviction: ‘What do we want? No parking charges before 12.30. When do want them? After 12.30.’
The committee room is soon standing-room only. Three people are seeking flood defences for their estate; one lady is promoting safe play zones for children in residential streets; the rest are from the city-centre churches.
Richard Frazer, the minister from Greyfriars, presents our case eloquently and graciously: projects that support a host of vulnerable people draw their funding and volunteers from our congregations. Parking charges will undermine the viability of some congregations and so harm those we seek to help. A Green councillor, who begins ‘I’m an atheist’, asks why worshippers can’t walk, cycle or use the bus. A fair question but I groan inwardly. Do we seem like a bunch of Clarkson-loving Christians who are in fact out to protect our own interests? From across the chamber, I nod at each of his points, in the vain hope that he will notice. Richard’s response is more effective: many have to travel by car because age, and a patchy Sunday bus service, are against them.
Our deputation is sympathetically received and a compromise solution, for afternoon charges only, is voted through – although not by the Greens. Reasonably content, we exit the chamber (the flood defenders having already departed), leaving the play-zone lady to await the outcome of her proposal.
As we make our way home, and she sits alone, a thought nags at me. If we really were lobbying for the good of the city and not for our own interests, shouldn’t we have stayed?