On 26 March 2011, 500,000 people marched through London in protest against government spending cuts. The March For The Alternative was one of the largest demonstrations ever seen in the UK.

To mark the day, the SAVE OUR PLACARDS team asked people to leave their protest material at a tree in Hyde Park.

Hundreds left us their placards, banners, and costumes. And we've worked hard to find new audiences for the material since.

Below, people share the politics behind their slogans, their experiences of the demonstration, and thoughts on what has happened since in Con-Dem austerity Britain.

Monday 21 July 2014


Coral's "I WISH MY BOYFRIEND WAS AS DIRTY AS YOUR POLICIES" placard appeared in the 2014 V&A Disobedient Objects exhibition.

Here's why she made it...

"The placard was in response to the Coalition’s cuts to funding for education such as the E.M.A. and the tripling of tuition fees to around £9000.

"These are the ‘dirty policies’ I was specifically referring to, although Andrew Lansley was attempting to undermine the NHS, and strange ‘silent policies’ were criminalising homelessness around the same time if I remember correctly.

"My sweeping statement was directed at their sweeping policies.

"The ‘I wish my boyfriend was as dirty’ part of the slogan was formed primarily as a way to make light of a bad situation. The future of an entire generation was being fundamentally hindered and therefore there was not much to smile about other than a silly joke on a placard.

"Also, some met police had been quite aggressive during previous demonstrations and I thought it would be difficult to hit me with a baton if they were laughing.

"With ‘Object’ raising awareness of the normalisation of sexually objectifying women, I thought I would fight fire with fire and sexualise the government’s policies in order to expose how absurd they were."

Monday 26 March 2012

Placard Parade

"We should do this every Saturday," said Mike Smith.

Thanks to Mike and everyone else who joined 'Placard Parade' on Saturday. Thought we'd share some photos. Images courtesy of James Burton and Katja Medic.

100 of the best anti-austerity placards given to us were walked round central London on Saturday 24 March, a year on from the March For The Alternative. In small groups, spread out across the day, we paraded the protest ephemera down the South Bank and then along the Embankment where the march started last year. 

Many of the placards were carried by their creators, reunited with their masterpieces a year after leaving them at the SAVE OUR PLACARDS tree in Hyde Park.

It was a really inspiring day. Perhaps, Fiona summed it up best: "It was great watching people's reactions... The whole experience reminded me, and hopefully others, that a protest shouldn't just end when the march stops. These issues are big, ongoing and need to be constantly brought up and talked about, even a year down the line."

And here's a film of the day made by Cornish artist Paul Farmer. Thanks Paul.

Five Hundred Thousand Stories from Paul Farmer on Vimeo.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Wise words

Behind (or underneath) the William Morris placard was Eliza, a university lecturer from London. After we'd tracked her down she explained her placard was a retort to a Polly Toynbee article entitled 'Sorry, students, but you're low in the pain pecking order' (5 November 2010). 

"I figured there could be no better response to Toynbee’s calculating portrait of higher education as a superfluous indulgence for the privileged than the wise words of William Morris – the full quote of which runs, “I do not want art for a few any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few” – because it implicitly posits art and education as conditions of freedom, and therefore no more expendable than bread and beans. 

"Her argument was seductively ironic, proffering the exclusivity of higher education as justification for accepting its further enclosure without complaint. 

"The insinuation that the British public sector should be julienned into a hierarchy of the unevenly deserved threatened to pit students and artists against nurses and fire fighters for a slim share of the City’s crumbs and continues to hold wide purchase. 

"The greatest danger for the Coalition government was that students, artists, fire fighters and nurses might stand together against the rapacious bankers and their servants in Whitehall, and on March 26, that’s exactly what happened. 

"It wasn’t enough by a longshot, but it was a remarkable demonstration of the joy, solidarity, creativity and humour that we might harness for more militant action in the coming months.

"I made the placard the night before the march, using foam board and permanent marker. I brought tape with me and picked up a discarded stick along the route."

Tuesday 2 August 2011

March For The Squeezed Bottom!

When we started the hunt for placard makers, we hoped one or two might have taken photos of the placards on the demonstration. The odd snap, say.

So far though, documenting has proven the norm - not just at the march but in making the placards too. From Rita's video to Iain's photocopied hands.

The placards are all beginning to take on their own histories.

Continuing the trend is March For The Squeezed Bottom, the placard made by Katherine, Susie and Misty from London.

Like the other placards it was an impromptu number. As Misty explains, "We didn't buy anything special, but improvised using a piece of cardboard from an old box, which we covered in flipchart paper and attached to a broom handle."

"Everyone helped to make the placard.

"Susie came up with the slogan - inspired by the idea that the poor would be the ones who would lose out most by the cuts. There's been a lot of talk about the 'squeezed middle' but we were concerned about the impact of what was happening in areas such as Tower Hamlets where Susie works with community groups.

"Lots of poor parents and families stand to lose the lifelines that make life tolerable, like children centres.

"Katherine drew the lettering on the placard. Then Susie and Misty coloured in the letters and helped to decorate it with sticky dots and stars. Making the placard was quick and fun - very much a team effort. Done on the spur of the moment.

"We wanted to celebrate the fun that can be had through demonstrating, as well as to reflect the British sense of humour, to create something memorable and appealing, and to make people smile.

"It was a very exciting day.

"There was so much positive energy in the city - a real sense of community coming from the crowd and spectators. And we all felt that we were marching for something bigger than ourselves.

"This wasn't about individual profit or gain. It was about our society providing services for people who need them."

Sunday 24 July 2011

No to all this jazz

This is what Iain had to say about creating and carrying the fantastic Mr Jazz Hands...
"I made the placard the night before the protest. It took about half an hour. I photocopied my friend’s hands – blown up for comedy effect – and mounted everything on foam board to make it 3D. The wobbling jazz hands were attached using a spring coil from an A4 office notepad using superglue and masking tape.

"I found the stick lying in the road when I was walking home that night. It just happened to be the perfect length, width and colour.
"I wanted to show my support for everyone working in the public sector. The cuts affect everyone, and there are other ways in which money can be saved such as a Robin Hood tax and clamping down on tax avoidance. While the message on the placard is generic, I think that’s a good thing; it means it can be used over and over again for anything as long as Cameron’s in power.
"It irritates me that we’re basically told we can go on demonstrations as long as we don’t cause any trouble. It’s as if the powers that be are saying: “We’ll let you have your nice little march around for the day and then we’ll cut all your services anyway.” So, while I don’t want to get involved in any violence myself, I do think the whole polite protest thing is a bit ridiculous, so I was trying to make a point about that, too.

"The day itself was fantastic. Everyone we marched with was in good humour, and there was a real sense of purpose. The only time it felt slightly sinister was when we passed the area around Fortnum & Mason and saw the smashed windows.
"One highlight was exchanging banner-waving with Josie Long: “David, all artists hate you. Except Tracey Emin and you’re welcome to her.” We definitely brought a smile to a few faces, including most of the police. I’m not sure if that includes the riot police; I couldn’t see past their protective shields and head gear.
"I’m not really sure if protests like this make a great deal of difference. They didn’t stop the Iraq war. They didn’t stop the tuition fees increase. And there hasn’t been anything to suggest that there will be fewer cuts. But that won’t stop me taking part. Freedom of speech is vital, and it’s good to meet up with so many other like-minded people who believe in something strongly enough to get out and shout about it.

"In terms of really making a difference, Twitter and organisations such as Avaaz.org and 38degrees.org.uk have really come into their own. Just look at the u-turns on the forest sales, the NHS reforms, the BSkyB bid. It’s easier than ever for people to protest via these kinds of channels, which is a brilliant, brilliant thing. 
"But placards are definitely a prettier, wittier way to protest."

Saturday 16 July 2011

The ten-minute banner

"It's just easy when you know someone well.

"Doing the kind of work we do, you develop a sixth sense for when each other needs help. Say, when one of the kids is playing up on the bus.

"So even though Natalie's much taller than me, carrying the banner between us was never a problem... We just work really well together. We're a strong team."

Or at least they were.

The day before the march, youth workers Natalie and Laurice took two poles, a bed sheet and "about ten minutes" to create one of the demo's most direct banners.

Done in a rush, they weren't in a mood to hold back.

As Laurice puts it, "We were just so worried for the kids. For those who might fall through the gaps of the restructuring that was going on at the council."

Three months on and their fears were realised. Cuts have hit them personally very hard.

On fixed contracts, they knew they were vulnerable once the council launched its review of youth services in 2010. But it still came as a shock.

Both have lost their jobs.

But rather than talking about their own situations it was the families they worked with that Laurice spoke of first when we met to chat about events since March 26.

Even if contact is reestablished with all the kids and families they worked with, Laurice fears it will take a long time to rebuild trust to the same levels as before.

Natalie added, “It was heartbreaking walking away from young people knowing that vital support had been withdrawn.”

And then there's the impact on them.

"It's been very stressful. We all have our rent to pay," says Laurice who feels lucky to have found a job at another council without too much time out of work. Although she has had to take a hefty pay cut. For Natalie the search for another post goes on.

Looking back, Laurice finds irony in the banner, "It's odd. Making it was a really strong bonding exercise! A great way to build a team. But there we were, a few weeks later competing with each other for the same youth worker jobs. Makes you mad."

Laurice and Natalie on their 
team bonding exercise

Wednesday 13 July 2011

A Pair O' Penis

And we're off!

First to be tracked down is London-based artist Rita Ruggeri who donated her placard at our tree in Hyde Park at the end of the March For The Alternative.

Rita is a sculptor, painter and photographer who describes her work as "minimal but filled with content."

In an email to Save Our Placards she explains the thinking behind her creation...
"This protest placard is made from disgarded plywood that was thrown out with the rubbish. It is a simple design - the shape cut out using an electric hand saw and the whole thing held together with a single bolt through the middle. The whole thing took roughly an hour to make; a simple design with a complex message.
"It is a pair of warhead missiles and it is a pair of dicks. A Pair'o'Penis. This is to represent weaponry and warfare as primarily a male led circumstance, an extension of the male ego and power. 
"The balls, the testicles, are sperm banks and I wrote the text "$10000000000" up the shaft to make it blatant - the corruption of banks, the billions of pounds and dollars spent on warfare or held in banks by the elite few whilst people the world over struggle to meet their most basic needs (in the UK, budget cuts in sectors such as the NHS, education, child welfare, etc.) 
"The placard is also shaped as a pair of scissors, to represent these cuts and also to represent castration - the castration of greed. 
"Finally, it is a sad bunny rabbit to represent the government cuts in child benefit.
"The creation of this placard just fell into place rather naturally; I believe in social change and the power of the people's voice to create social change. When I heard about the 26 March protests, the idea grew from a sketch I drew and the placard just happened!"
And if that's not enough, Rita even filmed the making of her placard. We reckon the Cranberries-Killers-Nirvana soundtrack is a nice touch.