Sunday, Jun. 03, 2012

'Don't Jubilee've It': Republicans Protest the Queen's 60 Years at Her Jubilee River Pageant

It was overcast and rainy in London as the city commemorated Queen Elizabeth II's 60th anniversary as reigning monarch. But it wasn't just the weather putting a damper on the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. As hundreds of thousands of fans and royalty revelers flocked to the banks of the Thames River, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Queen drifting past aboard her royal barge amidst its 1,000-boat flotilla, there was at least one group of people not celebrating.

Several hundred anti-monarchists and members of the campaign group Republic gathered outside City Hall on the south bank for a rally protesting the role of the monarchy in modern-day Britain. A mix of old and young, male and female, the crowd carried placards with slogans reading, "Don't Jubilee've It" and "Citizen Not Subject" and "Keep calm and scrap the monarchy." On a nearby street, dozens of protesters stood outside a security barricade, blocked by private guards and Metropolitan police officers who kept the demonstrators from joining the group at City Hall. The satellite group seemed content to protest where they were. Chants of "Monarchy out! Republic in!," rang out against the revelry of nearby celebrations.

One particularly angry protester sang, "If you really hate the Queen, clap your hands," but many others gathered here didn't seem to have a personal dislike for the royal. Rather, they took issue with the idea of having a Queen in the first place. "All of our leaders should be elected," said protester Ray Silk, who came dressed for the rain in a windbreaker and hat. "People should not be appointed."

For anti-monarchist Dave Esbester, it was the idea of celebrating Elizabeth's 60-year reign that struck him as particularly egregious. "It's about time we had an element of democracy in the situation," he scoffed.

Graham Smith, the chief executive of Republic, said that the organization had scheduled their protest to coincide with the Queen's river pageant to maximize the exposure of republicans. "It's really about speaking up for the millions of people in the country that are opposed to the monarchy, and putting the movement on the map," he told TIME in a phone conversation, a week prior to the protest. "[It's also] to say to everybody else, Look, think critically about this. Is 60 years with one head of state, without an election, something to celebrate in a democratic society?"

The republican movement in the U.K. is not new, but in recent years the group has had more occasions to protest than usual. Last year's royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton inspired international media coverage, a huge boost in tourism and a rush in royal attention. It also inspired a new group of republicans. Once the wedding was announced, Republic said its membership swelled from about 9,000 members to more than 21,000.

The monarchy, whose popularity has waxed and waned over the years, needs the public's support to survive. Events like the royal wedding and the Jubilee may inspire a boost in republicanism, but they inspire the opposite as well. In a recent Guardian/ICM poll, 69% of Brits thought the country would be worse off without the monarchy. According to the Guardian, that level of pro-monarchy sentiment is the highest the country's seen since ICM began tracking such figures in 1997.

And on Sunday, at least, the vast majority of Brits seemed to side with the monarchy. While the rally was largely peaceful, the Republic protesters were periodically booed and jeered throughout the day by those who had showed up in droves to celebrate. The hostility didn't dissuade Silk about the anti-monarchist cause, however.

"There's nothing wrong with enjoying a festive occasion," he said, looking at the crowds beyond the protest, where many people were draped in red, white and blue and waved Union Jack flags. Shaking his head, he added, "But that occasion has to be worthwhile."