Partygoers wait to sign a card at the ‘Not the royal wedding’ street party in Red Lion Square, in London, April 29, 2011. The party was organised by Republic, an organisation calling for the monarchy to be replaced with an elected head of state. Prince William married Kate Middleton in Westminster Abbey on Friday. Reuters.
We’re celebrating democracy and people power rather than inherited privilege.
– James Gray, Republic campaign group
By George Webster and Leo Dawson
London (CNN) — A lot has changed since the 17th century, when Oliver Cromwell overthrew the monarchy — violently turning England into a short-lived republic. Today, British republicans fight with … street parties.
While billions around the world looked on enraptured as Prince William and Catherine Middleton finally tied the knot, a band of anti-royals gathered in central London’s Red Lion Square to call for the abolition of the monarchy altogether.
But rather than pitchforks or guillotines, these republicans made their stand with bunting, jazz bands and an assortment of delicious cakes.
“We’ve taken a traditional royalist street party as our inspiration, but with a republican twist,” said James Gray, spokesperson for Republic, the campaign group responsible for organizing the event. “What we’re doing is celebrating democracy and people power rather than inherited privilege.”
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Doily-dotted stalls offered a range of republican-themed merchandise, from “I’m Not a Royal Wedding Mug” coffee mugs, to the chance to buy a “Non-Royal Honour” — a twist on the regal system that dishes out knighthoods — all at significantly discounted rates.
T-shirts with slogans were, for many, the fashion accessory of choice on the day. “I paid for the wedding and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” — a reference to the British taxpayer’s contribution to the costly wedding — proved popular, followed by “Never fear, republicans are here” and, more crudely, “Stuff the royal wedding.”
Others came in fancy dress. Jennifer Verson, an artist from Liverpool, came with her three-year old daughter and a group of friends all dressed as zombies. “Britain is the land of the living dead for as long as it continues to uphold this totally undemocratic institution,” she said, while her daughter, Ella, held a sign that read: “Princesses are pigs.”
The organizers estimate the event was attended by more than 1,000 people. “Since Kate and Will announced their engagement in November, our membership has more than doubled to about 15,000,” said campaign manager Graham Smith.
Indeed, 33 year-old Julie Michaels, from Southampton, admitted that she had never thought much about the monarchy until recently, and accused the media for inflating the wedding out of all proportion.
“The 24-hours-a-day news coverage of what is nothing more than two kids getting married has driven me to the point madness,” she exclaimed. “That’s why I’m here today…to vent my frustration!”
“There are people dying in Syria, Libya and Bahrain in order to get rid of their unelected heads, and we’re here celebrating ours, it’s ridiculous,” said Scottish-born Donnachadh McArthy.
Adrian Trippets, 39, from London, was more concerned about the prospect of a future “dud” monarch.
“Our current queen isn’t so bad. But what happens down the line if we get another one that’s mad like King George III, or a Nazi sympathizer like Edward VIII?” He wondered. “We should have an elected head of state that we can get rid of if they’re not doing the job properly.”
A little after lunch-time, Smith drew applause from the crowd after he thanked Wills and Kate for the chance to raise awareness of republicanism: “And we’ve got another big opportunity next year when we celebrate 60 years of having a head of state without an election,” he said.
But, as the party drew to a close, there was the first sign of discord within the republican ranks. A man handing out a round of traditional English cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off caught the opprobrium of another passer-by: “Uh, that’s just how the queen likes them” she quipped.