AT the back of the crowd, near the Prince Edward Theatre, a woman with the most bare-faced audacity I’ve seen in a long, long while interrupted the striking silence in Old Compton Street with a wail of ‘excuse me, I need to get through’. In disbelief, most people ignored her. Then she piped up again, ‘no, really, I need to get in, the show is starting soon’. This time the crowd shut her up with a call for respect. It boggled all common sense that a woman was worried about getting into Aladdin, half an hour before it started, that she should cut through the hush of solidarity in this famous old street.
Sadly, there are always going to be people who want to get to the front first. You get the impression someone like that will never really understand, even when it’s happening right in front of their face. Here she was causing upset outside a theatre whose draped rainbow flag should’ve been a clue that even this newly Disneyfied corner of Soho was ready to pause for the victims of the Orlando shootings too, and nobody would miss any Arabian jazz hands inside while something so important was happening outside.
And yet the happy truth behind this awkward selfishness is that the woman itching to find her seat in the stalls before the Malteasers sold out was brilliantly outnumbered. Thousands stood there, so many that those at the front of the Admiral Duncan couldn’t see the back. The striking overhead pictures were beamed straight across the Atlantic. There we stood in silence for a couple of minutes, contemplating both the horror and needless waste of life in the Pulse nightclub over the weekend, and sharing that confusing mix of dismay and defiance; a collective dolour that people are still targeted simply for the way they love, combined with the reviving hope of a declaration in numbers that solidarity stands.
The bell rang, the balloons flew, applause rang out, and the flags waved. It wasn’t a moment for endless speeches from politicians, instead the clapping just continued to echo.
Some people, of course, don’t see the point of it all, and not just the woman at the back blindsided by her unwavering mission to see a musical. Doubters argue that standing in a street together won’t bring back the dead, or prevent further hatred. Others thought local authorities, like Islington, simply looked helpless by raising rainbow flags above their Town Hall buildings yesterday. There is an idea that nice words, touching moments and raised flags water down the need for a no prisoners response to terror, hate and homophobia. Who can blame anybody feeling desperate about the whole thing?
But nobody is saying that it is an either/or choice in terms of what to do next, or that anyone believes it will all go away if enough of us cover our profile pictures with rainbow flags. No, it’s more a belief that we’ll never know where even to begin against the devils of prejudice, bigotry, racism and the rest if we don’t do it together. As councillors on both side of Camden’s political divide clearly appreciated from their tweets yesterday, see below, solidarity is a meaningful word when events which could divide us, end up bringing us together.