Science: 1 Ignorance: 0
I went to Oxford to see my girlfriend today. Took the train. Got into Oxford station about an hour early and waited around for her. Her and a friend met me, and we went to Coffee Republic for a caffeine hit.
Then the fun started.
We're sitting in the coffee den, drinking our beverages, when I look out of the window and realise that there's a hell of a lot of police around. "That's strange" I think to myself as I sip my espresso "Oxford hardly seems the place to require such a heavy police presence" and then I saw the reason. Placards held high, about fifty people were advancing towards us. As they got closer, I saw what their messages were and heard their chants. SPEAK. The animal rights organisation. Apparently protesting the new animal testing lab in Oxford (links to news article about one of their previous protests on the matter). With a majestic sweep, I donned my coat and flew out of the door followed by my companions, with the intent to score a victory for science. By this time, the protesters had marched past us, followed by police officers on foot and horse, and now us. Dismayed by their disregard for logic, I exclaimed boldly "Build the Oxford animal lab!" causing a few of the protesters to splinter off and start to verbally abusing me (heaven forbid they might actually attempt a logical argument for once). I remained calm despite the cries of "torturer" at me and carried on speaking my protest until they had moved on sufficiently. Mind racing, I turned back and started walking, finding myself in front of a Unicef booth, and engaged in a civilised discussion about the merits of scientific progress with the booth operators (who, I might add, were delightful people), and then signed their petition.
We wandered around Oxford town center for a while, and chanced upon the protesters again, this time with them disturbing the peace by using bullhorns to dismiss the experiments as "torture". That was it- enough was enough. The three of us went to a stationery store, bought an A2 piece of card and marker pen, and made a placard of our own.
Sign in hand, we walked calmly to the high street, stood opposite the crowd of protesters and I proudly raised it above my head. In an instant, activists were storming towards me, irate that I would have the audacity to exercise my right to free speech, and began to berate me. One man, who had a pungent odour to him, thrusts his face in front of mine and demands to know if I would "torture" his dog (which he had on a leash to his right). I calmly begin to reply, but he cuts me off and demands to know again. I begin to inform him that that's exactly what I'm trying to explain to him, but I am cut off again by his screams of indignance. At this point, a police officer steps in (noticing I'm about to be assaulted by this enraged gentleman) and asks him to step back, and relates to me that I should probably wait until they have the reinforcements to better deal with the protests. I, of course, oblige and decide to come back in a half hour.
We wandered around for a while, looking in a few shops, and after about half an hour has passed, we return to the demonstration site, and consult the police Sergeant as to how we can proceed. He advises conducting our protest a bit down the street from SPEAK's one, and we agree this to be the best course of action. My two companions and I take up place opposite a christian band and resume our silent protest, simply standing and holding our cheap little sign. On the whole, the response was extremely positive, with Oxford university students cheering our efforts at sanity and many people taking photos of us. After about three-quarters of an hour, we're approached by a woman pushing a bike who introduces herself as a reporter from BBC Radio Oxford who is covering the protest, and would like to know what we're doing. I inform her of our cause (which she records on her digital audio recorder) and she seems intrigued. So intrigued, in fact, that I'm going to be contacted soon regarding an being in a debate for BBC Radio Oxford over animal testing. Shortly after she leaves, a man and his wife approach us. They're both about sixty and look like perfectly normal people, until the man opens his mouth and starts screaming that we're "excrement" and "an embarrassment to the human race". Our response runs along the lines of "Well, of course you're entitled to your opinion" and "I beg to differ, but respect your views". For some reason, he rejected my offer of a friendly hand-shake. Shortly after this, the main protest group moves on and we decide to take a break.
Sometime later, we run into the demonstration again, and decide to make another protest in favour of science nearby. It's not long before five or six activists approach us, and purporting out views to be erroneous (although in a somewhat less eloquent manner). They stand simply shouting at us for a few seconds, when suddenly a woman of at least forty years grabs my sign and attempts to wrest it from my grasp. I ask her politely but firmly not to, but she remains adamant and manages to tear a corner from it, shouting "Ha!" and fleeing with her accomplices. We waited around for approximately an hour after this, again receiving much admiration and congratulations from the passing members of the public, as well as a little abuse from SPEAK members. Eventually, cold and exhausted, we retired to bask in the glory of our clear-cut victory over the crudeness and ignorance of the protesters.
I find it amusing that three teenagers with £1.98 can pull in more public support, and maintain more composure, than two hundred adults with thousands of pounds to spend on their protest.