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Hannibal Lecturer

London, Saturday 29 January

I’d had something of a winter break from protesting, with a combination of work, snow and a dodgy ankle keeping me off the streets for seven weeks. On Saturday, I was back in the game, as part of a group of 10,000 protesters in London.

Arriving at ULU quite early, I watched the crowd slowly assemble. A man offered recipies for eating politicians as part of a balanced diet (Clegg on toast, boiled Clegg and soldiers), while two topless girls (and one topless guy) cast themselves as “sluts against cuts”, calling for an orgy on the day of the royal wedding. They wore black balaclavas – taking inspiration from Feeder’s video for ‘Renegades’? (NSFW!)

Just after noon, we got moving. Keeping an eye out for FITs, I weaved to the front of the march, where an energetic woman with a megaphone led the chanting. We made a brief pause at the Top Shop on Strand for a tax protest, and another opposite Downing Street, featuring dancing and several flares.

Cuts to education and the public sector were not the only things on our agenda today. After a few speeches and a gathering outside Millbank, we started the long trek towards the Egyptian embassy. This was my favourite part of the march. The roads hadn’t been closed, so there was a lot of motionless traffic to march past. Every few seconds, a driver would honk his horn support, and be greeted by cheers from the swarm of marchers. They didn’t seem too resentful at the delay to their journey.

At length, we arrived at the embassy, where hundreds of passionate Egyptians had been gathered since noon. There was a great joint show of solidarity, with chanting in English as well as Arabic. One Egyptian taught me one of the Arabic chants, but I’m afraid I’ve completely forgotten it. Foreign languages is not my strong point.

Amid the dancing masses and confusion, there was a cute scene as three Egyptian girls (aged between 4 and 10) chanted anti-Murabak slogans whilst sat on top of a Mercedes:

Young Egyptian protesters on top of a merc

I mentioned confusion: there were widespread rumours that, inexplicably, the police were preparing to kettle us. Maybe they think that that’s what happens at marches, regardless of whether there is any violence. In any case, the call went out for us to head to Oxford Street. We raced the policemen there.

Some protesters had evidently got there ahead of me, because a troop of glowsticks barricaded the door of Top Shop. Unable to join those inside, I whipped out my leaflets and spoke to a succession of confused passers-by, enlightening them on the misdeeds of Mr. Green. There were two girls who looked about sixth-form age, so I did some quick maths and them that the tax dodge could have provided two years’ worth of EMA for 100,000 students – they took leaflets and vowed never to shop at Top Shop again.

By this time, the march had split into at least three separate swarms. With none of them in the vicinity, aching feet and a need to retrieve my suitcase before heading back to Oxford, I decided to call it a day. Kudos to the people who had the stamina for a longer protest.

It was a great day, and I’m really glad that we managed to make it a non-violent one. Because of this, It didn’t make the front page (correct me if I’m wrong), but with a revolution going on in Egypt, it’s probably more like a page 5 event. Except for ‘sluts against cuts’, of course – coming to page 3 of a low-brow rag soon?

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Many of us make resolutions when January 1st comes around. I should be becoming an organised, fruit-munching research machine any day now. So what about those who have been taking to the streets in protest against fees, cuts and tax avoidance? Here’s what I reckon:

1. Keep fighting

We should literally be showing resolve as the new year progresses. We may have been battered, demoralised and kettled in Parliament Square; a few of us, including yours truly, were also kept away from UKUncut’s “pay day” on December 18th by the snow, but there are many things to fight for. Lobby your University, asking them to mitigate the fee rises. Accelerate the fight against tax avoidance. Now isn’t the time to give up.

2. Cut violence out of activism

“And if you know someone pictured, don’t grass them up. No-one likes a grass!” – Fitwatcher, Dec 21st

IMHO this “law of the playground” thing has gone too far. I’m not saying you should tattle on anyone based on a low-res image of a person standing in the crowd, but not all those who attended the march were innocent. One guy with a rock on a rope can lead to the marchers as a whole being referred to as rioters. In general, we should show solidarity among peaceful protesters, and speak out against those among us who, for whatever reason, insist on chucking bricks and stuff.

So how can we prevent people from smashing windows?

Obviously, by doing what many people have done already – if you spot someone holding or picking up a brick, ask them to put it down…

What about if the red mist has already descended?

The easiest way is to chant against them – people at Millbank shouted “stop throwing shit”, but I didn’t hear any similar chants at the Treasury, possibly because we were all too angry and disillusioned by the vote result and the kettling that we no longer cared. There’s too much violence at protests, and it’s given us a bad name. Don’t be afraid to stand up to the perpetrators.

3. Come prepared

Given the police tactics so far, I expect to be kettled again at some point in the future. It’s just common sense to be ready for this when attending a large-scale protest by bringing along plenty of food and water.

4. Keep your camera handy

Especially when close to police lines, you never know when someone will get dragged out of their wheelchair, or struck to within an inch of his life. Videos of skirmishes could prove invaluable to these people. Obviously not everyone can film all of the time, but hopefully we can cover as much as possible.

[UKUncut,] the loosely-knit group of up to 30,000 anarchists…

As reported in the Sun, Saturday 18 December

—-

I haven’t been to any protests over the past week, missing out on Pay Day due to a combination of snow (only a few inches, but our road was treacherous) and a dodgy ankle. However, this was the week in which I learned that, as a follower of the UKUncut movement, I had been classed as an anarchist.

The definitions of words evolve – ‘wireless’, for example, had a very different definition 80 years ago. Perhaps the definition of anarchist is changing in the wake of us “mobs” organising ourselves and taking to the streets.

So what is an anarchist today?

In Oxford, an anarchist of today might rush around the main shopping streets, racing in and out of some shops, and pausing outside others to implore the businesses to pay taxes. Watch this video (seriously – it’s great) and see for yourselves.

Meanwhile, in London, an anarchist of today had the choice between taking part in a ‘sports day’ (highlighting £160m cuts to school sports programmes) or a reading session (highlighting cuts to library services). In Brighton, an anarchist Santa Claus might glue himself to a shop door and subsequently get arrested:

It is not yet known whether Mr. Claus was freed in time to avoid delays to his annual round-the-world gift delivering mission this Friday night; I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Across the country, perhaps a few thousand anarchists managed to take to the street in peaceful protest against tax avoidance. I think we can summarise that, according to the Sun, an anarchist is someone who takes direct action in order to achieve a political goal.

Last time I checked, this was an activist.

So much can change in a few months…

…I’ve just been very busy over the past few days, and simmering with frustration at the media treatment of Parliament Square, which has had enough coverage on the blogosphere that you don’t need me to regurgitate articles. I’m still to get round to sending complaints to the IPCC, BBC and Daily Mail. Maybe tomorrow.

I’ve been posting pretty much daily so far, partly because I wanted to get the blog going, and partly because there was a lot to write about. But from now, I think I’ll settle into a weekly-ish posting schedule. Less is more and all that.

This is a bit of a filler post. Oh well. At least you know I haven’t been attracting the attention of the boys in yellow. To lighten the mood a bit, here’s a couple of videos that are worth watching if you haven’t seen them already (and even if you have)

Daily Mail Song


The Complete History of the Soviet Union, Arranged to the Melody of Tetris

Pretty much what it says on the tin. Also an enjoyable, very well put together video.

One of the first protests I attended was part of UKUncut‘s first national day of action against tax avoidance. Back on October 30th, about thirty people occupied Oxford’s main Vodafone store – I arrived a few minutes late, but spent a productive few hours leafleting.

The movement inspired me to write to my MP. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of what I wrote, but my letter raised the subject of tax avoidance, and urged my MP (Rt Hon Andrew Smith, Oxford East (Lab)) to bring my concerns and those of the other Oxford protesters to Parliament.

I sent that letter on Tuesday via WriteToThem.com. By Saturday morning, I had received a response in which my MP said:

I was particularly concerned by the Government’s recent agreement with Vodafone, which you mention, excusing that company most of a tax bill estimated at six billion pounds.

Andrew Smith goes on:

I also share your concern that cuts to HM Revenue and Customs will have the effect of reducing revenue by catching less tax dodgers — the opposite of the saving which is the government’s stated aim. I have already taken this problem up with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, along with the use of tax havens by companies in an attempt to avoid their obligations.

I have already written again to the Chancellor taking up the important points raised by this campaign, and I will send you a copy of his reply as soon as I receive it.

Then, on 26th November, I received another letter from Andrew Smith, to which he attached a copy of the reply from the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury. The minister responsible, David Gauke, had this to say:

The Government is fully committed to making sure that all contribute to reducing the defecit by paying their fair share of tax. Tax avoidance and evasion damage the ability of the tax system to deliver its objectives, impose additional costs on all taxpayers and undermine the tax system. It is for this reason that we recently announced that £900million would be made available over the spending review period to raise additional revenues by tackling non-compliance. This should bring in around £7billion each year by 2014-15 in additional tax.

The £900million will allow HMRC to better tackle evasion, criminal attacks, unpaid tax debt and avoidance. It will fund a range of measures, which include a fivefold increase in the number of criminal prosecutions for tax evaders and the creation of a new dedicated team of investigators to catch those hiding money offshore. More details are set out in the Press Notice we published following the announcement, which can be found at: http://www.hm-treasury.gov/press_46_10.htm.

Additionally the Coalition Agreement makes clear that the Government will make every effort to tackle tax avoidance. As announced at the June Budget, the Government will work to prevent avoidance before it occurs by building in sustainable defences against avoidance opportunities when undertaking policy reform. It will also review areas of the tax system in which repeated changes have been necessary to close loopholes, and will take firm and decisive action if further attempts are made by those attempting to avoid paying their fair share.

Please pass on my thanks to your constituents for taking the trouble to make us aware of these concerns.

Of course, it’s far from sufficient – aiming to recover less than a third of what is currently being lost each year. In his covering letter, Andrew Smith stated:

It is open to question whether the political will necessary to a determined drive against tax evasion is there.

This pretty much sums it up. However, there are a few positives to take: first, at least something is being done; secondly, writing to MPs does seem to prompt them to take up issues with ministers.

Therefore, I urge you to write to your MP, especially now, since we have quite a few things to write about. Plead for justice for Alfie Meadows and the other injured protesters. Condemn the widespread police brutality that we experienced last week. Express your outrage at kettling and cavalry charges – and your concern at the prospect of being water cannoned at future rallies. Tell them that measures so far announced to combat tax avoidance are a step in the right direction, but that more should be done. Your voice will be heard.

Westminster, London, Thursday 9 December

Picture credit: Guardian

Hundreds of violent thugs descended upon Parliament Square yesterday. Calling themselves “the police”, the gang armed themselves with batons, shields and helmets, using mounted cavalry to charge into crowds of defenceless students. They sustained a few minor casualties (30 injured, 6 of which required hospital treatment), but then, they had come prepared for a war, and since casualties on the other side were far greater (44 hospitalised, hundreds more injured, despite pleas of protest organisers), the gang must surely consider yesterday a success.

What follows is an eyewitness account from one of the gang’s victims: me. File a complaint about the police conduct with the IPCC by following this link.

Kettled, crushed, charged

I was chanting towards the back of the crowd facing the Houses of Parliament when it happened – people behind us shouted about the line of policemen that attempted to seal off the square. We rushed to the SW corner (by Westminster Abbey), where the line had been formed. The next hour is a bit of a blur, but I vividly remember seeing a dazed-looking man being led back through the crowd, blood streaming down his face. After he was let through, the crowd got tighter and tighter, and like several others, I was struggling for breath.

And then the mounted policemen charged at us.

This part was probably the scariest. Already trapped in, nowhere to run, a herd of half-ton animals running at you… somehow the crowd parted and we managed to avoid being trampled. Someone shouted “duck!” – I did, and a baton flew past me, missing by inches. Shortly afterwards, my friends and I found ourselves three rows from the front. Three rows from the merciless baton-wielding police. At some point, we managed to get away and sat down in what was, for the forseeable future, our home.

Big Ben, with police van and line of riot police in frontStatue with placard

As darkness fell, I did a reccy, confirming that all exits were sealed, and deciding that the best way out would be the NE corner (by Big Ben). After watching someone give a statue a placard, we headed there, but by then another battle was raging, and we were getting rumours of another kettle on the other side. Then the result was announced, and all chanted “shame on you” with renewed vigour and anger. We gave up on Whitehall and moved to the NW corner.

Carols and the sacking of the Treasury

Despite the pleas of many peaceful students, police would not let us leave. So we sat down and sang every Christmas carol and song we could think of. This scene was punctuated every few minutes, as yet another protester was lead out of the kettle with a serious head wound. It seemed to be the only way to escape.

Then shouts went up as the treasury was stormed. I went over to watch as a thug with a rock on a rope repeatedly tried to break a bombproof window. The lack of a police presence here (save for 30-40 trapped inside the treasury) was shocking. They all preferred to stay 100 yards away in order to stop carol singers from leaving. If even half of that regiment had gone to the treasury, then the crowd of observers would have dispersed and they could have arrested the perpetrators on the spot. Why this was not done, we will never know.

After the police inside escaped and secured the treasury, we went to find out information from police on the west side. As I was speaking to an officer, yet another man with a head injury came up. He was told that he could not be taken to hospital as they had run out of ambulances “because of all the trouble today” – well maybe if you didn’t fucking smash people’s heads in, officers, there would be ambulances. I don’t know what became of this guy, but hopefully he got treatment.

Lies and the Kettle on the Bridge

We were told that we’d be let out of the SW corner, so there we went. Around 1000 were there asking to go do their homework. After some time, they told us we would be let out across Westminster Bridge. So we waited there instead. At around 9.30, the crowd finally started moving. We had space. We hugged. We thought it was over… then on the bridge, things slowed down. There was confusion, as I tweeted:

we’ve moved to westminster bridge but have stopped again. What’s going on?

We were in another kettle. The general mood of the crowd can be summed up by “oh for fuck’s sake”. I was desperate by this point. I contemplated jumping off the bridge and swimming for freedom (at low tide, extremely dangerous), bashing my head on the pavement, or perhaps shouting at police until they arrested me. Resisting these options, I went for shouting angry, impassioned chants. We didn’t move for an hour, but at length, we started inching forward. I used my view of the London Eye as a gauge. The sight of its other side was a minor victory.

Escape

Finally, we reached the interim funnel, between two police lines, as they allowed us slowly through. We were organised into single file, walking down a snaking line of smirking coppers. I covered my face with my hands as cameras focussed on me, until finally, fucking finally, I was out. Exhausted, I lied down on the kerb; I had become separated from my friends and wanted to wait for them, but I was soon moved on by police. The street corner seemed to be the designated reunification point, and this is where I met back up with said friends. Our eight-hour ordeal was over.

We were the lucky ones. Although battered and bruised (various parts of my body still ache), we had managed to avoid the batons and hooves that several others had endured. The emotional effect that being trapped for an interminable evening, though, must not be underestimated. We were all in this ordeal, this illegal, immoral, unjust, and unfair ordeal, together.

Reprehensible

Yesterday has completely changed my view of the police, particularly the Metropolitan police. Their actions throughout the day were reprehensible, and disproportionate. Other pages report of a disabled student being pulled out of his wheelchair and dragged along the ground, of one student who needed an operation for a serious brain injury, and of schoolgirls being beaten repeatedly with batons.

“They didn’t show any mercy whatsoever. They threw around my friends who were just 17 year old slim girls. They were beating my friends with batons.

“They didn’t show any sympathy in their voice and I didn’t see anything in their eyes.

“It was awful. I’ve never experienced anything like it.”

“I managed to break away. I was pushed into a ditch by a police officer and when I tried to get out of the ditch he pushed me back in.

“I turned around to see a group of my friends on the floor getting beaten by police officers.

“I received a text later from a friend who didn’t manage to escape, saying that he was thrown to the floor by the neck. He was beaten on the floor by three police officers until he was throwing up blood and when that happened they just threw him aside and didn’t give him any medical attention and went on to the next one.

“These were just innocent people who wanted to go home.”

The actions of these thugs must not be tolerated. They must be brought to justice. I will soon be filing a complaint with the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), and I urge you to do the same by following this link. I urge group leaders to organise petitions against kettling and against police brutality.

Further Reading

Laurie Penny gives a particularly harrowing account in the New Statesman.

I have several other pictures, and might look into adding a gallery to this website in the near future, if I get the time.

This is mainly for new protesters making their way to a protest tomorrow. I’ve seen a few posts on the Facebook event page asking questions, and thought I should collate some useful advice I’ve garnered from twitter.

Kettling

There is a small chance that you’ll end up kettled. Don’t be intimidated by this. It really shouldn’t put you off, and I actually think it’s quite unlikely to happen on Thursday, but you never know.

Sticking together decreases the chance of being trapped, as does being familiar with defensive techniques (short version here, long version here). Very short version: keep an eye out for lines of police blocking side streets, and keep moving.

You might want to take the following things in case you do get trapped: something to drink, something to eat (biscuits, chocolate and apples all fit the bill), a scarf, extra warm clothes. Also, keep your wits about you and try not to lash out.

Arrests

If you are arrested, remember two words: no comment. You don’t have to give date of birth, height, shoe size etc. In fact you don’t have to say anything without a supervisor. (Advice from @Fitwatcher).

Green & Black Cross have a great page of advice for parents (which I guess is also worth bearing in mind if you are an adult), and also a phone number for further advice – remember this number, write it on your arm: 07946 541511 – cops might confiscate your phone but they’ll be hard pressed to scrub a phone number from your arm!

You are advised by G&BC to avoid using a duty solicitor – they recommend BINDMANS SOLICITORS (0207 833 4433), who specialise in protest cases.

Assaults

If you get assaulted by a cop, follow this advice from Green & Black cross: stay calm, find out the name/ID of the cop who hit you, and find witnesses (especially people with cameras) for statements.

Got a camera/video phone?

If you can take video footage and see that something might be developing, don’t be afraid to take a video. You might feel like a bit of a prat (and might have officers in your face), but the video could prove crucial for someone’s case if something does happen.

On Twitter?

Fitwatcher will be looking out for the FITs (undercover cops performing surveillance), and Pigseyes will be updating us on police movements – both would be worth keeping an eye on.

Anything else?

Feel free to add any other pieces of advice or questions in the comments page below.