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Archive for the ‘Protest reports’ Category

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

As reported in the Sun, Saturday 18 December

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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…

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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.

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London, December 4th

UKUncut protesters gather outside Top Shop

At 10.55am, noting the large police and security presence, I walked into Top Shop’s flagship store in Oxford Circus. After a few minutes of pretending to be interested in expensive jeans and shirts made in sweatshops, I heard the whistles. People converged just inside the store, shouting “pay your tax!” and banging saucepans, while minor scuffles broke out as journalists were (wo)manhandled by security – Laurie Penny was carried out by four guards.

A purse in Top Shop with "special offer" sticker

For twenty minutes or so, some of us sat down in the middle of the shop, while others stood on the fringes, sticking “special offer” stickers on hats and handbags. Then we decided to continue our protest outside, and left voluntarily. Once again, the response on the street was excellent; I spoke to one guy at length, who took several leaflets for his friends, and when we started moving towards BHS, people were appearing out of nowhere to take my last remaining leaflets.

Protesters move on to BHS and pack the street

The protest at BHS was pretty short-lived, partly due to the store being difficult to blockade, and partly because we heard that Top Shop was attempting to open again.

Unfortunately, I had to leave at this point, and slipped off down the tube as the group went back to Top Shop, but from the flood of Twitter updates and the various news articles and videos that I digested on Sunday, it looks like an extremely successful day across the country.

Of course, while the protesters were peaceful, the police were forceful as usual, pushing a female protester for doing no more than standing her ground and shouting.

Loads of links to news coverage and videos over at Liberal Conspiracy.


YouTube – video from ReelNews featuring an excellent and passionate speech from Aaron Peters, a UCL occupier

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Image from Oxford Mail

I have a meeting with 3 students representing the 80. They demand an apology. I tell them why I won’t. Not exactly a meeting of minds.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word for Keith Mitchell. In fact, he seems intent on continuing to slag off the students, this time for intelligence rather than dress sense. Having said that, perhaps the fact that he met many of their questions with silence means that it was his own intelligence that he was doubting.

In the most well-dressed protest I’ve ever been on, the rabble of 80 (or was it 40?) gathered outside County Hall on Thursday evening. While the representatives met with our antagonist, the rest of us made our voices heard, inventing slogans and trying to figure out how to fit a the verses below to the Blue Danube. The sixth line proved particularly difficult, but I enjoyed the renewed vigour that the chanting always gained for the seventh.

This is a song, for Keith, you tw*t
We saw you before, well now, we’re back
You said we were so, so badly dressed
Well look at us now, in Sunday’s best

Take back your remarks, and then we’ll go
Back to our schools and our homes
Or better resign, or retire
And save your staff from getting fired.

The result? Well, we’re not ugly, but that was his only concession. (Are we still badly-dressed, then?)

Since then, our beloved councillor has responded to an email from a parent, who had expressed much the same concerns as I did that afternoon. Mrs. Sietske Boekes asked: “Doesn’t this count as incitement to violence? And shouldn’t it be reported to the police? At the very least, I think he – and all the councillors –  needs to know how shocked parents are at the violence and unpleasantness of his language.”

Among Keith Mitchell’s duties are “community leadership” and “strategic communications”. So which points has he decided reflect the best communication strategy in this instance? Here are some excerpts, which he depicts as “information of which you [Mrs. Boekes] may be unaware”

“Several wore balaclavas or scarves to hide their faces” – with police covertly gathering intelligence, is it any wonder?

“Many carried wooden staves with posters attached to them” – a protester? Carrying a PLACARD?! Gosh!

“The students were not dressed in their finest clothes;  they were scruffy.” – our councillor, of course, owns only suits, and would not dream of wearing jeans.

“a significant number of intruders… appeared to be out of control.” – from what I saw from inside the building (rather than hiding in an office), almost all intruders were calm, collaboratively planning their occupation. They certainly weren’t running around causing damage.

“I am wholly opposed to the sort of behaviour we saw from Scargill’s miners, the Poll Tax riots and the more recent Millbank riots in which criminal damage was perpetrated and which I witnessed at close hand” – technically an opinion, but at least (presumably!) true. Even so, since the County Hall occupation bears no resemblance whatsoever to the Millbank riot, hardly relevant.

“I am seeking to avoid violence in all forms including the sort of mass trespass of which Cheney and Cherwell children were guilty on Tuesday.” – this is like saying “I avoid cheese of all forms, including strawberries”. In other words, misleading and stupid. Trespass is not a violent crime.

I could go on. Keith Mitchell seems set in his ways to say the least. If you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, maybe it’s time to get a new dog.

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