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G20 protests – a change is gonna come.

April 1st, 2009 | No Comments | Categories: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc. |

picture of protesters outside the Bank of EnglandToday I went down to the protest outside the Bank Of England that coincided with the meeting of the G20 in London. It was a multi-angle protest, seeking to bring together the shared concerns of the environmental movement, anti-capitalists, the climate change brigade, the stop the war coalition and those who wanted to see a greater degree of culpability placed on the financial systems and institutions that presided over the current global economic collapse.

It was the first time that the various factions within the counter-cultural protest movement had come together in such a co-ordinated way since the strong presence of the Globalise Resistance coalition at the G8 in Genoa, Italy, back in 2001. Globalise Resistance’s organisational success in Genoa was, as far as I can see, a really strong contributing influence on the breadth of the campaign base for the anti-war march on the eve of the 2nd Gulf War in 2003, which proved to be the largest peace-time protest in British History.

The Blair government ignored the will of the people, and pursued their fallacious and illegal path into the US-lead invasion of Iraq, and the despondency of those who went on the march fragmented the protest movement again. The anti-war movement became, for a time, a mouthpiece for a coalition of George Galloway’s Respect Party and the Muslim Association Of Great Britain. This lead to a multiplicity of protests organised by a disparate and disconnected group of activists, many of which failed to gain the critical mass of support due to a) the nuance of the point being protested and b) the conflicting nature of the vested interests involved.

So today, with so many protest groups coming together, it was another watershed, on the scale of Genoa. The strength of feeling in ‘regular’ people – rather than just serial protestors – was palpable, given the number of non-crusty, normally-dressed folk not waving battle-scarred banners, but just turning out to lend their support to the calls for reformation of the governance of the global financial institutions.

Which made the behaviour of the Met Police today all the more sickening. I’m not normally one for dissing the police. There are clearly factions within the police that like to act as agitators in situations like this, but in general they do have a tough job to do, and there is a public order issue with any protest.

photo of the police line at the protests in londonHowever, what happened today – as happened at the May Day protest on Oxford St in 2001 – was that the police formed a closed cordon which no-one could get into nor out of. When asked about this, they cited their belief that the protest itself was a breach of the peace – suggesting that our very presence made us complicit in whatever the terms were that they used to define said breach – therefor we weren’t allowed out until the ‘ring-leaders’ of the violent anarchic element were singled out and dealt with.

Which is, frankly, bollocks. There was no room to negotiate or discuss the veracity of their statement. Any moron on the ground could see pretty easily who was causing trouble and who wasn’t. The police had officers placed on every possible vantage point around the Bank, and could have picked out individuals based in their chosen brand of cigarette or style of earrings, if they’d wanted to. To treat the mass of peaceful protesters as criminals, to patronize us, offer no support to those who were in pain or distress, and to conform to the psychological lessons of the Stanford Prison Experiment by remaining utterly unmoved when confronted with people in distress only to say they were ‘only following orders’, was disgraceful.

It was an embarrassment to them, and to me as a citizen of a country where I felt completely powerless in the face of a law enforcement agency utterly unaccountable for the degradation it was inflicting on people (they weren’t letting anyone out to go to the loo, so people were pissing in the streets). People who were there to lodge a dissenting voice in a legal, peaceful way.

I’m dismayed, saddened and angered by it. I was posting videos to Qik most of the day (apparently some of my footage was used by the BBC, with permission), til my batteries ran out – you’ll see that some of the police interactions were friendly and polite. My battery had gone by the time I was told by a police officer informed of my bad back that I’d ‘better go and sit on the floor then’ (cos that’s great for your back – sitting in piss on a concrete floor). here are two videos from today, the first an interview with Ciaron O’Reilly, the second is Andy Williamson talking about trying to get out of the cordon:

It was sounding a lot like the behaviour of a police state.

That at the other end of the protest, the police were not only arresting those who broke the windows of the Royal Bank of Scotland, but were hitting protesters who chose to sit down in the road (wasn’t that what the police grunt I spoke to told me to do??) is yet more evidence of this shameful policy.

Seriously, the policing of today’s protest was horrendous. It was unneccesarily violent, it treated peaceful protestors as criminals, forced them to urinate in public and was answerable to no-one.

So what happens now? The protests were incredibly well documented, perhaps better than any protest before. Almost everyone I saw had a camera of some kind, recording events. Protest is changing, but will we be able to hold the police to account for their part of provocating violence and restricting the movements of peaceful protesters? What do you think? (more photos over on Flickr)

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  • Michael

    So the news emerges today of a woman who was not allowed to leave the demonstration because she was bleeding. Terrible. But what is so extraordinary is that a pregnant woman should expose herself to such risk, knowing what might happen, and then complain about it afterwards. This is completely mad, selfish and a complete waste of police time. I am grateful to the Met for what they do and whilst I believe we should defend the right to peaceful protest a lot of the protesting that went on was not peaceful, by any stretch of the imagination

  • steve

    But that’s just it – no-one expected the police to respond like that. The vast majority of the protest was peaceful, the violence was isolated and in specific places and those who weren’t there were still being treated as though they’d been in it.

    I went down there expecting to be there for an hour or so, then head home – it was walking distance from where I live, so I went over to lend my voice to the protests, take some pics and grab some video, before heading back to work in the afternoon. No such luck.

    Why shouldn’t a pregnant woman expect to be able to exercise the right to peaceful protest, and have her health protected by the police?? That seems nuts to suggest that she was responsible. Very few people had any idea what the police were planning, and even if they did, no-one thought it would be an impenetrable wall of police around the vast majority of peaceful protestors.

    I’m baffled how you can describe her being there and being mistreated as a waste of police time…

  • faceless

    so, if anyonwe wants to show their dissatisfaction with the government then they should *expect* to be attacked by the police?

    Fuck that. It’s people like you who should be attacked – once it’s happened a few times you might start to realise what shit you’re talking.

  • Michael

    When you ask, why she shouldn’t be there, the answer is surely, very simple. As a ‘parent to be’, (though it emerges that it’s not clear now that she was pregnant), she has a responsibility to the unborn child, who cannot defend itself.

    Therefore, to expose it to such risk is irresponsible, surely? If the demonstration was to be peaceful all well and good, but there were people, on both sides, that turned it into a less than peaceful demonstration.

    I have met and talked with people who went there specifically to cause trouble. I’m sure there were police officers spoiling for a fight but, IMO she was negligent in exposing her child to a known risk and now to capitalize on that!

  • steve

    But that’s the point – there wasn’t any ‘danger’ in the run up. Why on earth should a demonstration like that be considered ‘risky’? It wasn’t a fight, or a riot that was planned. It was a peaceful, lawful demo, legally arranged with the police and Corporation of London. It should’ve been no more dangerous than a day out shopping. As I said, I’d fully intended to be there for an hour.

    But even if she’d kept out of the main gathering with the intention of leaving pretty soon after she got there, the police arrived behind everyone, and didn’t let people out. We weren’t given a time to leave, we weren’t given a warning. We were just enclosed. I was standing around talking to friends, and all of a sudden, we’re penned in on a public order offense! It was insane, unexpected, unlawful, and certainly not something that a pregnant woman with a political opinion to express should be made to feel guilty about.

    The right to protest is something that runs very deep in the British psyche. Political dissent is something we do well. I’ve been on so many political demos over the last 5 years, thanks to the government being involved in a LOT of stuff that I disagree with, none of which I was able to express an opinion on by any way other than protesting and blogging.

    I’m happy to lend my presence to a protest to support something I agree with. In all that time, I’ve seen violent behaviour twice. I didn’t even see any on the G20 demo. It was localised, not widespread, and the areas where there had been NO visible violent behaviour were still treated as though we were involved in a criminal act. That’s the great injustice here, the stupidity, the dangerous behaviour, certainly not that of the woman wanting to voice her opposition to the behaviour of the leaders of the g20 nations.

  • Michael

    Having been involved over the years in demonstrations all over the world, I wholeheartedly endorse the right to peaceful protest and am jealous of the freedom we enjoy in this country. I wish with all my heart that some of the guys on the G20, could go to some of the places i’ve been in and experience what happens when you spit at a policeman!

    i do not think that our views are too far apart, but I think it’s wrong to pick on the police, yes they must be accountable, but they are vulnerable and an easy target. I still maintain that a pregnant woman is wrong to expose her child to risk, whether in a demonstration or for example going to a football match at Arsenal!