Today 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.
However, 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)