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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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  • Ron

    Many Conservative and Libertarian Americans Agree With the G-20 Protests.

    While most of the London and European protesters are from the far left, many working Americans feel the same about Washington’s excessive bailouts for Wall Street and the banking establishment. Washington has bailed out the banks, Wall Street & their Washington special interests and much of the cost is added to the national debt to by paid by this and future generations while real estate and investments continue to fall.

    Find out how a growing repudiate the debt movement could stop Washington’s deficits, the exploding national debt and end the bailouts.
    The Campaign to Cancel the Washington National Debt By 12/22/2013 Constitutional Amendment is starting now in the U.S.

    See: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=67594690498&ref=ts
    Ron

  • faceless

    The anti-war attitude was never owned by anyone, but it’s good that you, at least, didn’t get battered for your efforts.

    What exactly are serial-protestors though? Do you mean people who don’t just change with the prevailing wind and their bank balance?

    Speaking of which, when you gave permission for your clips to be used, did you arrange a fee? I would have myself.

  • steve

    Ron – I think much of the organisational framework comes from the left (a fairly broad spectrum left, though, I’d suggest), but there are more and more people from the centre and further to the right who are choosing to protest governmental inaction on climate change, in particular.

    faceless – nope, anti-war sentiments are held across the political spectrum, but when the organisation framework of the stop the war movement in the UK became strongly visibly aligned with a more limited range of interests, the number of people from anti-war positions that were less in sympathy with the other aims and objectives of the organisers fell – I wrote about this after one stop the war march in 2007 here on the blog.

    As for serial protesters, I just mean people (like me) for whom public protest of the ‘mass rally in the streets’ is a common/regular way of making our voice heard. There are some protests which seemed to be populated almost exclusively by those of us who choose this method to voice our concerns regularly, and there are some protests that cause those who have previously not taken to the streets in such a way to join in. The distinction is a significant one, I feel, at least in terms of the perception of the issues amongst the wider populus.

  • steve

    A friend pointed out to me on Facebook that there was also a strong multi-cause showing at the protests in Edinburgh in 2005, around the G8 summit then. It’s true, though I guess I missed it because the protests were divided into the ‘human chain’ drop the debt rally (which was huge!) and the protests on Princes Street, that ended with some businesses having their windows smashed etc.

    It was also overshadowed by the disappointment of Bono and Bob Geldof hijacking the collective voice of the various organising charities and protest movements to prematurely declare the G8 a ‘victory for the poor’. this was my blog post from that day.

  • Mike Arthur

    Another great post Steve. Hopefully some of the videos that have been taken will mean this gets some mainstream media coverage.

  • James Stewart

    I’ve been concerned about the likelihood of a poor police response for a while, and particularly when I read this:

    http://makewealthhistory.org/2009/03/30/keeping-the-peace-at-the-g20-protests/

    Once again (just as at the Palestine demonstrations a few weeks back, and many times before) it feels as though the police are being used to support a particular PR line on what a protest is about and how to respond to it (cf: the ridiculous scare tactics about how all the protestors are out to attack bankers, and have a simplistic understanding of the issues driven largely by rage), rather than keeping the peace and supporting people who want to exercise what they understand to be their rights.

  • Rachel Stringer

    I was at the march in the day briefly, but then spent all night around the Climate Camp on Broadgate. The police used the same tactic (kettling) of keeping everyone in place.

    I blogged live via my facebook status updates, which you can see on the Greenbelt blog http://www.greenbelt.org.uk/blog, or you can see them with the pics I took, with the photo comments I made as I uploaded them live as well, here on flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/36986482@N03/sets/72157616262388142/

  • steve

    Thanks Rachel, it was quite possibly the first time Facebook has actually been useful – I was visiting your page for the updates on the Climate Camp, following them in real time.

    Thanks for posting them!

  • Why Photography Means More to Me Now | Benjamin Ellis

    […] Ian Tomlinson is now a name that should be familiar to you. He died during the G20 protests. The Guardian ran a piece on his death as did the BBC. The Guardian posted an update today, which mentions something called “Kettling” – something I’d not heard of it until the G20 protests. It is a strategy used by the police to contain the protesters, which consists of surrounding the crowd and then not letting anyone go. No arrests. Just detainment. But it wasn’t just protesters. A number of passers by were held, without any charges, and with no access to toilet facilities or water, for hours. Take a peek behind the media head-lines and read Roo’s account of what happened to him On the ground at the G20 protests. I met Roo at HomeCamp, trust me when I say he isn’t a trouble maker. You can read Steve Lawson’s account  on his blog: G20 protests – a change is gonna come. […]

  • tp

    Having seen the footage of the g20 and the lack of actual protesting I’m amazed that we aren’t on the streets in protest against the death of an innocent family man and the footage of a police man slapping a woman across the face and hitting her with a riot stick.

    I live for the day when we actually say enough is enough! We are already living under a police rule where their rules have been allowed to grow under such arguments as terrorism and the threat of child pornography on the web…

    I can’t wait to leave this country!

  • Skedenj

    Watching the videos about that lady being smacked by a copper makes me think about sth else. Imagine bing a police officer under huge pressure since there is an angry mob just a meter away from you who can grab you or a part of your kit, perhaps a pepper spray and empties it into your face. From that video it’s clearly seen that the police are shouting “move back” and “go away”. The lovely lady is thus lying when saying that the officer didn’t ask her to be gone. She actually jumped at the policeman when she saw a fellow protester being pushed away.
    On the other hand I am, just like the rest of you, shocked by the actions of the police when they pushed the poor man who then died, but in the case of Ms Fisher I get sick. Watching her trying to be as misleading as possible makes my stomach turn.

  • faceless

    Skedenj, does she make you sick enough to whack her with an ASP?

    The cop was a fucking bully who would never have tried that action with someone of equal size.

    Some wee woman being annoyed doesn’t require violence, it requires common sense and controlled behaviour – two skills which you’d assume any cop would have.

    He is a failure as a cop and as a man.

  • StickMan

    Going on to this woman that was hit by the policeman, I do not agree with what he has done nor do I agree at what she has done by making money out of telling someone. And then coming out with bull shit about how she is afraid of every Policeman she see now ! What aload
    bull shit she comes out with. before anyone comes out with stupid comments. I said I do not agree what the police did but put yourself’s in there jobs and see if you can do it, as I know I cannot nor would I want to do there jobs not easy at all just think what you would do if it was you there doing the job and not him.

  • steve

    …I’ve been away from news for the last couple of days, so haven’t seen or heard about the woman who got hit by a police-man…

    But please, keep the comments civil. If it gets any more heated/aggressive, I’ll start moderating them. It’s great to have strong opinions, but more helpful to discuss them rather than insult eachother…

    thanks!

  • StickMan

    Sorry about I had put down if it was wrong Steve

  • Charles

    I have to be closer in agreement to Stickman, the police are not there by choice, the protesters are. The police are not the ones that have gone into the crowd and started to bully people round by pushing them, from every video i’ve seen it’s a protester grabbing at their clothing or shields, shouting vial remarks and in the worst case striking an offer on the head with a metal rod of around 2m in length. These very people are then appearing on the news acting as if they are the noble victim whilst in my opinion they are no more than hat view a ‘Serial Protester’; someone who takes any opportunity to cause as much disruption and abuse and then pretend to be the victim of their own hostility. Nicola Fisher being the ideal case of this. Another case is a video showing a small group of perhaps 30 officers being swarmed and pushed around by hundreds of protesters with the commentater speaking of how a protester was punched during in what can only be called a Maul and yet clearly seen is a protester brandishing an afore mentioned large metal rod beating an officer over the head, knocking his helmut off and then continuing to strike him. Followed shortly by footage of vandalism to shop windows. These are not protests be people representing a noble cause, but of a Mob. out to cause havoc safely in the knowledge that the chances of being caught or remote.

  • faceless

    What do you mean the police have no choice? They took the job on the understanding that they uphold the law. They are, as I’m constantly reminded, just normal people after all.

    The thug concerned (a sergeant no less, so not even some hot-headed young recruit) has been suspended. When he is prosecuted for assault he’ll suffer the consequences of *his choice* to attack a person who was no physical threat to him, and rightly so.

    As for your comments about other incidents in other areas with other people – where’s the logical connection between one person and any other? Are you suggesting that all protestors should be treated as a single entity?

    After seeing the video evidence of police brutality I hope that next time the protesters are better protected and better prepared. There’s no jury that would be able to convict a person who is shown to be defending themselves against an unlawful attack…

  • James Stewart

    I find language about ‘serial protestors’ disingenuous. As someone who has worked in the campaigning world, I know a lot of people who attend a lot of protests, but in pretty much every case it’s because they believe passionately that there are many, many interwoven injustices that need to be exposed and acted upon. Public protest is just one part of campaigning, and I believe that most people who attend protests are involved in other parts too, but obviously it’s only the public protests that get attention.

    It’s almost certain the young woman whose attack by a police officer has attracted so much attention could have behaved better, but it’s absolutely clear from the video that a well trained police officer could have restrained her in a much more civil manner which would have made him safer and had much less risk of further worsening relationships between police and protestors.

    That said, a long hard look clearly needs to be directed at the Metropolitan Police whose scare tactics bordering on incitement is likely to have upped the stakes, generated considerable fear, and made this whole situation far more likely. And a similar look needs to be had at the press – a friend of mine posted a photo on flickr showing the Evening Standard very clearly implying violence had broken out in the G20 protests two hours before any real reports of violence. Such sensationalist reporting similarly heightens tensions and makes it much more likely that people will feel threatened and respond accordingly.

  • Antigua

    As always people are only able to comment on their own limited view of the day or on what the press have deemed fit for us to see. Any intelligent person knows that before passing judgement the full picture, rather than a snapshot, should be examined.
    Sites such as this do allow people to gather a more informed view of the overall day. However these to are also open to selective editing due to time constraints or desired effect.
    No-one, from either side, will be able to satisfy everyone. Any so called independent review will only be criticised by someone who does not agree with the outcome.
    I believe the only thing the Police got wrong was to allow the general non protesting public to mingle with the protesters his obviously put these people into a dangerous situation.
    I am a believer in free protest but this have to also mean disruption? How can the Police be expected to Police a situation where a group of people who believe that disrupting the general publics day to day lives is the only way to get there point across.
    It is the job of the Police to preserve the Queens Peace and protect life and property. On this day who were the the group causing the disruption and thereby breaching the Queens Peace.
    The laws are created by elected officials who we as the public vote for. We all know how the system works. The usual argument of “if you can’t be bothered to vote do not expect to be able to criticise.

  • James Stewart

    Antigua – I did vote. Can I therefore criticise? If our only way to express our opinion is at the ballot box then we live in a sham of a democracy. Democracy is about debate and taking part in a protest is one way of raising the profile of issues in that debate. A deeply flawed way, sure, but one of the few that we have that attracts much attention.

    Would you extend your argument about disruption to the massive disruption to many, many lives that environmental profligacy has and will cause? How’s about the disruption that the chaos in the financial system has caused to many peoples’ attempts to live their lives within the structure of western society? On a simpler level, does any of us live a single day without causing someone, somewhere some disruption?

    If you have a suggestion of a way that people can engage in free and effective protest without causing any disruption to anything other than government policy, I’d love to hear it!