Thursday, 2 April 2009

April Fools

No comment neccessary.

Vics telling 'em how it is.

The street kitchen.

Trying to reason with the riot cops. Things kicking off.  

A sea of tents.

The entrance to the Climate Camp

Tentage decorated with slogans. Bicycle powered sound systems.

 Workers above, looking down. 'Why do we have to pay' sign in front of line of riot cops.

Climbing on buildings. 

Trying to reason with the riot police.

This kid was hit by truncheons, has bloody face.

Good vibes at the Climate Camp early on.

Grime artist 'Riddum'.

Wheelchair protestors were everywhere.

Yesterday I went down late to the G20 protests, missing the action at the Royal Bank of Scotland, to the Climate Camp pitched on Bishopsgate street near Liverpool Street Station. I've done one of these before a few years ago, when we all pitched tents in Trafalgar Square, to protest against the Iraq invasion. I remember it being very cold and noisy with local drunks constantly harassing us.
Coming out of Liverpool St. station I noticed several very clean-cut looking men with suspiciously casual clothes. Bankers were advised to dress down for the day in case they got set upon by protestors. At the same time protestors were told to 'dress like a banker for a day'. All very Saturnalia, the Roman festival where the masters dressed as slaves and served them for a day.
Climate Camp had taken over a whole block, with maybe a hundred pop-up tents, each spray-painted with slogans. There was a kitchen, baked potatoes with baked beans for a suggested donation of £1.50p, and a compost toilet.
My friend Chris Knight, University of East London professor and Radical Anthropologists guru (see link in sidebar) had already left, hoping to galvanise people to descend upon the university campus to protest his suspension. He'd made a few inflammatory remarks on radio "hanging bankers from lamposts". I'm amazed that they suspended him. He's been fermenting revolution in his classes for years. It's not exactly news. An alternative summit was supposed to happen at UEL but the university was shut down for two days. I'm also surprised that Barking Bateria, the UEL samba band has not protested more strongly at this. 
Chris' colleague Steve, just back from studying chimps in the Congo, was at Climate Camp.
"What's going to happen about Chris?" I asked.
"I think the university will quietly drop the whole thing once this protest is over. Chris is a chapel leader. They won't want the hassle. But it must be said that anthropology (Chris' dept) has only nine students this year. There used to be a hundred. It's become too expensive to study any 'non-essential' subjects now. All the students want to study business."(1)
I found the samba band, RoR, decked in their usual colours of pink and silver. Ms Canal Explorer had been outside the Royal Bank of Scotland when it was smashed and admitted that the samba band was in some way a catalyst for the protestors at that point. Ms CE and myself are both Space Hijackers (myself less frequently). They'd all been arrested outside News International with their tank 'disguised' as a riot squad van. (Facebook group: Free the SPA)
They are now bailed away from the Westminster/City/Newham area for a week as they refused to take a caution. 
The camp was peaceful with a party atmosphere. Student types were sitting around drinking beer. Some workers were looking down from the tall buildings surrounding us. (There were reports of bankers waving tenners at protestors). A bicycle powered sound system was cranked up. Rythms of Resistance were backing a 'grime' vocalist called riddum when the call went out to strengthen the southern perimeter of the camp. Riot police vans were parked all down the side of the camp and they had been picking off protestors (probably ones they recognised from the earlier fracas at RBS) and arresting them. We stopped playing and moved down the other end. I could see hundreds of protestors with their hands up chanting
'shame on you, shame on you'. 
A young man had blood down his face.
 "What happened?" 
"I was just standing there when a policeman started hitting me with his baton".
 Film by Rikki Blue, friend of mine. Don't believe the mainstream press.

Suddenly a row of riot police were closing in all around the camp. Somebody texted that fires were being started around the City, that sporadic rioting was occurring elsewhere. Protestors were standing eye to eye with the riot police, hands up in a peaceful gesture, asking for explanations of their behaviour. The samba band started to play again. This strengthened the mood. I've said it before but I'll repeat it. The drumming is a powerful weapon. The samba band is key to controlling the crowd. We can push it forward, rile it up, calm it down. (I'm not always sure that the samba band are aware of their own power, that at times the fact that they keep playing can prolong a situation such as outside the Israeli embassy (link to story) which would have fizzled out naturally.)

Excellent video reportage by SuperSan, a member of Barking and RoR.

I twittered everything  best as I could. There was another twitterer@climatecamp, but whose tweets seemed to be all about how happy/organised the camp was. 
One guy started fitting on the ground. Later a man was reported to have died, stopped breathing in a police van. I wondered if it was the same guy. In a Guardian report police claimed that protestors prevented medics from helping him. There is no way this could be true. Who do people think protestors are? One twitterer whose husband works in the city was worried that he might get beaten up. Protestors are generally incredibly idealistic and peace-loving. Who else would spend hours of free time trying to make a statement, most likely with no result? 
Around 9pm I went to the North perimeter to try to get out. A line of riot police were resolute. Nobody was leaving. Which is odd because the police were happy to let people walk into the Climate Camp in the first place. I talked to a Scottish policeman who explained that it was kicking off elsewhere. So we were 'kettled' in a Section 41 because the police were afraid the protestors here would link up with other protests. Eventually I sweet talked him into letting me out. Ms CE tried to get out a little later by saying she had her period. It didn't work. As I walked towards the tube I saw tattered news stand posters moving in the breeze "Obama's big day ruined by violence". I spoke to the news stand guy.
"It's pointless all this. The MP's can claim 40 grand expenses for second homes. The government can do what they want. We can't. Nothing is going to change".
And there we have it. Frustration and impotence. Anger and disgust. One set of rules for them, another for us. 

(1) I have since heard that Chris Knight did go to UEL, with Tony Benn MP and continue the alternative summit.

NB: As we all know, the MP's expenses story blew up in their faces in May '09. This is a seismic change. I get the feeling that the British, for once, feel revolutionary. It won't take much more to spark them off.
Also Chris Knight is now fighting to keep his job at the University of East London. 


  1. Only waving tenners? Obviously a sign of their reduced circumstances....

  2. I had a really nice text from my middle son "what a prediction father... the weather crew could certainly use you! Adz" which came about because I had been muttering about the 'banka bustin' that was going to happen this year (though I thought it was going to be last year so I am clearly myopic when it comes to being a visionary). I did also predict worse outcomes and more sinister social unrest particularly manifesting itself as racsim or indeed action against any readily identifiable social or cultural groups. My first instinct was a new wave of anti-semitism but it could equally be anti-islamic. Such actions are driven by fear, doubt and uncertainty and humans tend to irrational behaviour in response to fear. At its worst it is a basic biological reaction (fight or flight) and that reaction, or instinct if you like, is driven by a lack of blood to the brain. Having lived through the Miners Strike, Toxteth, Bristol and Brighton riots myself I think we are probably in for a long hot summer of direct positive action with more nefarious groups like the BNP legitimisating their xenophobic principles by fuelling mindless violence under the cover of legitimate protest. I hope I am wrong but fear I am right...

  3. If you go and look at last Sundays lunchtime politics program on the BBC the collumnist they had on there was describing it as a riot not a protest ahead of time, and the host made no effort to correct him.

    The Overton window is being pushed by the media to make protest unacceptable

  4. Had to look that up

  5. Barking supported chris et al at the saturday march. They didnt go to the uni because there was no point. It was closed down and security was crawling all over it. Its also in the middle of nowhere and there was no one there on site to protest against.. bar hired thugs, security guards and a few spotty all staff and governing bodies were away from the building.there were no admin one..

    There is much much more to the chris story than you seem to be aware of....! Some of barking were at the protests in the city..others turned up late and couldn't get into the cordoned off area where the rest of rythms and barking were...others like myself unfortunately had to go to work.

    Perhaps you should ask members of barking personaly why they were unable or unwilling to attend before casting your 'surprise' ...We are all individuals in Barking and people have the right to their own beliefs or views on this matter we do not live and think as one.. . I have known chris for 10 years and love him dearly..but maybe not everyone feels that way...which is their I don't know the whole story or each individuals history with chris..

    Anyway other than all that malarky...nice blog Ms Marmite x

  6. Thanks for the correction Ms ML - I do indeed think the band acts as a catalyst for feelings in the crowd, focussing energies and bringing people together. Whatever is there latent can be precipitated by the drumming - be that joy or rage.

    The area between bank and the police line in threadneedle street was fairly empty, and several of us wanted to go on to climate camp. So we said "here's a space, lett's play here". Within half an hour there was a surging mass of protesters pushing back the police lines, and we were caught in the middle of it. We cannot predict what will come of the playing, except that it has potential to energise, and generally brings about some sort of development in the vibe.

    It is disappointing that a tiny minority of protestors conformed to the stereotype, giving the media, police and government exactly what they wanted: a scare story of angry and dangerous riots; a mob of destructive anarchists.

    The video you added above ( is deeply upsetting, showing the true brutal nature of the riot police, even when protesters chant "peace not riot" and hold their hands aloft to show their peaceful stance.

    I was right at the front, and was treated extremely roughly for no reason at all (admirably, none of the protestors retaliated to the police violence, strongly sticking to the non-violent principles). When bashed in the face with a riot shield, I asked the cop responsible "Do you like hitting girls, then?". "Yes, I do." he said!

    There must be some action about this, it really shouldn't be allowed to go on. Police cannot just brutalise innocent people whenever they feel like it, with impunity. There are channels of complaint open to us.

  7. I remember the Poll Tax riots. The police shoved my mate Timmy really hard and he wasn't even doing anything. we were over 100 yards away from the trouble.

  8. The government have to demonize the protestors to make themselves look good! They want to be seen as the good guys, the "civilized" ones, fighting "anarchic hooligans". Sometimes the police put on disguises and inflitrate the actual demonstrators and start a fracas just to be sure!

  9. Annie: hehe
    TonyP: don't know if anti-semitism will result unless somehow that is connected with that whole David Icke rothschild/banking/reptilian theory.
    Erzulie: Wld like to know more. Was merely wondering.I'm not a regular at Barking unfortunately so you are right I don't know the full background.
    MsCE:Absolutely. It was pretty scary stuff.The Sun today talked about anarchists thugs and had a reporter embedded.Did he really write that or was it heavily edited? Surely he doesn't really believe what he writes? Can't he see that most anarchists are peace-loving hippies?
    Ben: MsCanalExplorer and I were talking about that today.The guys who were happy to be photographed shoving stuff thru the RBS window.I don't recognize them. Who are they? Agent provocateurs? They didn't even look like activists. In Genoa, the police were filmed dressing up as black block anarchists as a smear tactic.

  10. Nice report with lots of detail. The protestors were all very peaceful from what I could see, even when the RBS windows were put in... and I could see that happening although I wasn't that close, but it didn't feel violent from where I was coz no one was being threatened. I then went up to Bishopsgate which didn't seem that different from outside the Bank of England.... But I figured the police would blockade everyone in so I left in time to get a burrito in Whitecross Street just before the stall closed up mid-afternoon. It really felt like the authorities were cranking stuff up coz they wanted a riot... but the crowd wasn't hyped up for aggravation.

  11. "They didn't even look like activists."

    What do activists look like?

    Four of them were in court today:

  12. Thanks for that Bentham.
    But you know what I mean don't you? There is actually a bit of an activist uniform.
    So the girl was a 17 year down from Scotland, been involved in political activism since the age of 13.
    Er, are we sure it wasn't my teen?


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