Touring London on N30 – Inspiration and police repression

9 Dec

My absolute hatred for everything this government is inflicting upon our society is perhaps one of the only things that would see me wake up at 6am as we did on N30 and spend the next 12 hours out on the streets. We were heading to Liverpool Street Station to join Occupy London’s secret action. On our cycle ride toLiverpool Streetwe saw street cleaners out on the streets in the darkness which filled me for immense respect for them. These would have been traditionally public sector jobs, however, these workers were not out on strike today because much of our street cleaning services have been outsourced. The previous day I had been at the hospital where the staff looked after me with incredible care. My mum is absolutely dedicated to her work at Brixton library for which she receives very little recognition. It is fair to say that I have a lot of love for the public sector and am outraged at the government’s action to make these hard working people pay for a crisis that they did not cause.

At Liverpool Street Station we found the gaggle of fellow protestors which built up – Rhythms of Resistance were playing, bringing samba sounds to the dreariness of the station. We danced on the spot and people unfurled banners from the balcony. I love the spectacle of something ‘unordinary’ happening in City spaces which often have strictly prescribed uses – e.g. transit space, shopping space, work space, and nothing else, no fun, no interaction or meaningful engagement, no assisting each other. We followed the samba band and danced through the streets of the City of London, which sadly looked as if it had been unaffected by the strike – people were carrying on as normal as if all the things vital to our lives – health, education, a clean environment – were of no concern or use to them as they went about trading their invisible monies. As we walked the streets ofLondon, the police, rather than facilitating peaceful protest, seemed to think that their job was to ensure the free flow of roads, and attempted to restrict our movements to the pavement. On the south side ofSouthwarkBridgethey formed a sort of kettle around protestors on the street. At this point, after watching in solidarity with our fellow protestors for a while, we decided to cycle off as we had a picket to support outside Brixton library.

Our cycle ride from the City to Brixton saw us pass pickets outside South Bank University, as well as a few along Brixton Road. We cheered, dinged our bells, and shouted our love for public sector workers as we passed. OnBrixton Roadanother cyclist joined our cheering to the pickets. We joined my mum on her picket outside Brixton library where they were chanting ‘What do we want?’ ‘Pensions’ ‘When do we want them?’ ‘Before we die!’ Because of my age, I don’t have much experience of strikes, but seeing the workers and their supporters joining together for a common cause, made me realise their significance. In a society which constantly promotes a hyper individualist and consumerist culture, coming together and acting collectively is a unique act. In front of the library on the large square, many more people were gathering for a rally – people from other picket lines came and congregated along with members of the community. At 11.30 we marched together down Brixton Road. A man on the street approached me and said ‘Thank you for striking’ which was lovely of him. I love those moments of unexpected encounters. The large group of several hundred disappeared into the tube station and we cycled off to join the student protests at ULU. The student group at ULU was smaller than the student march on Nov 9 which is shame because there should have been a large presence of students and lecturers. Perhaps the ‘total policing’ tactics of Nov 9 had put students off and quite understandably too. However, as we weaved our way through the streets joining other strikers it was clear that there were many thousands of people out on the streets to defend fair pensions and express their anger at this government. Our march was so large that it took three hours to walk the route of the march, however people were very good natured and there was a strong family presence with children sitting on their parent’s shoulders. UK Uncut were out serving SolidariTEA. An Occupy London bloc had a disproportionate police presence fearful that we would occupy yet another space. Yet they are doing everything in their powers to ensure that we cannot protest outside (or inside) state and financial institutions. The road toWhitehalland access toTrafalgar Squarewere completely blocked off by huge metal barriers – of a kind I have not seen before. Perhaps the police are getting their Christmas presents early. In fact, I’ve caught a glimpse of their Christmas list in today’s Guardian, and they’re hoping for a £4 million water canon with which to police protests. I think Santa should give them lumps of coal for that audacious and useless request. More and more of the city is out of bounds to protest. It is an extremely worrying development.

An hour into the march, we were feeling pretty exhausted from our early morning and cycling tours to and from the centre ofLondon. We wanted to cut a corner of the march and join it further down the road. We had overheard a police man saying that this was fine. However, when we tried to leave the route to rejoin it further down, a different police man stopped us saying that we must stick to the route, and that as marchers we could not leave the route or that would be an arrestable offence. I misheard him and thought he called us ‘Marxists’ so there was some confusion in our interaction. Simply because we were protestors meant that we did not have access to other streets in the city. As a life long Londoner it is incredibly frustrating to be denied the right to walk in the city that I know so well. This was the first of three incidents of over zealous policing which seeks to criminalise and intimidate protestors. Reaching the march’s end point we headed back towards Piccadilly as we had heard via Twitter that there would be an Occupy action happening there. On our way throughTrafalgar Square, which we were lucky to even be able to enter – there was a small gateway in the metal barriers through which we entered, but even then, police were monitoring who could come through. One of them did look as if to stop Luke from getting through. It was a strange scene inTrafalgar Square– gated with the huge metal sheets at the bottom, it was eerily quiet. At the top ofTrafalgar Squarejust outside the National Gallery we saw a large group of police with a small group of protestors. One of them was gesturing wildly to some other police nearby to join them, as if they really needed reinforcements. It seemed very strange that a small group of protestors were being stopped and searched, and two of them arrested, here outside the National Gallery. They seemed to have done nothing at all wrong. I was keen to stand close by to keep an eye on proceedings, but Luke was scared they would then turn on us, because we had protest things on us – a Unison flag and an NUT sash. It is ridiculous that the over zealous policing we have witnessed over the last couple of protests is having such an effect on us – that we felt we were somehow arrestable for standing in Trafalgar Square with a small Unison flag stuffed in Luke’s back pocket. We might as well just go along to a police station and hand ourselves in for a crime we have yet to commit, for this seems the way in which our justice system is moving. I was feeling very stubborn, so refused to move away, and we went over to one young man who was being stopped and searched to make sure that he was OK. We had seen the police open his wallet and record his name from his credit cards and we felt that they were acting in a somewhat legally dubious manner. We spoke with the young man and then stood closely by watching. A senior officer came over to speak with us and tried to suggest that we were ‘obstructing’ them, using language that could lead to our arrest. Our second almost arrest of the day. We took their police badge numbers and spoke with the man afterwards. The police had treated him in a bullying way.

Shaken by this incident, whereby we witnessed our freedoms being increasingly eroded, and the police acting in an unaccountable and threatening way, we made our way toPiccadilly Circus. Walking alongHaymarket Streettwo large Greek men emerged from a side street chanting Greek football songs. As we made our way towards the statue of Eros, we saw lots of sky blue soft caps of the riots police standing around the statue, and hundreds of Greek football fans filling the area. It was an incredible sight and a wonderful coincidence. We were not able to spot any protestors as they had been seemingly swamped by Greek football fans. We found a small group of Rhythms of Resistance who were walking back towards Haymarket and decided to follow them. Suddenly hundreds of protesters emerged from nowhere and went racing down Haymarket. Someone lit a bright red flare and we watched the flare fly down the street. It was a carnival atmosphere as people ran down the street with the sound of samba drums behind a glaring red flare. It was a beautiful sight. It felt exhilarating to watch after the restricted experience of the march and the incident atTrafalgar Square. However, we were too scared to join in because we knew the police response would be huge. So instead of joining in with the carnival, we walked along and watched in awe from the edge. A group ran into Panton House and get to the roof where they unfurled a banner. We stood below in the street, a fair distance from Panton House. Police back up came swiftly. And someone alerted us that they were running to kettle us. We tried to walk away down Haymarket, when a police man came running at us, his arms outstretched to stop us passing him. We jumped on our bikes and cycled down a side alley with several others. We had dodged our potential third arrest of the day. We returned to the scene a little later to see the whole street cordoned off and a kettle implemented. We could still hear Rhythms of Resistance drumming away. More and more police vans arrived, for a group of under 100 peaceful protestors. A van of police dogs arrived. It was a complete over reaction to a group of people occupying a building.

We cycled back through the dark streets exhausted from our day of protest and wondering where we go now…our experiences today show how the police are set on stifling any form of protest that does not march on a designated route with an intimidating police presence. More and more of the city is becoming off limits to protest. Our bodies and our streets are under police control.  It seems like incredibly sad times that we are having to protest for our right to protest.

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