Thanks to a good friend for this report of last week's demonstrations against the G20 summit.
We arrived at London Bridge station to follow the Silver Horse march to the Bank of England, but were initially concerned that most of the assembled crowd seemed to be press photographers and camera crews. At 11:00am, however, there was an influx of people not involved in the communications industry and we set off across London Bridge. Despite the major backup that we’d seen when we’d reckied the immediate local area, the police at this point took a light approach to crowd control. They tried to keep us to a single lane, whilst we negotiated the oncoming cars and buses, but eventually gave up and began to at last concentrate on diverting the traffic. In fact, the policing even seemed a little lax. On past marches I’ve seen at least a couple of cops standing outside possibly en route opportunistic targets, such as McDonalds and Boots. Even the Starbucks we passed, however, was left unguarded. It was strangely like they wanted someone to smash a window...
Once we reached the Bank of England the police moved quickly to cordon off the area, although unfortunately they made it just wide enough to include the RBS offices. As has now been splashed across the papers and Youtube, this is where the main demonstrator aggro took place. We were standing a little down from the RBS office, and although we could see that there was some police / demonstrator interaction going on, it all seemed pretty minor. Elsewhere small soundsystems played and Billy Bragg did an impromptu singalong (no one knew the words to The Internationale). We were a little surprised, therefore, when a line of police horses drew up behind the line of riot cops outside the RBS.
At the time, it seemed as if the police were geared up for action, but were at the same time allowing the cordon to leak. We bumped into a friend and ended up helping Chris Knight (Prof Knight, media star of the Guardian and Evening Standard) to parade out towards London Bridge, carrying his various horse heads, banners and banker effigies. I now realise that it may have been only particular groups that were allowed out, such as press photographers, pop singers, media stars and their entourages. Certainly a large number appear to have remained contained at the Bank of England, where the police did eventually move in, with tragic results.
It was now about 4pm and so we headed over to the Climate Camp, which was busy with about 2000+ (I’m no good at judging numbers) people gathered along one street. People were partying or holding workshops; a stall provided hot food; a tented toilet area was set up; and men pissed in the street: your average festival scene. The police were just watching and made no effort to stop anyone entering or leaving. After a while, however, we noticed that the cops were steadily building up their presence and readiness for action. This seemed very odd, given the entirely peaceful nature and still large numbers at the event. Suddenly, at 6:45pm, they cordoned off the area and where we were at the south end of the road, riot cops began to aggressively push back the crowd. They were really geared up for a fight, but instead of responding the crowd simply stood their ground, with their hands up to show they were not being confrontational. They then sat down, meaning the cops had nothing to push against. I'm not usually a fan of such passive action, but in this situation with such numbers, cameras and media still present, it worked brilliantly and the police attack was halted.
But we were now kettled. And it remained like this for the next few hours.
At the south end of the road, it continued to remain peaceful, if a little edgy, whilst police vans, armoured jeeps and more troops arrived. The response was an interesting example of ‘fluffy’ protest at its best: The Climate Camp organisers made regular announcements relaying police statements and legal advice, and held a consensus meeting in front of the line of riot cops, to feedback any thoughts and to discuss 'what we should do now’. The revolution will be middle managed! The voiced desire of the demonstrators was to maintain the declared Climate Camp objective of holding the space for 24 hours, by continuing to sit on the ground and, if necessary, linking arms. There seemed a total lack of understanding that the police were waiting for the right moment to wallop them, and that as we had been told that Press and MPs (who?) were not being allowed in the area, that time may be coming sooner rather than later.
At the north end of the road, however, the police were less aggressive and the demonstrators continued to party, talk, eat and piss as before. As the night wore on, the people who wanted to leave also congregated in this area. So whilst one end of the road prepared to hold off the riot cops, the other end of the road chanted "let us go, let us go": An example of ‘fluffy’ at its worst - lacking any plan or tactic to deal with the police power and aggression beyond pleading with them to be nicer.
As time went on, however, it became apparent that visible through the single line of cops at the north end was a large crowd who wanted to get into the Camp, but were being held back by the cops. As we watched, this policing got nastier until the cops brought in dogs to accompany them in their baton charge against the protesters. "Oooh Shame!" shouted the north end crowd. It was very weird watching people being dragged off into police vans, whilst standing in a crowd that seemed able to only muster indignation at the police action against them and their fellow protesters.
By about 11:30pm the police had cleared away the protesters and so began to allow us out of the cordon, one by one, under the surveillance of a FIT team. As we left, the cops were gearing up for their next move and from the reports on Indymedia it would seem that the south end demonstrators discovered the limits of their tactics shortly after we left.
In the end it was a day that has left me feeling dissatisfied and questioning the nature of the protest. It seemed to lack focus, or rather tried to take in too much. Was its main concern to show anger at the banking / capitalist system in general, or the salaries and pensions of the fatcat bankers, or at the lack of vision shown by the politicians now looking for ways to sort out the mess they created? Various groups took up each of these issues, and more, leaving any direct protest against the G20 Summit rather forgotten. Meanwhile, the police displayed their continuing militarisation, against a movement that, it many ways understandably, lacks a way to effectively move beyond mere demands and symbolic displays of resistance – be it a smashed window or a reclaimed street. We need to think of new answers, new ways of doing things, and, as they say in middle management, we need to think outside the cordon.