Gaza vigil at Downing Street 29th July

Several hundred people gathered opposite Downing Street this evening at short notice to solemnly mark the murders of children and civilians in Palestine during the recent onslaught by the Israel war machine.

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Organised at short notice by Stop The War Coalition and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, people were asked to bring flowers.

Each person chose a name from the list of hundreds and wrote it on a white card along with the age of the victim. Then the cards were placed with flowers against the wall along the pavement opposite Downing Street.

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Police were particularly annoying, with half a dozen Police Liaison Officers continually hassling people to get into the “protest pen”, and one, a TSG officer in a PLO blue tabard, trying to get the small group of anti-Zionist Jews to move (even though they were in the pen), as they were apparently attracting too many photographers!

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When the wall space was full, a young woman began to read the list of names of victims and their ages over a megaphone, and an eerie silence fell over the large crowd.

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The speaker broke down in tears at one point, and others in the crowd sobbed too.

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As soon as she finished, police again moved in and tried to clear the pavement and get everyone penned in.

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I had to leave early, but i believe the plan was for a delegation to take the flowers and name cards over to Downing Street and call for Cameron to condemn Israel over its war crimes and to stop selling arms to the apartheid state.

There is another protest planned outside the Israeli Embassy on Friday evening at 5pm.

Gaza national demo 26th July – short report and some pics

The event began outside the Israeli Embassy on Kensington High Street where the police had closed the roads to accommodate the tens of thousands of protesters arriving by lunchtime.

Shortly after 1pm, the huge march set off slowly east.

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Police were keen to portray a friendly image, and the Silver Chief Superintendent Morgan briefed his officers to “smile and wave”. Even austerity cuts were temporarily suspended as the Met Commissioner authorised officers to claim for ice creams, perhaps a dual purpose of cooling, as well as reinforcing the ‘fun’ image.

However, in the back streets around Kensington, there were dozens of vans of riot police, and the intelligence-gathering Police Liaison Officers were out in force, as well as undercovers on the march, spotter teams, and Forward Intelligence Teams with photographers. And the front of the march was patrolled by the normally less than friendly TSG officers.

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Downing Street was protected by layers of double fencing, although the march continued on past to Parliament Square for speeches and socialist newspaper sales.

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A small group of Palestinians continued a sit-down vigil opposite Downing Street.

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In Parliament Square, even two TSG officers were spotted in PLO tabards (surely some sort of mixed message!), and a couple of British Transport Police were tabarded up too.

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At the appointed end, around 4pm, a group of young Palestinian supporters marched a couple of times round the square and then headed north, perhaps towards the BBC or back to the Embassy – they numbered a little over 100.

Meanwhile, in the square a people’s assembly took place, facilitated by Occupy folk, who were hoping to encourage the erection of a temporary peace camp. A group of around 200 people shared ideas and speeches on an open mic, but it became clear that the #occupytheoccupation call-out had not reached enough people to establish a viable camp, and the idea was abandoned for the evening (or rather postponed).

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Once they realised the camp was not happening, the large deployment of PLOs dispersed.  

#occupytheoccupation is also a call-out for people to think creatively about occupations of relevant targets over the coming days. Already last week saw several such protests, including at the Ministry of Justice and at arms companies offices in London and Cardiff. Interestingly, there have been NO ARRESTS at any of these actions, possibly because the authorities are concerned about the “commit a small crime in order to prevent a larger crime” defence being played out in court, in the context of UK support for Israeli war crimes.

July Critical Mass – 2nd anniversary of mass arrest of 182 cyclists

Last Friday, Critical Mass rode to the Olympic Park in Stratford to mark the 2nd anniversary of the mass arrest that took place on the night of the Olympic Opening Ceremony.

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Background:

On Friday 27th July 2012, 182 cyclists attending the customary Critical Mass bicycle ride were arrested in East London for breaching conditions imposed under the Public Order Act prohibiting them from riding anywhere north of the River Thames.

The conditions were imposed by the Met in order to prevent any attempt to protest near the Olympic stadium at the opening ceremony of the 2012 games. Despite a massive police operation that saw huge disruption to ordinary Londoners as riot police closed several London road bridges, a couple of hundred cyclists did eventually make it ‘en masse’ to Stratford, where two groups were kettled and the mass arrests ocurred.

Bicycles were loaded on to buses, and the arrestees were transferred to distant processing centres in Croydon and further afield in Sussex. Some were thrown out (after many hours without food or water) in the middle of the night, with little or no public transport available, and they were given chits to collect their bikes from other centres at a later time. There were many reports about the police detention that conveyed a sense that the operation was simply extra-judicial punishment for daring to challenge the corporate Olympic machine.

As I reported at the time, on the now defunct london indymedia, the legal framework for such wide-ranging conditions and subsequent police actions seemed shaky, and this was borne out by the fact that only nine cyclists were ever taken to court, with just five convicted of breaching public order conditions, and two of those overturned on appeal. At least a hundred of those detained are in the process of suing the Police over the operation.

One interesting revelation emerging from the trials was the first admission by the Met that ‘Police Liaison Officers’ (PLOs – the “friendly, smiley” ones in baby-blue tabards often seen at protests nowadays) have a defined operational intelligence-gathering role. Some of the PLOs had also been riding undercover on the previous month’s Critical Mass.

So, although Forward Intelligence (FIT) Teams and photographers are less often seen at events, the ubiquitous PLOs have taken over much of their role, and are often to be found wandering through a protest, accessing areas that would have been difficult for FITs, engaging with activists using psychological techniques to gain information, and often caught listening in on conversations.

The ride (25th July 2014):

To mark the 2nd anniversary of the unlawful mass arrest, the July London Critical Mass bicycle ride headed East, and hundreds of cyclists rode through Whitechapel, and Mile End, over the Bow flyover, and past the spot where police had formed the largest kettle, eventually riding on to the Olympic park.

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With powerful sound systems pumping beats, there was a party atmosphere under a dramatic sunset, but after some resting and partying, a several-hundred strong group set off again towards the iconic velodrome, where after carrying bikes up the stairs, they circled the building on the upper walkway.

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The velodrome itself is now surrounded by a fast open air bike road and track circuit, which snakes around a BMX and mountain biking park. Secured from public use by waist-high fencing, it wasn’t long before a hundred or more cyclists were mischievously shooting round these tracks. A couple of security folk looked on helplessly, and one of them complained loudly that the cyclists looked like a bunch of “weird squatters”, that they weren’t supposed to be there without paying, and that she was therefore calling the police. Cyclists tried to point out that Londoners HAD paid rather a lot of money for these facilities, but the velodrome is now a private commercial concern charging upwards of £30 for ‘taster sessions”!

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After about twenty minutes, the police arrived – one plod on foot, and a community support officer on a bike – without the corporate power of the IOC (International Olympics Committee) behind the operation, it seems the Met didn’t regard this year’s incursion as such a high priority :)

It was now dark and the remaining mass – still a couple of hundred in number – were ready to return to London. Near Mile End, there was an unfortunate incident when a rider came off his bike and, not wearing a helmet, landed badly, losing consciousness. Some cyclists stayed with him and sought medical attention, while the rest of the ride continued on so as not to crowd or gawk.

By the time the got back to Brick Lane it was way past 10pm – a later finish than usual for the ride – and began to disperse.

Although I can understand the Mass wanting to mark this anniversary, I couldn’t help thinking it was ironic that in a way, once again, corporate sport had distracted people from World politics – huge sporting events have become modern weapons of mass distraction. Without the Olympic mass arrest, I feel sure that last week’s ride would instead have paid a visit to the Israeli Embassy, and maybe an arms company or the BBC, in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Protest at Israeli Embassy 22nd July 2014

Several thousand protesters attended the event in Kensington High Street near the Israeli Embassy at 5.30 on Tuesday evening.

Police closed off the High Street outside the Palace Gate private road leading to the Israeli Embassy which is on Crown Estate land where protest is banned. Behind the gates and the double fortified barriers could be seen several police vans guarding the building, while on this side was a small stage and a crowd of several thousand peaceful protesters.

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22nd july 2014 gaza protest at israeli embassy

The protest, supported by a wide range of organisations including anti-war activists, Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Palestinians. The crowd was notable for its wide mix of ages and ethnicities, and one of the speakers commented on how the crowd was a shining example of love and unity, in contrast to the heavily defended Zionist outpost of hatred beyond the gates.

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Despite the searing heat, protesters shouted energetic slogans and the atmosphere was a mix of righteous anger and buoyant solidarity mixed with a little dark humour among the placards.

22nd july 2014 gaza protest at israeli embassy

22nd july 2014 gaza protest at israeli embassy

22nd july 2014 gaza protest at israeli embassy

The police deployed several “Police Liaison Officers” who showed their true colours by lurking at the edges, concentrating on their true role of intelligence gathering rather than actually doing much liaising.

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As I left early, I came across an interesting sight. An Israeli Jew was handing out leaflets, claiming that the protest was anti-Israel because fewer than 1000 Palestinians dead were attracting bigger protest numbers than many more Egyptians, Syrian or Iraqi deaths. Though based on obviously false logic, he was eloquently trying to persuade a group of young Palestinian supporters who had gathered around him.

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What I witnessed over the next few minutes, was a remarkable display of street debate with no sign of menace, despite their diametrically opposed positions. Maps were flourished and argued over, the history of Israel and Palestine was discussed, documents were referenced, and connected and logical argument took place, with each side listening and trying to persuade the other. A little gem of human interaction providing some hope in such an indescribably hate-filled era.

With more than 500 Palestinians killed in this latest Israeli onslaught (around 80% civilians and more than 100 children murdered), another national protest has been called for Saturday 26th July. It will start at 12 noon at the Israeli Embassy in Kensington, and then will march to a rally in Parliament Square due to take place at 2.30.

29th June 2014 DPAC occupation at Westminster Abbey

Please note: This event was Saturday 28th June, not 29th. I won’t correct the title because there are now a load of links to it.

DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) staged a dramatic protest on Saturday at Westminster Abbey. They were highlighting the planned abolition of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) and the terrible consequences such cuts would have on the lives of disabled people who gain some little freedom from being able to afford personal carers and who would otherwise end up in institutions.

The occupation was aided by UK Uncut and the Occupy movement, and was very nearly successful in its aim to establish a camp.

However, despite pleas from the protesters, the Dean of Westminster instructed police to confiscate tents and other equipment vital to the safety and well-being of the disabled activists, and he refused to communicate or negotiate directly with any organisers.

After a few hours, a meeting was held on site and a consensus reached, that although many of the supporters were ready to continue the occupation, the safety and comfort of more vulnerable colleagues was not guaranteed without the planned shelter, cooking, and toilet facilities, and so everyone agreed to leave together in solidarity.

The protest was attended by almost 200 police, who outnumbered the activists by at least 3 to 1. Given that the protest was completely peaceful other than two minor scuffles when police used force to prevent additional supporters from coming into the area, this certainly seemed to be more a political show of force than any proportionate response.

When the police threatened people with arrest for ‘criminal trespass’ they said the protesters were stopping the Abbey from going about its ‘normal business’. I received a tweet from @lightacandleOTM that summed it up perfectly – isn’t the normal business of the church to stand up for the persecuted?

 

Back with a little film about BP sponsorship of the arts

After a busy time and an untended blog, I return with news of a lovely action by the “Art Not Oil” coalition at the National Portrait Gallery.

Tonight, the gallery is celebrating its 25th year of BP sponsorship of the Portrait Awards, and to mark this sorry milestone in green-washing, we launch our short film of the serene “25 Portraits In Oil” action that took place in the gallery at the weekend.

 

‘Art Not Oil’ staged a peaceful visual protest at the National Portrait Gallery at the weekend.

While BP are celebrating their long association with the gallery, Archbishop Desmond Tutu says:

“Twenty-five years ago people could be excused for not knowing much, or doing much, about climate change. Today we have no excuse.
Those companies primarily responsible for emitting carbon and accelerating climate change are simply not going to give up. They need a whole lot of gentle persuasion from the likes of us.
We can encourage our universities and municipalities and cultural institutions to cut their ties to the fossil-fuel industry”.

Sponsorship arrangements with prestigious art institutions provide oil companies with an image of being “good corporate citizens” while in reality their main business model depends on destroying a safe and habitable climate for all of us.

The amount of finance they contribute to institutions is actually tiny in terms of overall budgets, and if oil companies paid their taxes without huge subsidies and massive loopholes, the money raised would hugely exceed the small contributions the oil companies make in return for their and apparent generosity.

Web: artnotoil.org.uk
Twitter: @artnotoil | #BPPortrait
Facebook: End oil-sponsorship of the Arts

Students surround and delay David Willetts car in May Day protest

Student activists had called a May Day Carnival for this evening to celebrate a year in which students and workers united in campaigns against University bosses, gaining some victories but facing intimidation, lies and violence in return.

The action was due to begin at 6pm with a parade to an unknown destination at 7.30.

By chance, the same day, MP David Willetts, the minister for Universities and Science, was giving a speech about capital funding in the UCL Darwin Building. So some students arrived early, and a few even got in to the building in an attempt to interrupt the event, before violent security henchmen forced them back, and taser-armed police arrived to secure the building.

The Carnival itself, plagued by constant rain, wasn’t looking too lively, and even with the appearance of a samba band at around 7.20, the gathered crowd was small, and spirits seemed dampened.

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Suddenly though, a few people carrying red and black flags headed off north, and others followed. It seemed they had a destination in mind, and just a few minutes later we were at the north east corner of Gordon Square, where a line of University security men surrounded a black Jaguar car, while students blocked the road in front. They’d found Mr. Willetts leaving his event, and he was trapped.

1st may 2014 students delay david willetts' car leaving UCL after speech

As word spread, more students arrived, and peacefully blockaded the path of the Jag for several minutes before sirens were finally heard and several riot vans steamed up behind. As police poured out of the vans, they started aggressively pushing people out of the road, shouting about ‘Obstruction of the Highway’, and then tried to clear a path for the vehicle to start moving.

1st may 2014 students delay david willetts' car leaving UCL after speech

1st may 2014 students delay david willetts' car leaving UCL after speech

However, the students weren’t fazed, and they kept running ahead and blocking the road, attempting sit-downs and standing in front of the vehicle despite some pushing, dragging, and even some punching from the police.

1st may 2014 students delay david willetts' car leaving UCL after speech

1st may 2014 students delay david willetts' car leaving UCL after speech

Eventually police managed to get a riot van in front of Willetts’ car, but even this kept being stopped by determined protestors.

1st may 2014 students delay david willetts' car leaving UCL after speech

1st may 2014 students delay david willetts' car leaving UCL after speech

1st may 2014 students delay david willetts' car leaving UCL after speech

1st may 2014 students delay david willetts' car leaving UCL after speech

It took a full ten minutes after the arrival of police before, at Euston Road, the car was finally free to speed away north while a police line blocked students from any further action.

1st may 2014 students delay david willetts' car leaving UCL after speech

In all, the Minister’s car was delayed by at least 15 mins, and notably, at the start of the blockade, there was no sign of any police for at least 5 minutes, giving time for students to arrive from Malet Street.