Then and now – Parliament Square, democracy and repression.

Back in 2007, Brian Haw battled against a government desperate to close his, by then, 6 year long vigil. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

While his own small encampment held ground, he was gradually joined by others, a few legitimate supporters, but several homeless people and other campers, who set up around the square nearby. The GLA put up fences, attached signs warning of “no unauthorised access”, and gave out copies of a nice letter from the GLA’s PR man, Benjamin McKnight, stating that the Mayor of London (then Ken Livingstone) respected peaceful protest, but that the other camping was an eyesore and a health hazard. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  

At the time, we all thought things had got pretty bad, but seven years on, things have changed for the worse. SOCPA was replaced with PRASRA, and the power of seizure was introduced, covering any equipment that might facilitate an overnight stay, any placards or written material, any musical instruments, any structures, and any amplification.

The Mayor (now Boris Johnson) clearly no longer respects peaceful protest, as every item associated with normal protest activity is now proscribed. The PRASRA law, on which the 2012 Parks bye-laws are based, is a very nasty, unjust, undemocratic, and draconian piece of legislation, as it confers powers on warranted “Heritage Wardens”, who with the help of the police, can use force to seize items they consider fall under the wide definitions, can ban people who don’t follow their “reasonable direction”, and can mostly get away with doing this without the hindrance of any judicial framework where they can be challenged.

Now too, “no unauthorised access” has been replaced with a lie. The 2014 signs say the area is “closed for repair”. 01 occupy21

The only repairs required are the result of the jackboots of, not 78 this time, but several hundred police, who have used the PRASRA legislation to intimidate, abuse, and harass a group of people who have publicly announced a nine-day series of workshops, discussions, and other peaceful events around the subject of democracy. 02 occupy21

The lie is further unravelled by the sight of dogs deployed to frighten off any possible incursions, while it’s wardens and police who patrol the grass behind high fences, rather than gardeners.

This morning, around 30 people were arrested, dragged away one by one by dozens of police, surveilled by a hovering helicopter in an austerity-busting costly operation to retrieve a measly £5 tarpaulin, used to keep bottoms dry on the wet soil. And even after they had seized their pathetic booty, police weren’t content. As if like rabid dogs, once they’d tasted some tarpaulin, they needed more. They attacked an elderly man on the pavement, who was carrying a folded up tarpaulin, arresting him as he tried to keep hold of it, and ignoring his cries that he had fought in World War II to stop fascism. One notable arrest, who was promptly de-arrested once police realised who she was, was Green GLA member, Jenny Jones.

After all this evil, I didn’t know what to expect when I visited the Square early this evening, but what I saw left my heart singing.

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‘Occupy democracy’ continues despite the police, the petty wardens, the fences, the dogs, the lies, and even a hurricane. 

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One man sat at the foot of Churchill’s statue, wearing a policeman’s hat, borrowed to keep the rain off, and guarding a big yellow sign that declared “The revolution will not be confiscated”. And behind him, a crowd of around a hundred people listened intently to speakers, and took turns sharing ideas, as part of the continuing programme of events, delayed by interruptions, but not abandoned. 05 occupy21 For updates and inspiration, see occupydemocracy.org.uk or follow @occupydemocracy #occupydemocracy

Occupy Democracy – The Battle of the Tarpaulin

If a progressive movement can gauge the effect it’s having from the response of the State, then the Unions should be ashamed of themselves, and the Occupy movement should be cheering loudly.

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Depending on whom you believe, the Unions roused between 50,000 and 100,000 people to march a tiring long course to Hyde Park to listen to the same old speeches from the same list of actors, demanding change but seldom challenging the system.

Policing was hands-off, relatively low key, and generally good-natured.

Meanwhile, globally there is a movement growing that recognises the present system of central banking and corporate power is so out of all public and democratic control, so corrupt, and so destructive that it can’t be ‘changed’ but must be replaced.

Although in the UK the movement appears to be small in numbers, it’s clear it has a growing resonance, and that more and more people are searching for a new paradigm. What is also clearer than ever after yesterday, is that those who hold power are deeply afraid of this movement.

After the TUC march, Parliament Square was very busy, with no more than a couple of hundred ‘occupiers’ surrounded on all sides by as many or more police.

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As well as TSGs on all the pavements around Parliament, there were several groups standing in military formation round the square, and of course several Police Liaison in the blue tabards, chatting jovially with the crowd before reporting back to a senior officer from the National Domestic Extremist Unit.

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Meanwhile the “domestic extremists” had erected twin towers of silk and bamboo, painted with the words “Occupy” and “Democracy”, an easel displaying a “Safer Spaces” policy, and a tiny sound system for speakers to use.

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And those extreme speakers included George Barda, very well-informed and reasonable Occupy activist, Natalie Benn, leader of the Green Party, and professor and author, David Graeber. MP John McDonnell also spoke and gave his support.

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The ridiculously named “Heritage Wardens”, who patrol Parliament and Trafalgar Squares, were busy pointing out infringements of the Bye-Laws. These rules were passed in 2012, shortly after the Occupy Camp was evicted from St Paul’s, and they are based on clauses in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act (PRASRA), which were brought in as a replacement for the unenforceable SOCPA legislation designed (but failing) to remove Brian Haw from his decade-long occupation and peace vigil. The new laws read like a history of Haw’s successful legal challenges of previous attempts to dislodge him, and they prevent all manner of public behaviour that might be associated with protest and especially occupation, also giving the immediate power of seizure without having to bother with legal impediments such as courts and judges.

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A sleazy reporter from the Daily Mail, who seemed to have close ties with the authorities, told me that the Superintendent (“a lovely chap”) wasn’t going to mess around, and would make it “short and sweet”, and sure enough, the disruption and harassment began.

First, a couple of units of TSG moved in and surrounded the blue tarpaulin that was being used to keep extremist bums dry on the grass. But despite the intimidation and police numbers, people linked arms and chanted (see vid below), and the tarp remained in place.

Next, the Super sent in a highly-trained ‘bunting snatch squad’ comprised of Heritage Wardens and police.

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Another snatch squad unceremoniously pulled down the delicate towers and hauled them away. A small ‘safer spaces’ display board was wrestled away from an occupier, with thuggish police committing several assaults as they withdrew with their booty, and finally the small sound system was removed, again with brute force against peaceful but enraged members of the public.

As darkness fell, a massive police cordon formed near the edges of the grass, and anyone arriving was informed that the park had been closed at 7pm, and that people were not allowed in under Section 1 of PRASRA, which was of course nonsense, as it was actually under bye-laws, and by then they’d run out of copies of the bye-laws (which they are required to show when enforcing).

“You can’t stop an idea” is a familiar truism of the Occupy and Anonymous movements, and last night was an astonishing and beautiful example, as occupiers carried on their talks, music and assembly despite interruptions, and later in the night, their solicitors caused the police to back down and allow people to enter the square until the GLA could show that their sudden “closure” was in any way lawful.

Some brave folk stayed again through a second night, with little opportunity to sleep, any attempt to pitch a tent triggering immediate attack and seizure.

Despite all this petty repression, the Occupy Democracy timetable of events is planned to continue, with fabulous speakers and events connecting many ideas, movements and people throughout the next week, in the safe knowledge that they are ruffling the feathers of the corrupt and powerful. If a couple of hundred activists can cause so much panic, imagine what two thousand, or two million could achieve.

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As for the tarpaulin – it was still in place this morning.

UPDATE 19th OCTOBER – Battle of the Tarpaulin – Part Two

As darkness fell this evening, 140 police officers entered the square and, assaulting people (with reports of dragging folk by their heads and use of pressure points), they snatched the four tarpaulins. They also trampled over peoples’ belongings and especially food and drink, causing a mess. Occupiers are beginning to use the hashtag #tarpaulinrevolution, and are asking people to come to the square bringing tarpaulins or umbrellas. Any donations of waterproof trousers or tarpaulins that could be cut up and wrapped round waists greatly appreciated.

Despite the attack, spirits remain high and they are clearing up the mess, and are intending to remain in the square overnight again with a packed timetable of events planned for tomorrow.

Huge Kurdish protest in Westminster yesterday over Turkey and ISIS

Called at short notice and spread over social media, yesterday afternoon’s Westminster protest attracted thousands of Kurdish people from all over London, filling the square with home-made placards and a variety of flags.

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Their largest banner simply stated ‘Turkey – Stop Supporting ISIS”, and speakers told of how Turkey is refusing to allow women and child refugees over its border, and is even preventing Kurdish volunteers from leaving the country to help defend Kobane, while doing little to stem the flow of fighters and arms to ISIS, and even buying black market oil from the Islamic State.

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While the PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party) is effectively fighting on the same side as the West against the “terrorists” of ISIS, it is still officially a ‘proscribed’ organisation itself, and Kurds have plenty of evidence that Turkey is effectively supporting ISIS to carry out its genocidal mission in Kobane while giving lip service to the West’s apparent desire to confront the Jihadists.

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Among their demands of the UK government is a call for Cameron to throw out the Turkish ambassador after Turkish PM Erdogan commented recently that PKK and ISIS were “the same”.

After about an hour in the square, the Kurds decided to go marching, and negotiated a route around the West End with police before setting off up Whitehall.

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However, as the front of the march passed Downing Street, there was news of scuffles and arrests in the Square as police bungled a stop-and-search, tried to arrest a Kurd for resisting, and ended up in fist-fights with a small crowd of enraged supporters who had watched what was going on.

As a result, the march sat down, demanding the release of their comrades, and bringing the area to a complete halt.

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A Police Liaison Officer (PLOs – now known to be intelligence gatherers), tried to negotiate with the men at the front of the crowd, before reporting back to the Chief Inspector and then working with police photographers trying to identify and document ‘ringleaders’.

After more than 30 minutes, it appears that police released one man to appease the crowd, but two were later confirmed as detained on suspicion of assaulting police.

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With a lot of stopping and starting, the huge march then continued up Whitehall, but abandoned plans for a long West End walkabout and instead doubled back along the Embankment to return to Parliament Square, where, as the sun began to set, they peacefully dispersed, and the 20 or so police riot vans drove off too.

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TTIP Protest and banner drop in Westminster

TTIP stands for TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which under the guise of a free trade deal, allows the largest corporations to seize ever more power away from people and even governments.

It is a far reaching agreement which in its present form includes a device known as ISDS (Investor State Dispute Settlement). This would bind signatories to a system of courts run by corporate trade lawyers who will decide cases on ‘free trade’ merits alone, without any democratic mandate, and without reference to environment, justice, rights, health, or any other such criteria.

Under ISDS, a corporation can take action if their future profits might be affected by any legislation brought in at any level.

Given that the sort of legislation likely to affect corporate profit would be things like workers’ rights, health and safety, environmental concerns, or human rights, it’s not hard to see how undemocratic and exploitative this treaty is likely to be.

Notable cases heard under ISDS clauses in established trade deals have already seen Argentina sued hundreds of millions of pounds for freezing energy prices to help its citizens after economic collapse, Egypt sued for raising the minimum wage, and Australia spending millions of dollars trying to defend its recently introduced cigarette plain-packaging laws from an attack by Phillip Morris.

Despite the deafening silence of mainstream media, a grassroots and global movement is growing to raise awareness and fight this dangerous deal, including the World Development Movement, and huge petitioning and campaigning groups like 38 Degrees.

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One of the many issues highlighted for the UK is the effect the new law might have on the NHS, as it would not only give private health companies an undemocratic leverage over current plans, but also compensate them huge amounts of money if future governments reverse any privatisation with a democratic mandate.

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Yesterday’s Westminster action was part of a pan-European call-out, with more than 400 events planned around the EU.

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Several hundred activists gathered in Parliament Square to listen to speeches by various campaigners before heading on to Westminster Bridge for a banner drop.

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Their sheer weight of numbers ended up closing the Southbound carriageway for a while, which simply added to the chaos enveloping Westminster as thousands of Kurds also staged a sit-in at Whitehall.

There, they hung their huge ‘#noTTIP Hands Off Democracy’ banner over the side of the bridge, while a throng of press photographers tried to capture a decent image hampered by the bright sun above Parliament.

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If you want to find out more or help with pressure, the UK noTTIP and 38 degrees sites might be good starting points.

 

London Global Frackdown action at HSBC

London activists targeted HSBC branches in central London with street theatre and speeches yesterday as part of a worldwide ‘Global Frackdown’ initiative to raise awareness and fight back against fracking.

Global Frackdown’ boasts individual partnerships in over 30 countries and about half the US states, and yesterday’s London action was among hundreds worldwide.

Publicised by ‘Frack Off London’, the action was aimed at HSBC because of its economic and underwriting support for companies like Cuadrilla in the UK, as well as globally.

Armed with a portable fracking rig prop, some great banners, a small sound system, and some ‘Rhythms of Resistance’ drummers, a group of nearly a hundred people set off from the Golden Square meeting place towards the HSBC branch at Regent Street.

Inside the branch, forewarned by police, the manager was panicking and locking the doors, trapping a few customers inside.

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With the protest in full swing outside, he peered through the keyhole (not sure why he didn’t use the clearly marked eyehole above) before letting people out.

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With the fracking rig set up outside, and a large banner “Fracking is a dirty business” held across the door, the bank remained shut for at least half an hour while the protesters listened to activists reporting from around the country, from Algeria and Romania, and also a speaker making ties with the ‘No TTIP’ campaign which was holding an event later.

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The group then set off down Regent Street, through Piccadilly, and down to another HSBC branch at the Strand, accompanied by police on motorbikes, on foot and in riot vans.

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Policing was characterised by the usual intelligence officers dressed as ‘Police Liaison Officers’, but also an excessive number of overt Forward Intelligence police. At the Strand, even a Chief Inspector arrived, along with two police photographers and videographers, who took detailed footage of everyone involved.

Considering this was clearly a fluffy, non-invasive, entirely non-criminal, consciousness-raising event, the excessive and intelligence-led policing was overtly political, and clearly demonstrated the state’s determination to push through fracking and intimidate the anti-fracking movement.

Undeterred, the anti-frackers handed out loads of leaflets to passers-by, and made a few more speeches, before taking to the street once more and heading down Whitehall towards Parliament Square to join up with the TTIP protest called there at 2pm.

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Stop The War (again)

The ‘Stop The War’ Coalition called an emergency rally at short notice tonight outside Downing Street in response to the news that Parliament is recalled tomorrow to vote (or as the Guardian put it, “endorse”) air strikes on Iraq.

This time we have apparently been invited to bomb by Iraq itself, and the urgency is due to the uber-violence of ISIS/ISIL who are marauding across oil-rich areas and taking control by wiping out opposition.

The issue seems to have split some of the usual anti-war activists and the Left, who are joining in the mantra that “we must do something”, and with the only “something” on offer from our decrepit leadership being air strikes, then this is what we must do, in order to stop the bloodshed.

I have no doubt that the so-called Islamists (who seem to have left all spirituality behind), are committing terrible acts of genocide, but there are three issues I have a problem with. The first is that ISIS/L has come out of the same groups that “we” were arming, training, funding, and cheering on in their fight against the evil dictator Assad in Syria. Second, they are so successful at recruitment, because they can point to the Iraq war, and to the atrocities committed by Israel towards which the West not only turn a blind eye, but actively continue to support, with massive aid and military equipment. And third, the West often turns a blind eye to genocide (take the Congo for example), but for some reason (erm, let me think, could it be strategic and oil-related) this one demands immediate intervention.

Something must be done, yes, and if the real “we” who would like the right thing done, had control of the military might of the US, France and the UK, then just maybe, some strategic air-strikes might be a temporary and stop-gap answer of sorts. But to believe for one second that what “we” want done, in any way aligns with what the US military-industrial complex wants done, is naive and dangerous.

Their air strikes will be to protect their interests, not civilians, and even if for one second we believe they want to wipe out ISIS/L, they won’t be able to, because like Al-Qaeda, ISIS/L is an idea as much as it is a physical movement, and it is an idea that is ever more reinforced by Western military intervention. And let’s not forget, in the Orwellian dystopia being created, perpetual war IS the real aim, so it just won’t suit the US and its allies to actually wipe out their enemy, just be seen to carry on fighting them, while bringing in more and more control and surveillance on their populations at home in the name of security (see for instance today’s vote and likely passing into law next Tuesday in Australia of the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill).

So what CAN we do. Well, how about cutting off military and other funding and aid to Israel until it is brought to account for its broken UN resolutions and its war crimes. And how about cutting off aid and military equipment to Turkey until it sorts out its human rights abuses on the Kurds. And how about moving away from fossil fuel economy, and moving the massive subsidies currently given to oil over to renewables, creating jobs and clean energy and energising Western economies with sustainable growth in these areas.

If we started truly doing those things, ISIS/L would find it a lot lot harder to recruit, and we could start replacing the morally bankrupt UN and NATO with a proper International Court of Justice based on Universal Human Rights and strict adherence to the International laws of war.

It won’t save those currently facing aggression in the Middle East, but Obama’s bombing strategies can only lead to more bloodshed too.

So for me, the message, “Don’t Bomb Iraq’ is as right now as it was in 2003, and people should not be beguiled by the ‘we must do something’ rhetoric of the warmongers.

The Stop the War coalition (of which I am not a member) have called for a Central London protest on Saturday. As usual there is no suggestion of civil disobedience, so it will further sap the energies of the people who come along, and is extremely unlikely to stop any wars. History has shown over and over again, that only when the powerful are truly challenged through creative and disobedient mass movements, can change occur. So while I support their message, I can’t support their tactics. It didn’t stop the Iraq war last time, and there are even fewer of them this time. Time to step up. Yes, “we” must do something!

For what it’s worth, some pics from tonight’s protest opposite Downing Street – some good people there.

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Some pics from London Climate March

An estimated 40,000 people marched in London as part of a worldwide climate mobilisation ahead of the UN summit in New York.

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The march, on an unseasonably warm afternoon, was characterised by creativity and diversity, with a large number of contributing organisations and groups, and a lot of home-made banners and props. A protest notably unmarred by the usual sea of Socialist Worker placards.

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The main rally ended with a minute’s silence which was intensely observed by the mammoth crowd, an eerie quiet enveloping the streets around Westminster.

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The official march was followed by a spontaneous visit by a crowd of around a thousand to the Tory HQ nearby.

Earlier in the day, activists targeted the British Museum with a creative and poignant protest action over BP arts sponsorship.