Occupy Democracy February – “Equality and Representation”

Last weekend, ‘Occupy Democracy’ returned to Parliament Square for a series of events around ‘Equality and Representation’. Despite an ongoing legal challenge against the GLA over previous repression, on Saturday they faced further arrests by police who appeared to be having difficulty providing a legal basis for their actions.

The afternoon began peacefully on the pavement by Churchill’s statue with a presentation on Islamaphobia, followed by a mock funeral for democracy at the foot of Mandela’s statue.

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Then the activists walked on to the grass area and unfurled a huge tarpaulin, on which they continued debate, with an inspirational offering from Kerry-anne Mendoza (aka Scriptonite).

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Heritage Wardens and police kept interrupting proceedings and attempting to hand over pieces of paper and information to members of the group, but were mostly ignored. Police numbers were also building up, with TSG officers arriving on the scene, and suddenly a dozen or more officers bundled into the crowd, ignoring the shouts that there were elderly and infirm individuals present, and they made their first arrest of the evening, targeting Donnachadh McCarthy, author and media activist. The authorities clearly see him as some sort of focus, as this is the fourth arrest he has endured.

From then on, the evening descended into a petty legal farce and police actions which successfully disrupted the planned events. Superintendent Kohli, heading the police operation, began the evening in assured form claiming his conscience was clear, but as legal arguments ensued, he was heard arguing with CPS about whether CCTV was needed to support any charges, and later literally refused to speak with Bindman’s lawyers and drove away into the night. See the video.

Each of the several more arrests over the evening followed the same bizarre pantomime. A Heritage Warden, surrounded by a large group of TSG officers, would randomly select a member of the public on the grass and (if they didn’t run away), would ask them to leave the grass, without giving any reason for the request. He then claimed they were breaking a Bye-Law by not following a “reasonable direction”, but constant requests to be told the “reason” for the request were ignored. He then asked for a name and address, and if refused, police piled in to arrest the person targeted.

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At one point, people in chorus (using the ‘mic check’ technique of call and response), described to the wardens and officers that some months ago, a Bindman’s solicitor had explained to the commanding Inspector why this exact same scenario was unlawful, and as a result he had withdrawn nearly 200 officers allowing the occupation to continue peacefully – this caused the police and wardens to withdraw and huddle for a while, but they returned for more arrests soon after.

The argument lies around whether a Warden can just issue a direction to leave (which clearly opens him/her up to the dangers of discrimination or infringement of human rights), or whether the “reasonable direction” has to have one of the reasons defined by the rest of the Bye-Laws.

The arrestees were released hours later, and all except Donnachadh, who is facing other charges, were told there would be ‘No Further Action’. Thus, the entire police operation seriously disrupted a peaceful and probably entirely lawful assembly by a few dozen people wishing to discuss the state of democracy in front of Parliament. It seems the occupy movement have a point.

They returned the next day and again held many of their workshops (with topics including ‘feeding the homeless’, ‘black activism’, ‘Greece and Syriza’) on the pavement next to Churchill’s statue.

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Romayne Phoenix

Romayne Phoenix

But when they peacefully moved to the grass, they faced further intimidation and harassment from wardens and police threatening further arrests.

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They finished the day by holding a small rally in front of Parliament.

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Superintendent Kohli certainly had CCTV covered on the Sunday, with a crew of four mysterious figures observing and filming from an overlooking window, and an unmarked green van sporting a powerful surveillance camera just behind the gates of Westminster.

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Occupy Democracy return to the Square on the day of the massive Climate March next month on the 7th.

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26th Jan Infrastructure Bill vote at Parliament (fracking)

26th jan 2015 #binthebill anti-fracking rally outside parliament

Yesterday was an extraordinary day in the fracking calendar.

Protestors pulled together a rally outside Parliament with a range of speakers, celebs, and a massive fracking rig puppet. The Government’s own Environment Audit Committee (EAC) published its report on the ‘Environmental Risks of Fracking’ which unequivocally called for a moratorium. And the Government held a short final debate on the controversial Infrastructure Bill before passing it.

26th jan 2015 #binthebill anti-fracking rally outside parliament

The fracking industry is in deep trouble presently, what with the fall in oil prices, the growing number of bans worldwide (including New York) recently, and the announcement by Plaid Cymru and SNP of moratoriums on fracking.

Yesterday didn’t get off to a good start for the pro-lobby either, with the revelation of George Osborne’s dodgy private letter to cabinet and the call for a moratorium in the EACs final report.

But in the biggest illustration of what little democracy we ever had being fully subsumed by corporate interests, the new clause (NC19) calling for at least 18 months’ moratorium was voted down in Parliament, as Labour abstained from the vote to push their own agenda.

While trespass laws were altered by the Bill so as to allow frackers to drill under our homes without letting us know, to pump whatever they want down there, and to leave any equipment and chemicals etc for as long as they like, the only protection we have from the environmental effects outlined by the EAC (a committee set up by the Government to consider independent evidence and offer reliable advice), is a set of 10 “safeguards” that Labour tabled (NC9), which once again relies on effective and robust regulation (while Government regulators get hit by massive cuts because of “austerity”).

There were numerous complaints from MPs that there was not sufficient time to debate the amendments, and even that they were being asked to vote on amendments of amendments that had supposedly been sent to them by email but that they hadn’t seen. Murkiness all round it seems.

It was no surprise then, that many of the speakers at yesterday’s protest spoke of how the only option left for environmental protectors is to consider peaceful civil disobedience to disrupt the fracking industry everywhere it tries to drill.

26th jan 2015 #binthebill anti-fracking rally outside parliament

The press crowded round the celebs such as Bianca Jagger and Vivienne Westwood, as the Friends of the Earth compere, Donna Hume introduced activists from around the country, and the ex-UK Diplomat for Climate Change, John Ashton, enthusiastically addressed his first ever public rally.  

Donna Hume

Donna Hume

Bianca Jagger

Bianca Jagger

Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood

John Ashton

John Ashton

Green MP Caroline Lucas, one of the architects of the NC19 moratorium clause spoke to the crowd before delivering a petition signed by more than a third of a million supporting the moratorium.

Caroline Lucas

Caroline Lucas

26th jan 2015 #binthebill anti-fracking rally outside parliament

The crowd also held up a solidarity message with Lancashire residents who are waiting for a Council decision later this week on Cuadrilla applications for further drilling in the beautiful Fylde area.

26th jan 2015 #binthebill anti-fracking rally outside parliament

The Lancashire planning committee has already recommended in a 684 page report that the licenses should be refused on planning grounds, and normally this would be the end of the matter, but given the Government’s dismissal of its own environmental report, and the dodgy ties the industry invariably has with policy-makers, activists are still very concerned about the vote and have called a two-day national vigil at the council offices on Wednesday and Thursday. There is a current Avaaz petition for Lancashire Council which has already collected more than 40,000 signatures which they will deliver this week. ‪
26th jan 2015 #binthebill anti-fracking rally outside parliament

Occupy Democracy in Parliament Square Sat. 24th Jan 2015

Occupy have held several events in Parliament Square over the last few months (covered in previous blogs). Their attempts to hold democratic peaceful meetings in front of the so-called ‘Mother of Democracy’ Parliamentary buildings, have been met with repression ranging from petty and laughable jobsworthism to full-blown police aggression. The Mayor of London has spent huge amounts (according to FoI requests more than a quarter of a million pounds of public money last October alone) putting up huge ugly fencing in the name of protecting the grass and the area’s “heritage” for tourists. Interestingly, the word ‘heritage’ was until very recently purely about inheritance, possession and ownership, rather than its currently implied connection with culture, so perhaps Boris is being at least etymologically honest.

At the weekend, there was a large anti-Trident protest near Parliament, so ‘Occupy’ called for a follow-on assembly in Parliament Square discussing and highlighting the corporate connections and influence on Government policy around the issues of arms sales, war, and nuclear weapons.

As the Trident protest ended in Old Palace Yard, a couple of hundred activists marched on to Parliament Square, ignoring a “Heritage Warden” who tried to repel them, and setting up some large banners and making themselves comfortable for an afternoon of debate, speakers, and occasional music.

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The “Heritage Wardens” were originally meant to stop pigeon-feeders, anti-social behaviour, and illegal trading, but their powers were extended dramatically by new Bye-Laws based on the contentious PRASRA law which was written as a direct response to Brian Haw’s continued successful 10-year peace vigil, and the threat of Occupy encampments following the St.Paul’s protest in solidarity with Wall Street.

So now, these wardens work for a small private security business managed by an ex-soldier who served in Afghanistan. Perhaps you remember that one of the reasons the corporate media told us we had to fight the Taliban was that they didn’t allow anyone to play musical instruments? We were apparently going to bring the Afghan people freedom from such draconian repression. How ironic then, that this veteran now has his private troop of jumped-up caretakers running after a gentle acoustic guitarist, as they did on Saturday, and as they can be seen doing on a regular basis in Trafalgar Square, warning that the playing of musical instruments is prohibited.

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Watched by police Forward Intelligence Teams, with more than half a dozen police vans parked round the Square, and listened in to by several more intelligence officers dressed as Police Liaison in their baby-blue, a group of around a hundred stayed well into the evening.

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In defiance of the Bye-Laws and the past police violence and arrests, they held their ground for several hours into the cold night, and handed round a tiny megaphone, while sitting on tarpaulin (both acts banned by the Bye-Laws), as they discussed what ‘Occupy’ stands for, what its demands are, and how to counter the corporate control of Government and develop a true democracy based on the will of and acting for the good of ordinary people.

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This tiny and completely peaceful act of defiance (hardly noticed by the corporate media or the world at large) showed up the insanity of previous expensive and pointless repression and symbolised how disobedience can win small battles, and as we know from history, can eventually create vast changes.

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‘Occupy’ have launched a Judicial Review against the Mayor of London over the previous fencing and repression (https://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/news/press-releases/liberty-launches-judicial-review-fencing-around-parliament-square-gardens), and have announced their return for a weekend occupation of the Square beginning on 14th February, with the fitting theme of love, equality and representation.

http://www.occupydemocracy.org.uk

Trident protest wraps Ministry of Defence in peace scarf

The plan began over two years ago, with the idea of creating a 7-mile long ‘peace scarf’ to connect the Burghfield and Aldermarston nuclear weapon facilities in Berkshire.

As ‘Wool Against Weapons’ (http://www.woolagainstweapons.co.uk) grew, a date was set – Aug 9th 2014 (Nagasaki Day) – and lengths of pink scarf flooded in from all over the UK and abroad.

In the lead up to that event, local groups of knitters staged media events with their own lengths of scarf, often gaining local media interest, and personalising the protest and the issues.

With the Government currently committed to spending over £80billion on renewing the Trident weapon programme at a time of so-called austerity, the 9th August was a huge success, so rather than waste all that pink knitting on just one event, it was carefully packed into dozens of large rolls, and brought to London for the #WrapUpTrident stunt on Saturday.

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01a  #wrapuptrident

More than a thousand protestors gathered at the front door of the Ministry of Defence in Horseguards Parade, blessed with dry and beautifully sunny weather, and roll after roll was caringly unwound and handed out to volunteers who headed down Whitehall to Westminster Bridge Road, then back along the Embankment. not just meeting the start, but doubling up two layers round the imposing white building.

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The stunt was followed by a march down Whitehall to a rally and speeches in Old Palace Yard, where an array of speakers including veteran Ben Griffin, were introduced by Jeremy Corbyn MP and Kate Hudson (Campaign Against Nuclear Disaramament).

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There will be a civil disobedience blockade at Burghfield nuclear weapons facility on the 2nd March (http://actionawe.org/topics/burghfieldlockdown/).

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Love Activists – how the law can bend and sway and bend again

07 #loveactivists Cavell House, 2a Charing Cross Road is a five-storey building opposite the National Gallery, with secure vaults, large entertainment and conference rooms, and a top floor penthouse suite with great views across London. Last occupied by Royal Bank of Scotland, the building has lain empty for over a year, and squatters moved in late on Friday evening. The new occupiers received notice of civil proceedings to take place on 29th December. These proceedings were instigated by a company called Greencap Ltd. which claimed to own the building, but which is an offshore shell company that paid no tax last year, seems to have dissolved, and has a value of £9. With good press coverage, the occupiers, calling themselves the “Love Activists” announced their intention to use the building over the Xmas period to provide shelter for homeless people and to cook a Christmas dinner. They attracted several hundred pounds in donations from the public to do so. However, Greencap secretly went to court and applied for an emergency injunction. This was served by unidentified bailiffs early this morning, who aided by police, managed to evict all but two protesters. The two, known as Danny and Mouse, went over a balcony and sat precariously on a ledge, refusing to move and causing police to set up a cordoned area on the pavement below. 10 #loveactivists 08 #loveactivists As supporters gathered outside the National Portrait Gallery throughout the day, legal advice, hard to come by with aid cuts in 2014, and even harder to find on Christmas Eve, eventually led to one of the activists, Pete Phoenix, putting together an ‘out of hours’ application to the High Court to vary or discharge the injunction that had been served this morning. 06 #loveactivists While people waited for a judgement from the High Court, various officers talked to Danny and Mouse trying to persuade them to come down, but despite the wind and cold, and the need for a toilet, they stayed put, only allowing police to put some rubber wire harnesses round them to prevent a fall. 05 #loveactivists Finally, the activists heard back from Mrs. Justice Andrews, and she ruled a variation to the injunction in their favour, that “nothing shall prevent entry to the premises in order to prepare for and provide a Christmas dinner for the homeless”, and that for the avoidance of any doubt, the original order could not be used to evict or prevent from entering, anyone involved in the preparation and provision of that dinner. This was an unequivocal victory and was met by celebration and cheering. 04 #loveactivists 03 #loveactivists But the officer in charge, Inspector Evans, refused to read the ruling at first, because it was on a mobile phone (which clearly showed the sending address as the high court), demanding a print copy instead. An internet cafe was found and the document printed, but the Inspector had done a runner. It took nearly an hour before he was next sighted, and a Superintendent who arrived was no help either.

a Sergeant takes a look at injunction

a Sergeant takes a look at the new court order

Evans promised to return “in a minute”, but this turned into another half hour, during which time, the balcony activists were persuaded into the building on the basis that the injunction had been overturned. But they were then arrested “on suspicion of criminal damage”, and only after they were removed from the building, the Inspector finally spoke to activists about the new ruling. He said the police had been “trying to establish if the ruling was genuine” but had been unable to do so. He also said that even if it was, since the activists no longer had possession of the building, (thanks to Danny and Mouse’s arrest), they would need to have it enforced by High Court bailiffs, and couldn’t just walk back in. He claimed that the police were only there to prevent any breach of the peace and that it was a purely civil matter, and that not even they could effect entry to the building – he wouldn’t answer under what legal basis he and at least a dozen other police had been entering and leaving all afternoon and evening. Apparently satisfied that his work was done, he disappeared off into the night, leaving two officers at the main door. Although several Gurka security guards were now inside the building, the balcony was empty and all the lights were off. 01 #loveactivists So it seems the law can bend one way for the rich, and another for the poor. When the offshore shell company got its emergency injunction, with no notice to the defendants, giving a telephone number that is unobtainable, bailiffs were accompanied at 8am this morning by more than a dozen police to effect what turns out to be an unlawful eviction based on a document filed by a dissolved company that doesn’t pay any taxes. But when the High Court rules that a dinner for the homeless should be allowed to go ahead, and that the original injunction cannot be construed to stop people from doing so, the police question the veracity of the ruling and continue to guard the building, all paid for by our taxes. Some good news to end the evening however. The secure basement in the building has tonight been retaken by activists, and the Christmas dinner WILL go ahead there at least. Any further attempt at eviction will undoubtedly be completely unlawful. And Danny and Mouse have been released around midnight without charge – so the arrest really does look like a deliberate ploy by the police to side with an offshore company against the homeless and even to subvert the ruling of a High Court Judge.

UPDATE 1am Xmas Morning The mysterious Greencap Ltd company are seriously determined to stop the planned homeless Christmas dinner and have paid for yet another court order, very late on Christmas Eve that overturns Mrs Justice Andrews’ amendment made at tea-time. So once again, police (who actively interfered with the successful implementation of the previous court order and expressed disbelief that it was a genuine document) are happy to run to the aid of private owners and their security goons to evict the Love Activists on the basis of a new document. They’ve failed to provide a stamped copy to the activists however. Eviction is in progress.

Occupy returns to Parliament Square

This morning, Occupy activists began another weekend occupation of Parliament Square. Once again, fences have gone up, not just around the grass (supposedly closed for repairs), but also around all the concreted areas, along with high fences around the grass in front of the Supreme Court at the rear of the Square.

GLA notices state that the Square is closed to the public, and warn that “failure to comply with a reasonable request from an authorised officer is a criminal offence” – this begs the question, what is “reasonable”? It’s hard to get any “reason” for the closure, mainly because if the authorities admit it is in order to stop protest, they will fall foul of human rights law, so they contort themselves into totally unreasonable knots to avoid stating the bleeding obvious.

GLA notice

Unperturbed, the activists set up on the pavement at the front of the Square, sitting on a tarpaulin to listen to various speakers throughout the day, including a fascinating history of squatting and squatting law by Phoenix.

Pheonix on squatting

They received regular honks of support from passing motorists, who could hardly miss the huge “Real Democracy” banner held throughout the day by several volunteers.

Honk

Banner

Policing was fairly low-key for much of the day, but very intelligence-led, with FIT photographers working there this morning, a very high definition camera on a stalk above an unmarked van parked up behind the gates at Parliament, and some Police Liaison Officers, who showed their real agenda by mainly liaising with the Heritage Wardens rather than the activists.

Liaison

Police surveillance camera

Meanwhile, up the road at Downing Street, there was a protest about fuel poverty, with two men stripped down to Bermuda shorts, occasionally joined by a third, braving the cold in solidarity with the growing number of UK citizens unable to heat their homes.

Fuel Poverty

Fuel Poverty at Downing St

They are promoting Fuel Poverty Action’s “Energy Bill of Rights” which you can find out how to support by visiting their website.

Occupy have announced that 30 volunteers are holding the protest area overnight, and you can see their full programme of events for tomorrow here.

UPDATE – around 8pm, activists opened the barriers and asserted their rights to enter the Square. Some activists sat on a tarpaulin and a large number of police with no more pressing business (must be a very quiet crime night in London) arrived on the scene.