Amazing and beautiful sight tonight
Saturday’s protest and street party was called by anarchist group “Class War” and was the third such event this year. These are ‘Reclaim The Streets’-style walkabouts, with fire juggling, pyrotechnics, a very loud bicycle sound system, and lots of attitude. With no pre-organised route, they are a fingers up to the status quo, to the need for permission to have fun in public spaces, and they’re protests against the creeping privatisation of public space, as well as the wider capitalist austerity agenda, gentrification, and corporate land-grab that poisons our cities and our democracy.
Having said that, by their very nature, they’re also a disorganised, messy and drunken affair, the main result a passing celebration of freedom with all the mayhem that might bring.
So, activists and party animals gathered together under a railway arch outside Shoreditch Station from about 7pm, the sound system adorned with a piggy-faced police effigy which, thanks to the Ashcroft revelations, neatly tied together the Tory class-enemy and the “pig” police. At times, flame torches and smoke bombs invoked images of a post-apocalyptic film set, complete with loud punk or drum ’n’ bass soundtrack.
Near 8, the party set off along back streets towards Brick Lane.
A handful of police followed, ears glued to their radios as they fed back route information to an unseen controller. Around 200-strong, the procession turned north up Brick Lane, and then stopped outside a small shop called “Cereal Killer Cafe”. With some banging on the windows, and a couple of paint-bombs thrown, it was clear that, to some in the crowd, this was a target, but the significance passed me by until someone explained – apparently this business sells nothing other than breakfast cereal, and at nearly £5 a bowl, it was seen as a symbol of gentrification in the area, infamous for having been featured on a C4 programme, and made all the worse by being fronted by two twins wearing hipster beards.
I didn’t really follow why this was marked as such an important target, and its selection has caused much controversy in social media and has gained wide coverage in lamestream media. The hipster twins have been quick to court publicity and victimhood, and there are a lot of questions over whether the message of the night was muddied. But there has also been hysterical talk of physical violence, and a claim that children were in the cafe. I certainly didn’t see any children there, and suspect that like Farage’s similar claim when activists invaded his local pub, it may turn out to be untrue. On the other hand, ‘Class War’ hasn’t had so much press for a long time, but whether “all publicity is good publicity” applies here, I’m not sure. Whatever, a couple of paint bombs, some spilled cereal, some banging on the window, and a felt-penned “Scum” graffiti, shouldn’t really characterise the whole event, given that a tiny portion of the crowd were involved. The supposedly “terrorised” staff seemed to be smiling as they took images on their mobile phones from inside the shop.
Further up Brick Lane, the front window of Winkworth’s estate agent received a blow – a more predictable, and perhaps less controversial target for symbolic property damage. Round the corner on Bethnal Green Road, another estate agent, Marsh and Parsons, got the same treatment.
Up till now, the same few police had been tailing the protest, and apart from a minor altercation in Brick Lane, were very hands-off. Suddenly, sirens could be heard, and two riot vans appeared, out of which some fully-kitted officers emerged.
But as the party doubled back towards Brick Lane, a clash was avoided, and soon a full-scale impromptu party was taking off in a small park, Allen Gardens, with numbers swelling rapidly around the sound system, and a small firework display adding to the merriment. Class War founder Ian Bone posed with one of the large banners in front of riot cops near the gates to the park.
By now a police helicopter was hovering overhead, Brick Lane and other surrounding roads were closed to traffic, and more police were arriving. After a while, the group set off east to Vallance Road, and then up again to Bethnal Green Road where they started heading back towards Shoreditch, reclaiming both carriageways as they walked.
A loud bluster of police sirens announced the arrival of more riot vans, but several of these were empty. Sometimes this can signify an expectation of mass arrests, but there simply weren’t anywhere near enough officers to attempt this, so I think it was mainly for show, and the police were actually quite under-resourced – perhaps they should consider some direct action to encourage Cameron to reverse the cuts and stop giving all the money to the rich?
The sound system led the way west, and then up Shoreditch High Street, followed by a dozen police vans (most empty) and accompanied by about 20/25 police, now back in normal uniforms. Their role was to try to keep oncoming traffic moving, so there were a few minor scuffles as they did this, and there was one snatch arrest, apparently for suspected criminal damage, under the bridge at the crossroads with Old Street.
Further west, the party brought Old Street roundabout to a standstill, and the pig effigy was set alight. After a while, and accompanied by the hands-off police, with numbers just beginning to dwindle, I left them heading back east at around 10.30 – heard later it ran past midnight.
Some activists claim the event was a 1000 strong, but although this number might reflect a total who joined at some point however fleetingly, I’d estimate the main core never grew more than a few hundred at any one time.
Four years ago, the Occupy movement tried to establish a camp at the London Stock Exchange in Paternoster Square. The Square, although it looks like public space, is in fact “private land”, and the Management Company applied for a pre-emptive injunction, so that on October 15th, the planned day for occupation, protesters were met by a police blockade, and instead they began their four month encampment in front of St Paul’s.
The original injunction remains in place, and gives power to the Security to order people off the land.
Comedian and activist Mark Thomas is currently touring his ‘Trespass’ show which campaigns and entertains around the subject of gentrification and the privatisation and corporatisation of public space. As a result of walking across Paternoster Square in a ’Shaun the Sheep’ outfit, Mark finds himself banned from the private land. Not one to take such bans lying down, he called supporters to join him in a mass trespass which took place on Saturday afternoon and attracted around 50 people who donned sheep masks and entered the Square ignoring the legal warning signs, and posing next to ‘No Loitering’ stickers.
Walking round and round in a loop outside the London Stock Exchange, they completed a nominal 1km hike before congregating around Dame Elizabeth Frink’s Bronze statue of a Shepherd and his Sheep.
At first, Security kept well away, but eventually they showed up, along with a bicycle cop and a PCSO . Mark explained the spectacle, and the injunction remained unenforced.
Later the same afternoon, with help from ‘Punk Ethics’, Mark organised a trespass at Gabriel’s Wharf, where he compered a public gig with sets by ‘Flowers of Flesh and Blood’ and ‘Oi Polloi’ as well as some comedy.
He also introduced some campaigners who are against the ‘Garden Bridge’ which I hadn’t realised will be another private space with its own rules and exclusions despite being built partly with public money. More info at http://www.tcos.org.uk
Last week, Vivienne Westwood drove a tank up to the constituency home of Prime Minister David Cameron near Witney in Oxfordshire. Accompanied by the ‘Nanas’ and some children, she was there to launch a “War On Fracking” and the press launch of the ‘Nanas’ speaking tour.
I made this promotional film of the event.
Full details about the day, and the upcoming tour, on the TalkFracking website.
Police were hoping to keep hundreds of demonstrators in protest pens opposite Downing Street on the 9th September, when Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu was due to arrive in the country to meet David Cameron. But while many were confined to their respective pro-Israel and pro-Palestine fenced areas, a few from both factions moved away from the megaphones, speeches and chanting, to cross the road to the gates of Downing Street.
There were occasional scuffles and arrests, and a lot of abuse from both sides among people outside the designated protest areas, as numbers began to build up outside the gates.
Police wrestled with one protester over a placard that said ‘Fuck Israel’, breaking it in two as they snatched it away.
As more protesters crossed the road, blocking Whitehall traffic, more police moved in to separate opposing factions.
Despite the heightened emotions, some people engaged in debate and listened to each other.
With protesters ranging across the road, police lines formed to push people onto pavements and release the traffic.
After several hours, people began to disperse, while a relaxed group of Torah Orthodox Jews reminded us that Judaism and Zionism are not in any way synonymous.
Earlier this year, Liberate Tate performed an amazing 24-hour action at Tate Modern, challenging BP sponsorship of the gallery, with a huge unauthorised artwork in the Turbine Hall and an overnight stay.
I was privileged to make a film of the event and create a soundtrack based on the amazing charcoal scrapes and long natural reverb of the space.
Up to 100 people attended the latest event on Saturday afternoon in a six-week campaign targeting London high-end auction house Sotheby’s, over their sacking of cleaners engaged in Union activities.
After a short sit-down outside Sotheby’s, blocking New Bond Street for a few minutes, the protest took a couple of trips round the block, visiting the other entrance to the auction house. It was a peaceful, good-natured and loud affair, with drummers, sirens, whistles and megaphones creating a cacophony in the posh Mayfair streets.
Letters were handed to local businesses explaining the nature and purpose of the protest and apologising for any inconvenience.
United Voices of the World were supported by Class War, Disabled People Against the Cuts, PCS union, and Unite.
The carnival atmosphere was contrasted by humourless policing. Sergeant Hamatt physically prevented one of the protesters from entering a local shop to hand over one of their letters, though seemed hard-pressed to offer any lawful reason, then hassled a photographer for taking a photo of him writing in his log book (citing spurious Data Protection grounds, when in fact it was probably him breaching data laws if he was waving around sensitive information in public near press photographers).
A vanload of police reinforcements arrived, and engaged in some pushing, but the protesters just changed direction occasionally and kept up their spirits and resolve.
The campaign began on July 1st when 4 cleaners were ‘suspended’ by Sotheby’s after taking part in a protest calling for better conditions including sick pay for the precarious cleaning and portering staff. The campaign has had some success with a massive petition, and an Early Day Motion signed by 19 MPs in parliament, leading to the reinstatement of two of the workers.
So the fight continues to get the other two, Percy Yunganina and Barbara Rocha, back into work.
United Voices of the World is a new grassroots and volunteer-staffed union representing precarious workers in London’s service sectors, and it is growing rapidly. This seemed to have triggered the interest of the authorities, who of course prefer either non-unionised labour, or unions led by fat cats with whom they can do business.
So the United Voices protests at Sotheby’s, seemingly a small industrial spat, has attracted some interesting policing, with visits by senior observers from the National Domestic Extremist Unit and other intelligence officers. Perhaps they are concerned that sometimes from small acorns…
Organising from the grassroots up is a very potent catalyst for change. If you’re not aware of recent Spanish developments, I’d recommend a look at this excellent short docu from the esteemed Reel News crew.
For more info on future Sotheby’s actions, check out United Voices of the World facebook page.