The battle lines were drawn when the media announced that the Metropolitan Police had imposed a Section 60A around Westminster, giving them the power to forcibly remove masks, and the Met also erected a digital notice board in Parliament Square with a long list of things people mustn’t do, which included lighting fires or setting off fireworks.
So, no masks, fires, or fireworks for the million mask march on bonfire night then!
Oh, and in case you thought you might at least enjoy yourself with some beats, the digital sign, a list of proscribed activities, included amplified music too, before signing off by thanking people for their “coperation”, which might have been a spelling mistake or perhaps just a final insult.
As the march arrived in Parliament Square at around 7pm, the thousands of activists, masked and unmasked, were met not just by the GLA’s pathetic wire fences and their pompous “Heritage Wardens” ensuring nobody tried to protest on the grass in front of Parliament, but also by hundreds of riot police guarding that fence, themselves ensconsed behind double barriers weighed down by sandbags.
Some of the marchers began immediately dismantling the barriers, and then, despite the ‘anonymous’ call-out not to engage with police, a small minority immediately escalated the tension with some physical engagement, leading to batons drawn, full riot gear, and some flashes of violence.
However, despite this momentary flashpoint, most of the crowd was peaceful, Russell Brand spoke to the cameras, Vivienne Westwood arrived with her Climate Revolution crew, and one of the main stated aims of the march, to bring gridlock to London, got underway, with all roads into Parliament Square either closed or at a standstill.
Like last year, rather than stand around in the Square watched by hundreds of police, the crowd soon moved off, overturning most of the hundreds of crowd barriers and using them to obstruct roads.
Soon there were a thousand or more people outside Buckingham Palace, and again there were a few skirmishes over the double-barriers, but otherwise, it was a mostly peaceful crowd with a wide range of home-made banners, a few fireworks, and some famous faces.
On a mini-megaphone, political rapper, Lowkey, received a warm welcome as he performed.
After a while, and sensing police numbers building up, the march moved off again, heading up through Green Park onto Piccadilly, completely filling the road, and passing the Ritz, which was guarded by police in full riot gear.
Moving quite quickly, via Piccadilly Circus and up Regent Street, the next target was the BBC, where an occupation was only just held off by a thin line of baton-wielding police until re-inforcements came.
Like similar large protests at the BBC before, this one, with hundreds of anonymous protestors thronging the courtyard and dozens of cops in full riot gear clearing the area, was hardly reported, getting just one sentence on the local news website and no national coverage from the national broadcaster.
Not waiting for police to catch up, the protesters headed off west along Oxford Street, and then spread out across Park Lane. There, the authorities attempted a blockade which at first looked like a possible kettle, but then seemed to turn into a disruption/splitting tactic, which was partially successful, but at the cost of blocking the major road in both directions with police lines and vans, thus causing more gridlock. Meanwhile, many demonstrators passed the police lines by jumping over the fences into Hyde Park, while others just sat on the banks watching the police blockade the traffic for them.
While one quite large group marched through Mayfair and back down to Piccadilly, word seemed to spread for all the various splinters to reconvene back at Parliament, and there, by around 10.30, there were hundreds of protesters again blocking the approach roads. Once more, police seemed to be forming lines to potentially kettle people, and there were some skirmishes as people broke through a line of riot police on Bridge Street.
As police formed new lines, some in full riot gear, and pushed more people on to the bridge, I had memories of the students kettled there for hours in the freezing cold a few years ago, but tonight, there were no police squeezing from the south side. Police were stopping anyone from leaving north over the bridge, and one person who tried ended up getting some unusual treatment from a police medic.
Groups of mouthy cops were forcibly pushing anyone who looked like they might be a protester onto the bridge.
The Met later announced there were 11 arrests on the night, with one de-arrested later. Most were for obstruction or public order offences, with three alleged police assaults, one fireworks offence, and one more serious ‘attempted GBH’.
Anonymous is a strange beast, able to mobilise quite a large and defiant crowd, with no real aim other than disruption and gridlock. It represents a huge range of political views and motives, loosely linked by disaffection with current systems and the corruption, injustice, inequality and increasing control that characterises them.
Among the crowd were right-wing elements, anarchists, NGOs and professional campaigners, disaffected youths, lefties, celebs, agents provocateur, campaigners for the NHS, and those against corruption and paedophile cover-ups in Westminster, internet freedom groups, 9/11 truthers, privacy activists, and some party animals. There were some fireworks but no large sound systems. There were people tearing down barriers and overturning bins, but there were others clearing up the bins after them. While a small number of people threw objects and fought with police, others tried to engage them in political discourse.
Apart from Westminster and the Palace, the only other notable target for protest was the BBC, and as the cops guarded the Ritz, just a few steps further on the protesters filed past a wide-open Fortnum and Masons, also ignoring all the usual anti-capitalist targets such as mega tax-avoiders Vodafone, MacDonalds, Boots, and Top Man, with just a handful taking part in what was effectively just low-level looting for food and drink at a couple of Sainsbury branches.
Given the scale of disruption and gridlock, and the level of sporadic violence, the arrest numbers were low, the police clearly on orders to defend Parliament and the grass with their sheer weight of numbers (so much for austerity), while de-escalating and disengaging at several points throughout the evening. The press coverage, despite right-wing scaremongering from the usual suspects before the event, was quite muted and sparse after it, even though this was quite an impressive world-wide phenomenon – Anonymous claiming nearly 500 events worldwide on November 5th, with huge rallies in many major cities.
You can’t arrest an idea, especially an idea as nebulous as this one.