Tag Archives: occupy democracy

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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Democracy Dan and the Battle of the Plinth

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On Tuesday at about 3pm, a man called Dan scrambled up on to the plinth of Churchill’s statue, and began a lone occupation that continued for 29 hours until an operation involving a scaffolding team, specialist climbing officers, and around 100 other police finally got this peaceful and committed young man down and into custody.

During his protest, two supporters were arrested for throwing him supplies, police claiming that they were therefore obstructing officers who wanted him down.

On Thursday evening both Caroline Lucas MP and Jenny Jones GLA Assembly member were warned by police after trying to throw supplies too. Superintendent Kohli argued that in this case “Human rights are an irrelevence” as the police were entitled to “use force” to execute an arrest.

It is generally agreed in law that force should be used as a last resort, with consideration to the nature of the offence, and the level of resistance. It’s hard to see how torture through starvation and dehydration could be a legitimate and proportionate response to a man sitting peacefully on a plinth.

When Dan finally came down, he was arrested on suspicion of causing harassment, alarm or distress, and criminal damage (using sticky tape to secure a banner). He was later released on bail and returned to the Square, but there were reports later that he was re-arrested after feeding a sausage to a police dog!

Despite the constant police pressure, events continue at Occupy Democracy, and an announcement has been made that the occupation will now extend until 5th November in solidarity with Anonymous’ “million mask march”.

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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