Back in 2007, Brian Haw battled against a government desperate to close his, by then, 6 year long vigil.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
‘Occupy democracy’ continues despite the police, the petty wardens, the fences, the dogs, the lies, and even a hurricane.
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. For updates and inspiration, see occupydemocracy.org.uk or follow @occupydemocracy #occupydemocracy