One of my New Years Resolutions is to be more politically active. I’m a citizen and things are, you know, bad, so I thought I’d get out more.
I started on this early by turning out the night after the general election. This was march of mostly young people. I felt like I was the oldest person in it. There were a few different groups in separate demonstrations who joined up by the time I found them.
The police tried to keep these allied groups apart. They failed, but it was the first of many apparently legally unjustified acts I saw the police carry out that night. People have a right to protest and right to march and there is no justification for separating people.
The march moved very quickly. The police angrily raced through and around us, trying to prevent us from going down larger streets and pen us into a narrow secluded spot. The way they were running and shouting, seemed as if they were responding to some great emergency. I thought there’d been a stabbing, but no, it was us peacefully marching as is our constitutional right.
I saw a line of police with batons raised, ready to rain them down on one single kid who was just trying to walk past them while the march went in a different direction. I talked to people who told me they’d been hit by police.
Eventually they did kettle us. On the way out of the kettle they photographed every participant, except for about 5 of us. Anyone wearing a scarf or mask was asked to remove it. Almost everyone complied. They did not have the right to ask for this, but they made those of us who refused wait until everyone else had gone before we could go.
At the end, instead of telling us we could go, they were rude and taunting. The best I can say is that they were significantly less violent than they were at the student protests, however, their actions seem unjustifiable and it’s hard to see how they’re fit for purpose.
1/ 50: Anti-war demonstration
Stop the War Coalition called an emergency rally by Downing Street in response to the tensions in Iran. A few hundred people turned up with very little notice, which was encouraging. There were several speakers, one of whom said that while the peace movements of 2003 failed to prevent the war in Iraq, they did prevent it from spreading into Iran.
It was nice to hear that we’d been successful in 2003 in anything.
After the speeches, it felt like there should have been a march but none was scheduled, so people gradually wandered off.
2/50: Australian Solidarity Protest
On Friday, Extinction Rebellion held a protest at the Australian High Commission in solidarity with demonstrations across Australia. This protest was showed great organisation and intense creativity. There were several striking art aspects of it, including the largest flag I’ve ever seen.
And a group of performance artists, who did slow processions and posing like medieval French Catholics on a holy day.
There was also a samba band that was one of the best I’ve heard in the UK. This combination of sight and sound and well-designed banners made the protest energetic and photogenic. There were also well-planned actions, including blocking traffic intermittently. There weren’t enough people to do an arrestable civil disobedience, so they just stood in the road until the police told them they had to move, so they did, waited several minutes and start again. The cops went along with this compromise.
There was good gender parity of the speakers, many of whom were Australian, but all of whom seemed to be white. Most of the speakers were excellent. The formula they seemed to use was explaining the situation, personalising it, sharing their distress and then turning to an impassioned set of demands, sometimes engaging in call and response or getting the crowd to chant.
After the speeches ended, the samba band struck up again and many people had some of the free vegan food provided. This was served on paper plates with bamboo sporks. Many people used sidewalk chalk to writer their demands on the pavement.
It seemed like the protest probably numbered more than a thousand at it’s peak, which is a lot for a friday afternoon. I think many may have been people on their lunch breaks.
Policing Differences Between the Anarchist Kids and XR
The police treated the XR protest and the amarchist protest extremely differently and I’m going to make some guesses as to why.
The XR protest also had a lot of young people, but had far greater diversity of age, including a few pensioners and certain number of small children. The police seem to have contempt for teenagers and twenty somethings, but don’t want middle class, middle age people to witness this.
Both protests were pretty white, so I don’t know to what extent that played a role. The samba band seemed to be the only diverse section of the protest, although there were a few people of colour scattered in the crowd. It would look bad for the police to hassle a stationary samba band.
The anarchist march was extremely dynamic and unpredictable and openly adversarial to the police’s attempts to prevent them from protesting. XR’s protest was static. Not in terms fo the experience of being there, but the location and actions of the people involved were predictable. Note that the right to protest includes a right to be dynamic and unpredictable. What makes police officers slightly less angry is their problem.
And, indeed, a several of the police did seem incredibly angry and were unable to fully hide their contempt for democracy. It came out yesterday that the police consider XR to be an extremist organisation. The language in the report suggests that any group seeking more than the most cosmetic of reforms is extremist, so this should not be a surprise. The police representative contacted by the Guardian said the listing was a mistake and would be withdrawn.
How will XR react to this? The student protests and the battering of Climate Camp should make it clear that the police can’t be trusted, however, the student protests were mostly attended by students who mostly would have been in their 20s at the time. Those people remember the police actions, but older people don’t. Indeed, people who didn’t go to the climate camp won’t have reacted the same way to footage of police batons (or the actuality of police batons) the same as people who went to the camp. I had been there and I remember. Other people may have forgotten. Also, the police said they would change and they did somewhat.
I’ve just been inducted to XR – I cannot speak for anyone but myself, but I’m also not a complete outsider. In 2003, when I was at the war protests in San Francisco, we used to chant “out of the office and into the streets”. It seems like that is finally happening with XR. People have finally decided to act, which is great. However, the people coming out of the offices don’t have much experience with being over-policed at protests. I think some will accept the police’s explanations for now. This is a new and growing movement. Anything that mobilises people for their first time will have some naivety, which will, as a matter of course, be disabused. I feel hopeful about XR or I wouldn’t have joined.