reclaim the streets
my day out
oh to be an Anarchist!
my day out (2)
suits you sir!
so why the city?
more to come?
>> A lovely day in the sun
A lovely day in the sun
(report by KJ)
All in all, it was a lovely day out in the sun. The cyclists of Critical Mass were first outside Liverpool Street station, having completed their early-morning laps of the city. Then, the Campaign Against the Arms Trade turned up, distributing free vegan pittas for their Food Not Bombs campaign. Reclaim the Street's drummers were drumming up a storm in the station concourse.
To whoops and cheers, they led the growing crowd Pied-Piper-like out of the station to marshal in front of towering investment bank Warburg Dillon Reed. A massive cheer went up as a couple of crusties climbed the ribbed exterior of the building to hang a huge banner saying "Enough is Enough" as bemused staff looked on from behind the glass. The crowd waited impatiently as the organisers passed amongst us, distributing masks of various colours, and instructing us to follow the matching banners when the time came. A free newspaper was handed out - a spoof on the Evening Standard called Evading Standards. The front page article reported a fictional global market collapse, and inside, articles discussed various aspects of globalisation and protest.
Finally, the time came, and the Carnival wound its way from Liverpool Street toward the heart of the City, led by the RtS drummers and organisers carrying huge papier-mache carnival heads, each of which contained a mini sound-system with a speaker in the mouth. We showed our newspapers to the tourists trapped in the open-topped buses on Threadneedle Street.
Police kept pace but did not intervene. As we passed the Bank of England, cans of beer were lobbed at a couple of business-suited, middle-aged bankers as they hurried inside and shut the door.
The parade stopped and set up camp on Upper Thames Street, where a sound system kamikaze rig played gabba from the back of a hired transit van. Nude protestor Vincent Bethell walked through the crowd butt-naked, carrrying a placard saying "NAKED PROTEST". (You may have seen his stickers around town proclaiming that "Society is Mentally Ill".) After considering whether it would trivialise their protest, the girls from the Simon Jones campaign got their tits out in sympathy. Never needing much of an excuse to get my kit off, I joined them. Starkers in the Square Mile! And soon joined by a topless Debbie and then a topless Ting!
I bought every single national newspaper the next day, and I wasn't surprised to see that they all focused on the violence. I didn't get close enough to see the fighting, which happened at one end of the street, while the Carnival continued at the other. As far as I could see, nobody was forced to get involved in the violence, and the majority of protestors did not. Indeed some (Debbie included) were quite upset by it, as they believed that it undermined the message we were trying to promote.
I'm not so sure. I think that the dismantling of the LIFFE trading floor was an objective in keeping with the purpose of the protest, and possibly on the organisers' agenda. The police could not have prevented it without using force. You may have seen the television footage of a girl being crushed under a rapidly moving riot van. Another man was dragged along the road after his hair became caught around the axle of a police van. Protestors banged on the window of the van to make it stop, but mistaking this for aggression, the driver kept going until police banged on the window. Witnessing these accidents almost certainly incited the crowd further. Having said that, there were many unjustifiable and disgraceful drunken acts of vandalism and aggression committed by protestors as the day wore on.
The Daily Telegraph describes how City workers jeered at protestors from their offices above:
One pointed at his wristwatch and shouted "See that? It's a Rolex." Another tore up five pound notes and threw them at the protestors below, who retaliated by squirting him with a fire-extinguisher. Dealers at another firm crowded round their office windows, taunting the mob by waving their gold American Express cards. A fire hydrant was set off in the street and a trader shouted "That's the first wash you've had in fifteen years."
One of the high points of the day for me was when a protestor shinned up a metal pole to place a cheap carrier bag over the roving eye of one of the remotely controlled CCTV cameras which are now so ubiquitous we barely notice them. He got an ovation for that.
A young truck driver was trapped on Upper Thames Street for hours. Poor bloke had little choice but to sit it out in his cab, obviously concerned that the drunken revellers dancing atop his artic would cause some damage. By way of compensation, a dealer gave him a pill. "Here you are mate. Try that. It's Ecstasy."
During this time, the Mercedes dealership was sacked and the cars destroyed. Can you imagine the thrill of trashing a consumer item worth more money than you will own in your entire life?
Periodically, the police would charge the rioters, and this would suddenly shunt the whole Carnival fifty yards up the road. Dazed and bloodied protestors occasionally wandered past me. Eventually, in drips and drabs the Carnival moved west off Thames Street. Carrying the anti-car sentiment of Reclaim The Streets way too far, I saw a drunken youth stand in front of a car, hurling abuse and litter at the occupants, a Chinese family who had been unfortunate enough to be crossing Blackfriars Bridge at the wrong time of day.
I caught up with the sound system van, now parked at the north end of Blackfriars Bridge, dancers all around it and a line of riot police in front of it. Debbie and Ting were there, dancing in the sun. The driver of the van was somewhat shaken, having just unwittingly driven over the leg of a reclining protestor. Perhaps alcohol was anaesthetising him, but the guy didn't seem to be seriously injured. Finally, the van tried to make a getaway, nosing through the riot police, and speeding off into the City at 180bpm.
Deprived of a sound system, the protest moved on, down Fleet Street I think, heading for Trafalgar Square. I saw the Golden Arches on the right up ahead; a McDonald's restaurant not long for this world. I stood and watched a while as successively larger objects were used to try to break the plate glass windows. They are surprisingly resilient you know.
Finally, a ladder used as a battering ram did the trick. Hopefully, staff and customers were long gone by this time. A shiny red open-top sports car was driving slowly up the road towards the oncoming crowd. The woman driver ignored my advice to turn back, but she soon realised the danger that her car was in as the street started filling up with less friendly protestors, fired up after having gutted their second McDonald's of the day. Some protestors helped her to escape, some blocked her way, and a sympathetic City pedestrian admonished us, saying "She's worked hard for that car."
Not taking any chances, two or three vans full of riot police were parked outside the next McDonald's on The Strand. What was left of the Carnival finally arrived at Trafalgar Square. Two or three thousand protestors sat down, chilled out, skinned up, passed out, danced to hand drums and splashed in the fountain. The lions at the base of Nelson's Column sported the latest anti-capitalist graffiti.
Taking all of my clothes off once again, I climbed the Trafalgar Square fountain, joining a group of revellers on the top tier. I turned and faced the crowd, stark naked, my arms raised in a victory V. Across the Square, two thousand people cheered, whooped and clapped. It was my finest moment. Then we did the Conga on top of the fountain.
Debbie and I left as the last rays of sun disappeared from the steps of Nelson's Column. Heading for home along The Strand, she was dismayed to see the appalling amount of litter that protestors had deliberately strewn in their wake. We're supposed to clear up after our free parties, she complained. Yeah. But who notices when we tidy up? And who notices when we're not violent?