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Mayday personal report
John Wisehammer 01.05. 2001 10:03 PM
Started off at Critical Mass at Marylebone, fucking brilliant, hundreds of people there (so early!), really good atmosphere. Then we went loudly and tunefully down Edgware Road, Marble Arch, Park Lane, then to the US embassy for a "Kyoto moment". Hung around there for a little while (apparently the ambassador didn't want to come down for a chat). Totally good natured - no-one made a move on the building, and only a couple of observer police on the steps. As it should be.
After a few minutes we buggered off down to Hyde Pk Corner. First slight uneasiness happened here when we paused to regroup and black-clad fuzz started to move in to move us on. Very good reaction from people on busses, (bus drivers again too!), tour groups, office workers and everyone else.
Then we went daaahn Piccadilly to Piccadilly Circus where we were rapturously received by the various punters there, and then the Inspector assigned to us started to get increasingly heavy about our pause - hands were laid on cyclists in a mild shove, but we kept our good intentions and nerve.
Then we went all the way up Regent and Oxford Street, past the Chinese Embassy and go to King's Cross around the back of the new British Library. And then (best part of the day, big respect to whoever might have been able to pull it off), just as we arrived in front of King's Cross from the east, the other CM group arrived from the west at *exactly* the same moment.
Really beautiful timing - absolute ecstasy between the groups at seeing each other. SO MANY CYCLISTS!
About an hour poncing around at KX, and the veggie burgers were given out by McVegans. A few hacks wandering around saying "is it going to be that McDonalds or the one across the road?". Actually, it's not "going" to be either of them - we're above that.
Then the combined foot/bike parade (with the reliable sambaistas) headed along Euston Rd to in front of the station. The police had blocked off the underpass, so there was a stoppage while everyone stood around asking each other what to do. About half of the cyclists split off to try and go around the other side and get to the underpass, but it was already closed off.
All those on foot and bike who stayed got boxed in at Euston square in an *exact* repeat of N30 - though most managed to find their way back to the main group again.
Then it was Oxford Street, Soho to Trafalgar Square, where they blocked off the access road down the side of the South African embassy to the Strand (though it was open to vans and taxis - eh?), where there was a non-violent demo outside Coutts. Unfortunately, a true London cyclist spits on main drags and knows exactly where small lanes that go to the same place are: so we ended up on the other side of Coutts, which was also blocked. Fuck.
A little pissed off, we say they were trying to push us up Kingsway by walking in a wall ahead of us, so we just ducked right down a lane to the Embankment and headed towards Westminster Bridge/Parliament. This was well in the exclusion zone, and as we were going west, we saw a wall of black-clad plods ahead - looking excited.
Fuck *that* - a quick u-turn, and then we decided to really exercise our democratic rights to freedom of movement by pissing off in the other direction and ducking down tiny lanes and generally keeping the policemen's map reading skills up to scratch. Very fast and very fun.
I can't remember where after that until it was Piccadilly (again!) and an even louder reception, whistles sounds and cheers, baby - the bikes were thrust in the air. Turned right into Haymarket down to the World Bank - the (SWP-dominated) crowd were happy to see us, and we them, and it all got very noisy again.
Then it was back up to Piccadilly, up Oxford Street to Oxford Circus. I ended up outside the cordon as it was being formed: there were screams, a rush from Oxford Circus and a simultaneous flurry from police as they started putting balaclavas on and charging through the horse line.
After that, I could see it was all over, and fucked off home: no point in getting penned and nicked, as far as I could see.
Thoughts: I had an overwhelmingly good, purposeful and positive day. I never saw anything but fluffiness and good humour from the Critical Mass riders, and actually the police were a bit too pushy (literally) but there was a reasonable degree of mutual understanding too.
The trouble only started (as far as I could see) when the police started to pen people in and push them to move on.
Because none of those fuzz had ever done a CM before, they didn't know how it works: we decide the route we take spontaneously (or freely), we're loud but not aggressive, we don't mind talking to cops too much, and when we stop - it's so we can keep together.
This last bit was important: the inexperienced and a bit jumped-up commander didn't get this, so kept trying to move us on, which pissed us off and ultimately split us in two, which is twice as hard for him to administer.
I'm sure (hope) he'll get a complete bollocking for losing control, losing track of CM and failing to escort CM properly, but it's mostly his fault for failing respect the "normal CM rules" which the usual escort cops could have filled him in on.
(Example; A guy got a puncture: we all waited on a side street off Park Lane. The commander got so paranoid that he ordered up *eight* transit vans full of cops because he thought something was going to happen - but if he'd just thought to ask one of us, we would have showed him and told him!)
As to the containment that happened to everyone (I'm sure this will be discussed) but I think crowds are like gases: the smaller a space you confine them in, the higher the pressure grows. Eventually you got the impression that they were penning everyone in on Ox Circus until people were wet, tightly packed and frustrated enough that there was trouble - then they could say "there was trouble, we told you they were violent".
PS I have probably got some details wrong and some missing - but that's how I remember it all.
"Keep it tight and together"
"Keep it fluffy, baby!"
"Keep it fluffy, officer!"
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