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Hemmed in at Oxford Circus
Personal Mayday account by 'Discontent', 04.05. 2001
This all started for me this week when I quickly made a fledgling website to express small discontents, the tiny things that build and build and utterly wear you out, then I made leaflets of my pages and distributed them to non-protesters on Tuesday.
It was quite an experience walking around the various mini protests - beautiful and strengthening to be amongst others who were also feeling discontented, taking part in a peaceful demonstration, some even with music and dancing.
There was a ridiculous amount of police presence but no-one was misbehaving at all. In one area, the police decided to build crash barriers around a group of about fifty people quietly standing with placards, and the protesters obediently moved in to let them do so.
There was no violence or even talk of any. Everyone gathered later in Oxford Circus and there was a really good atmosphere, almost carnival-like as we stopped the traffic. After half an hour or so, we decided to move on and see what else was happening.
However at the periphery we were met by a wall of police, about two or three deep. They wouldn't let us pass and sent us to another exit, but we quickly realised it was the same on all sides.
I told them I wanted to leave now but they wouldn't let us go. They said they were keeping us there in case we caused a breach of the peace. I told them that was silly, that I had made my peaceful protest and that I simply wanted to leave the area now.
In fact I had to meet my mum off the train(!) and I told them that too. No luck. Many more protesters were confused as to why the couldn't go home at that point too.
We were saying, okay we've made our point and now we'd like to move on, we couldn't understand why the police would want to keep everyone there instead of letting them go.
Suddenly some police megaphone barked some order like 'single belt lock' and all the police turned and locked arms together, then started moving in from all sides, squashing us and forcing us into a smaller space.
Behind the line of police I could see thousands more police moving in with riot gear, shields and batons. I became quite hysterical when this change occurred, I was screaming to the police 'you're scaring me! why are you crushing us like this, we just want leave, you won't let us go!'
The crazy part was that in there with us were ordinary people - shoppers, tourists and business people who had just stepped out for their lunch.
They were all trapped by the police too. Somehow my hysterics managed to get us out and we scarpered. I watched what was happening on TV back home, it was awful. Right where we'd been standing were people being hit with batons.
In fact the people at the edges were all people who had wanted to leave too, it was appalling.
I couldn't believe they ended up keeping everyone there for seven hours, yet I was pleased to see that the protesters managed to remain good-natured though it was pouring with rain, they must have been tired, hungry and needed the toilet.
We had noticed the police had ample sandwich supplies, and indeed noted they had all been given an excellent breakfast that morning which cost the taxpayer £20,000.
However I did notice perhaps 10 people in the crowd at Oxford Circus who seemed to have simply latched on to the protest just so they could cause aggro.
They were clearly not the protesters, they weren't part of what had been going on in the morning. I imagine it was these people and others like them who went on to cause later damage. Yet everyone who reads the papers will think that this is what the protesters are and this is how they behave.
Since returning, I have been dismayed by, and felt utterly powerless against the might that is the media. The reporting is so wrong.
They talk about the protesters as rioters and vandals, but when they show the pictures, the hooligans are wearing GAP sweatshirts and Nike trainers - can't they see that these people are not protesters, the protesters wouldn't wear a GAP sweatshirt!
The protesters I met were NOT violent, nor were there any plans whatsoever to go 'on the rampage'.
Yesterday's papers were full of photos of the extremely tiny minority of yobs. I feel outraged that these people are being portrayed as the protesters.
Now we're all being called 'rioters' and the news tells of how the brave police managed to stave off a vicious and vile riot.
It's just not true. There was never any plan for a riot by 99.9% of the people there. One newspaper even showed a page of photographs of people's faces with the headline 'do you know these yobs? - phone in and shame them!'.
I recognise many of the people as peaceful protesters. One of the pictures shows a girl being carried out, I saw her with my own eyes, she was terrified of the Police's heavy handedness, she was certainly no 'hooligan'.
The only newspaper which has carried a fairly accurate portrayal of events has been the Guardian. The Daily Mail's has been the most biased and consistently antagonistic and inaccurate.
This entire experience has simply made me see that we must not stop protesting at the way our world is turning sour.
The media is a behemoth inextricably linked with huge corporations who are in turn polluting an increasingly undemocratic government.
It's been a long time since big business saw ordinary people not as cash cows, but as human beings. An average person like me has a voice which simply cannot be heard nowadays.
No longer can I cause a company some worry if I threaten to take my business elsewhere, in fact I've lost count of the number of times I have been told quite triumphantly: 'go on then!'
If we lose our right to protest, we lose out last right to stand up in defiance of this dehumanization of society by a handful of ever-growing power-crazed and greedy corporations.
Bit of a rant, I know, but had to get it off my chest. I'm not advocating a completely anarchic society, or even suggesting that we all boycott branded clothing and fast food.
I just feel that we ought to remind these companies that we are the people without whom - whether it's buying from them or working for them - they wouldn't be in such a lavish predicament today.
All I'm looking for is a feeling that my contribution to their wealth is acknowledged and appreciated, not just grabbed rudely before they tell me to get lost.
If you're interested in the development of my Pacifist Protest site, please go there and join my mailing list. If you think anyone else might want to hear my story, I'd be pleased if you'd forward it on.
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