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Mayday 2001 editorial
updated 2nd May 2001

After the protest
by Mike Slocombe 2nd May 2001

So, there wasn't a riot. There were no Samurai Sword wielding psychos, no machete slicin' nutters, no terrorist bombs planted under the cover of the demo and no massed invasions by foreign protesters hell bent on carnage.

And, sadly for the tabloid writers, there were no eco-warriors crawling through access ducts to wreak havoc on the underground, there were no mass lootings, no fully armed conflicts with the police, no rubber bullets and only a few minor skirmishes that would barely register on the riot Richter scale.

It could be said that all that didn't happen thanks to the "in your face" police presence, with the 6,000 officers stopping what had been hyped up as the worst carnage to hit London since the Blitz.

Or it might be argued that the expected riots never happened because all the scare mongering stories were manufactured by the police in the first place.


Public demonstrations demand policing appropriate to the threat, only this time the threat was exaggerated so wildly and so fantastically that a veritable army of riot officers was called for.

With a thick blue line of heavily protected police making sure that the fun quota remained in the minus for those who had come to peacefully protest, one wonders what methods are left open for protesters to highlight their concerns about globalisation and the undemocratic nature of corporates.

Yesterday, around 1,000 people - some tourists, some local workers and some parents with their children caught in the wrong place at the wrong time - were blockaded into the centre of Oxford Circus, despite breaking no laws at the time.

And there they were forced to remain for up to seven hours, drenched by the relentless rain, kept without food or water and forced to use the tube stairway for a toilet.

It wasn't until past 2100 hours that they were allowed to filter home, but only after having to give their name and address and be photographed.


If every demo is going to be pre-emptively described as the violent plottings of thugs and be greeted with a massive and disproportional show of force, backed up by undemocratic and draconian laws like the CJA and Terrorism Act, peaceful protest in the UK may well have to reconsider its tactics.

And with the anger still flowing from those incarcerated without food or drink in the rain at Oxford Circus, there are fears that violence will become inevitable.

As one protester said to me yesterday, "If I'm going to be treated like a criminal, I may as well start acting like one".


Before the protest
by Mike Slocombe 24th April 2001

As the campaign of press hysteria about Mayday continues, real fears are being raised amongst peaceful protesters that this kind of misinformation is effectively killing off the democratic right to protest.

Fuelled by an "in your face" police force announcing that 'jobs are on the line' if the protest gets out of hand and threats of 'zero tolerance' for protesters, the message effectively being sent out is that the protest is the exclusive domain of rioters, thugs and looters and anyone turning up can expect to be tarred with the same brush.

And the campaign seems to be working. Already, many families and friends are saying that they've been scared off by the relentless wave of damaging anti-protest propaganda and increasingly bizarre threats being churned out by the tabloids (including samurai sword wielding protesters, mass lootings and the police use of rubber bullets).

The vast, vast majority of people don't want to get involved in a fight with the police, neither do they want to get caught up in a riot - they just want to articulate their real concerns about major issues which they feel are being brushed aside by a government that's already shown how quickly it can throw away the promises of environmental and ethical policies by which they were elected.


And therein lies the most worrying aspect of this press campaign. If people can't exercise their democratic right to peacefully protest without being branded as rioters and thugs - before a single criminal act has taken place - how can they articulate their fears and concerns about issues like corporate influence, globalisation, the environment and Third World Debt?

The real fear is that if the almost-inevitable clash between hyped-up police and a handful of thug anarchists takes place, this could be the cue for the government to target activists under the terms of the draconian Terrorism Act and effectively outlaw any form of protest against government policies and corporate malpractice.

Strangely enough, the current demonisation of protesters bears parallels with the attitude of the media towards football supporters in the early 1990s. Before big money rolled in and turned football into the corporate circus it is now, football fans would often be dismissed as thugs and racists because of the well publicised actions of a tiny minority of supporters.

And then something remarkable happened. Football became trendy. Football become a nice little earner for big business, and before you knew it, every time some trouble kicked off at a game, there's be a slew of commentators, MPs and officials explaining that this was the work of a tiny, unrepresentative minority, whose actions were naturally abhorred by the vast majority of law abiding football fans.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Except, it seems, that all protesters must take the full blame for the mindless actions of the few and expect nothing but condemnation by the government and the media and a confrontation with the police, even if they haven't broken a single law.

Unless they're at a football ground, of course.

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