I’m struggling with this one. The events of Saturday have really angered me. I’ll admit from the start that I wasn’t there so my thoughts and views are partially tinged by watching BBC News 24 for most of the day but that in itself is one of the reasons I’m angry. My wife was there however.
It’s not just that there was violence. Don’t get me wrong there is a place for non-violent protest and a place for violent protest. It’s the hijacking, for lack of a better word, of the protest march by those intent on making their own news that is really getting to me.
I’ll get the anarchists out of the way first. Give them an event, national and worldwide media and a chance to ‘give one to the man’ and they will be there. The thing is they don’t seem to have any real or valid ideological beliefs that I can find other than declaring anyone that has money to be the enemy. These aren’t protesters. They are people that just want to cause damage. In other words they are dicks and until they prove otherwise they will always be dicks. The anti-capitalist claims of most seem to be blown out of the water with some taking money from journalists to throw bricks and cause damage. Don’t worry I’ll get to the journalists later.
When we went to the Make Poverty History march in Edinburgh in 2005 you had a crowd of comparable size. Estimates at both range from 250,000 to 500,000 depending on who you talk to. I’d place bets that the make up of the crowd was very similar as well. Seasoned protestors, union members, families, activists, first time attenders were all in attendance at both. We even had the black clothed, mask wearing, flag waving youths then as well. On a day where you had the G8 meeting barely a short drive away the day went by without much trouble. A few scuffles between the anarchists and the police but that night and the next day they involved in running battles on the streets of Edinburgh. There was a huge level of media attention before the march but afterwards all you heard about was violence. Completely ruined the impact the march was supposed to have in my eyes. If you ask anyone about the student protests in London last year all most of them remember is the violence that ended them. A bunch of dicks just ruin any message.
As for UKUncut I get where they are coming from. I honestly do. I don’t necessarily agree 100% with how they are doing it but I’ll give them their dues they are highlighting in a completely non-violent way the problem a lot of people have with the tax laws in the UK. Where I think they are going wrong is that they seem to be blaming most of it on the companies themselves. Calling them tax dodgers and claiming they are the ones at fault when all they are doing is not only legal but if they didn’t do it they would get into trouble. They have a legal responsibility to their shareholders to make as much profit as possible. Why not make it a point of their protests to highlight that it’s the tax laws that are the problem and the government to blame? Point the finger at the people that actually have the power to change the laws rather than hope the campaign of misinformation, and that’s what it is when you get down to it, puts enough pressure on the companies targeted for them to say something to the government to get things changed which is far less likely to happen.
I also don’t get why they chose Saturday to have a ‘super secret’ protest alongside the main march. Once again splitting the message and taking the media coverage away from the huge march the TUC organised. I call it ‘super secret’ because they had posters up everywhere telling everyone which street they were going to occupy. The only thing really secret was the focal point of their protest which as it turned out was Fortnum and Mason. A company that is part owned by another company which in turn owns a company that has ‘dodged’ £40 million. They claim F&M are the tax dodgers but back that up by saying it’s really someone else they have an issue with. Makes sense. Honest guv. If your going to mess up the days message by taking the media away from main protest then at least make your message clear and make it a big one. Don’t pick a target like this where there is to much confusion over who your actually trying to blame. It just makes you look like your trying to fuel a class war rather than highlight something our government is doing wrong.
From UKUncut we’ll move onto to Laurie Penny from The New Statesman as she was with them. I like a lot of what she writes and love the fact that she is so involved with everything going on but I cannot help but read everything she tweets as if she’s an excitable school girl at times. Yes she was inside F&M and was one of the bigger voices letting people know what was really going on inside but when she tweets one minute she’s tweeting about it all being so civilised and then she writes as if she’s jumping with joy because “Apparently they’ve taken the ritz!”
That isn’t the UKUncut crowd and whilst it wasn’t extreme that wasn’t non-violent. I don’t care who you are, I’ve been on the receiving end of the smoke grenades and thunderflashes they were using, throwing them into enclosed spaces is dangerous. Not just because the noise can deafen or the smoke grenades burn really hot and can start fires. I’ve seen the damage the higher quality pyro can do if they are used incorrectly or damaged and wouldn’t go near the cheaper ones the protesters were using. I take it everyone forgets the fireworks H&S posters everywhere gets plastered with in October every year?
I get why journalists get tarred with the misinformation stick at times. Some have to stick to strict company lines and because of that I don’t give anything they say any credence. Others work with the information they have and to openly guess what’s happening just out of sight so that they have something to say to the camera. A lie is halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on then explains how the game of Chinese Whispers the anchors then play ends up with them being accused of misinformation and lying. Bribing people to throw things at the police or windows doesn’t just step over the line, it jumps over it and hits everyone on the right side in the face with a brick. If you ever see the footage of the guys ramming the windows and doors of the Santander branch that was smashed up you start off thinking that there is a crowd of about 30-40 guys intent on breaking the place up. As soon as the window goes however almost every single person pulls out their cameras and starts taking photos of the one or two guys that are actually doing the smashing. I know they aren’t the mainstream media but you can bet a lot of that footage will end up on blogs and only serve to encourage the violence at events like this.
I’m not angry at the police as a whole. I’m royally pissed that a lot of completely innocent folk where assaulted by a few police who think that because they have body armour and a baton they have to use to deal with ‘problems’ that would be solved any other day by talking or, even better, ignoring it. I watched the aerial footage as the day went on of the roaming groups turning on the police and actively trying to goad them into escalating the trouble. In a lot of the cases I completely understand why and how the police went about doing what they did but it gets to a point where they have to say enough is enough and close the place down. Non-violently resisting arrest is one thing but having other people pull you away from the cops trying to arrest you and kicking out with your feet and generally ‘not wanting to be arrested’ is just going to escalate things. All those saying there is nothing wrong with resisting like that in situations like Trafalgar Square on Saturday night should take a look at themselves. Anything you do to escalate a situation like that which had been building all day is your own damn fault if you ask me. I guess it’s the pacifist in me coming out.
Laurie Penny actually quoted someone in her latest article that sums up everything that went wrong with Saturdays demonstrations.
“We’re fucked,” says the young man in the hoodie, staring out through the police cordon of Trafalgar Square, towards parliament. “Who’s going to listen to us now?”
The moment that the first dick decided to start the violence any hope of a positive message coming out from the day went out the window. You may all have had a great idea for a peaceful side demonstration but when your hangers on turn out to be brick throwing idiots and the riot vans come out then keeping your head and being smart about it all is the way to go. Just because you think you have the right to that peaceful protest, and 99% of it was with some of the best banners and messages coming from UKUncutters, sometimes it’s best to swallow some pride, go home and pick a fight another day.That’s not giving in. That’s using your brain.
In saying all of this the crime rate at the march as a whole was something like 0.04% or something like that. Tiny in comparison. The main march went by with no problems and it got it’s message out. I just wish it didn’t have to fight with the problems for air time in the media.