Boiling Point

“How are you?” a passing friend asks as I stand on the corner of Threadneedle Street on Thursday afternoon.
“Angry!” I reply.

Actually, anger was one of several thousand emotions battling for attention in my body at that moment. I had just been moved on by the police for the second time that day in a manner both aggressive and patronizing (‘cycle carefully now’ as we were released from an arbitrary cordon). We, the couple of hundred bystanders on the pavement near the demo at Bank, in solidarity with the man who died the previous day while stuck inside a police kettle, had been surrounded by police and given a choice: leave the area completely or join the protest inside the police cordon by the statues outside the Bank of England. After the previous day, people were unsurprisingly wary of going inside a police kettle and so were declining that offer and moving around to the next bit of pavement where the exercise was repeated. Today’s demo had started off with a memorial, flowers and messages of well-wishing, but the police had quickly stopped that and were treating it as though it were “Just more of the same as yesterday”, as a cop was overheard saying to a man in a suit who had inquired as to what was going on. No mention of the death, or of the memorial.

Beside me an American man in a tweed suit telling lies to a camera crew is heckled by a protester and ends up revising his story. We laugh for what feels like the first time in years. Tweed Suit turns on us, blaming us for the death of the man. “What were you doing at 7pm last night? You should have been looking after him!”

Rewind to Wednesday. Unless you have been shut off from the world completely, you will no doubt have heard all about the police predictions of the ‘Summer of Rage’ and it’s opening events for the G20 summit. You have probably also heard lots of reports from the day itself. For once, a lot of the media has actually shown some of what really happened. This, this, this and this article from George Monbiot seemed to me particularly accurate.

However, none of the mainstream media that I have seen have mentioned the really shocking violence at the two London squats on Thursday. I spoke to a girl who was there and had been eating breakfast when riot police with tazer guns broke down the door, threatened and beat people (one guy had his face bashed repeatably into the floor), then arrested them, left them all sitting on the pavement in handcuffs for an hour before de-arresting and releasing them due to a lack of evidence against anyone there. They then said that they hadn’t come to evict the building, but since everyone had left they might as well board it up. My friend had one cop snarl into her face that this was what she got ‘for smashing up our city’. What a charmer.

I’m still finding it hard to process the emotions that have come up both during and after the G20 protests. I had already had an emotionally turbulent couple of weeks before I got to London and found myself completely unprepared for what was going on. There was so much I could see that needed to be done – emotional support, legal support, making food and drinks, keeping people calm and helping make decisions – but I found myself paralyzed with a mixture of adrenaline, fear, exhaustion and frustration that I’m still trying to process now.

I managed to escape the kettle (police cordon) at the bank (amazing what you can do when you need a pee that badly!) and decided that if I was going to be in a kettle, I would much rather it was a Climate Camp kettle. I had an inkling they would be a spot more organised than the Bank protest, and how right I was – a colourful array of around 30 tents, a toilet tent with compost loos and private wee areas, a farmers market and a people’s kitchen, three workshop spaces and a meditation area greeted me in an area of Bishopsgate that had been decorated with bunting, banners and had chalk messages swirling over the pavements. Ah, how I love these fluffy campers! Here there was a golden dancing block, a samba band, poetry, vegan cake and uh… riot police in balaclavas. Well, who can blame them – hippy students with glitter and bits of chalk can be very threatening after all. That’s why they needed to use such force to evict the camp with batons and shields just after midnight. I had already left but heard all the gory details from friends who were there, plus this footage on youtube shows the eviction.

Obviously I don’t think that legality and morality are particularly synonymous, but if the police tactics used on Wednesday and Thursday were legal, then things are already a lot worse than I thought.

The Guardian report that there will be an inquiry by the IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission) after witnesses have come forward saying they saw Ian Tomlinson assaulted by the police. But who are the IPCC anyway? And how independent exactly are they? Isn’t this a little bit like the police investigating themselves?

If you want to hear what happened to Ian Tomlinson, the man who died in the kettle at Bank, I suggest listening to the two eye-witnesses on this video link.

Climate Capers

I have recently returned from the police state that was this year’s Climate Camp. Somehow, despite being stopped and searched six times, sitting on gates staring at police for hours each day and being pushed around by riot cops, I managed to enjoy it immensely. Something amazing happens when hundreds of people stand together and resist the violent oppressive force of the state. That feeling of solidarity has given me a new faith in the power of people.

“We’re people too”, said one policeman to me.
“Yes, of course you are. But you’re not here representing yourself as a human being. You’re here representing the state, and our experience of the state is not a positive one. Take off your uniform and you will be most welcome.”

My inroduction to the camp this year was awakening at 5am, only three hours after arriving from a long day of hitchhiking, to the sounds of people shouting – “police on site! Everyone get up! If you want to have a climate camp then you’re going to have to defend it!” I dragged myself from my slumber and trudged in the direction I could see people running in. At the gate a scuffle was ensuing between protestors and a line of police in full riot gear trying to barge their way onto site. A red van had it’s windows smashed and tires let down by the police, who claimed it was an abandoned vehicle. Apart from the fact that somebody had been sleeping in the van at the time, there were now people on top of the van, inside the van, beneath the van and a couple of hundred people surrounding the van, all chanting in unison – “This is not an abandoned vehicle! This is not an abandoned vehicle!”
One man shouts down at the police from on top of the van – “This is the least abandoned vehical in England!” to laughter and applause.

The police know it’s not abandoned. What they want is unfettered vehicle access to the field. A few days previously, police vehicle rampaged around site, seizing dangerous items such as plumming equipment, wood for the toilets, childrens crayons and board games. This red van and a couple of cars are now blocking the most obvious access route.

A few hours on the gate may be tiresome, especially after only three hours sleep, but it really makes you realise how compassionate and organised the movement can be. After a couple of hours, more people arrived with trays and carts full of hot tea, coffee, porridge, fruit, cake and all sorts of other goodies. Large bottles of water, suncream and rescue remedy were passed around the crowd and cries of “anyone up the front there not had cake yet?” could be heard. Things like that give me a warm feeling inside.

One thing I loved about the camp this year was the amount of local support. Walking through a nearby town on our way there we were stopped by plenty of locals.
“Hey, you going to that camp? Yeah? Nice one! Wouldn’t mind getting down there myself – I hate that fucking power station!”
One guy actually worked there.
“Listen, you guys do anything to my car and I’ll fucking ‘ave you, but smash that place up man coz I fucking hate it!” He then offered to sell me his pass for £50. I only had a tenner and politely declined.
A fair few locals joined us onsite, some taking part in meetings, helping with the running of the camp, even getting pepper-sprayed by the cops on the frontline and giving media interviews. Going for a walk near the end of the camp, I was stopped by an elderly lady who congratulated me and said how pleased she was that we were doing something. “It’s up to the younger generation now”, she said.

Well, whether we shut down the power station or not depends on which media you read. Some interesting ones to look at would be Indymedia, Schnews and also check out some of the stuff on Youtube, VisionOnTV, and of course the camp’s own website.