Saturday, 4 April 2009

Panic on the Streets of London... Part 2

Ceilidh at Climate Camp in the City 2009 from Jamie Potter on VimeoWhen we heard the samba band from earlier strike up at the southern limit, Paty and I raced off to buy a couple of beers then returned to dance with the band. Watched by a line of police and builders from another neighbouring construction site, we danced to the beat, clapping, stomping and cheering. I spotted one of the Azerbaijanis in the band and we high fived. A couple of idiots were shouting to stop dancing and start rioting but they looked like Millwall fans out for a fight and were duly ignored. As we walked back past the police vans, campers were pleading with them to turn their engines off but they just stood and shrugged their shoulders. We had the last laugh though, as climate change graffiti was daubed on their sides, tyres let down and a bit later, three girls climbed on top of one of the vans to have a dance.

And so the festival atmosphere continued. As the light began to fade, the pavements cleared up as workers left their offices and the media went back to file their reports. Then the police made their move. We noticed it first when officers with bright yellow jackets, helmets and shields move from behind the police vans, which were roughly halfway along the street, to secure a little area between the vans and the buildings. This little move cut through the camp like a knife and again, like at Bank, the atmosphere changed instantly. The police shoved those closest to them out of the way and people stood up like a Mexican wave, booing and shouting "shame on you!". Despite an email circulating for people to sit down in such an instance, most people stood up with their hands in the air, to show we were unarmed.

A couple of idiots threw bottles of water at the police and in the most heartwarming incident of the entire day, nearly every camper turned their anger at these few hooligans, severely reprimanding them and telling them to "get the fuck out". Another line of riot police moved into the camp to block off a small alleyway and then we realised we had been completely encircled and detained by riot police, 'kettled' in protester parlance.

People remained standing, hands in the air chanting "this is not a riot". The police remained impassive. The mood had completely soured. There was no need for such policing. All day, we'd been free to come and go as we pleased. Everybody had been happy, there was no violence, we'd coexisted with city workers and bankers, tidying up after ourselves and generally having a good time. The police knew our intention was only to stay until midday the following day, so why make the move?

When we realised the police were going to be keeping this up for a while, we returned to what we'd been doing, though many campers made sure to form a wall of unarmed resistance close to the police line. But again, the mood was far less happy than before. Many people who'd simply come down to see what the fuss is about and have a few drinks were getting frightened and a rumour mill about police plans was beginning to spread, not helped by the fact the police refused to answer any questions or direct any kind of communication to us whatsoever. This happened at about six-thirty, maybe a little later, and they remained airtight until nearly eleven. Nobody in; nobody out. We were running out of water but they ignored our pleas for more. People had resorted to pissing in the street because we couldn't get to the toilet and our own compost toilets couldn't manage everyone.

As time went on people became more angry and downtrodden, as is the point of the kettle. The police hope it will provoke violence from protesters, thus giving them reason to break it up. Unbeknownst to me and many more protesters at the Northern end, riot police had moved on the Southern end, forcing people up the street. Rivers of urine were running into the tent city and everybody was getting tetchy. People were discussing whether to stay the night or not, but we all knew it would be futile as the police would eventually break it up.

At about nine o’clock, a counter protest had formed on the other side of the police line at the Northern limit. I could see a few missiles thrown, including, somehow, a traffic bollard, and assumed they may be the remnants of the Bank protest. The samba band continued, keeping spirits up, as did the ceilidh right under the noses of police at the Northern limit. Eventually, around eleven, the police began letting people out one by one, after the protest on the other side disappeared. (How, I’m not sure). Most protesters took the opportunity to leave and numbers began thinning out. Any hope of staying the night was diminishing by the minute and organisers half-heartedly tried to rally the troops.

Realising a police attack was imminent, I decided to head off. I didn't want to get arrested and miss the second day of protests. By now I'd lost Camila and Rose; Paty had left just before the kettle, and the West Midlands and People and Planet campers had decided to head off too. With no alternative sleeping plans I found a couple of campaigners heading to a squat on Earl St and we left the camp behind us. Our route took us on a roundabout tour of the City, an area of London new to me. The huge banking buildings had police officers stood outside but they all ignored us. We headed down Earl St, a side street close to Exchange House, and saw the squat ahead of us, a forgettable four storey brick building, dressed in a couple of banners, a black anarchist flag and a legal notice about their squatting rights. The squatters symbol was sprayed on the heavily secured door and a couple of punks let us through and in to the warmth.

Downstairs in the sparse basement, a DIY kitchen was handing out warm vegan food. Weary protesters were sprawled on carpet cuttings, asleep or sharing stories over a cuppa; a rag tag bunch of your archetype anarchists, trendy Shoreditch girls and hippies. More protesters steadily arrived until about 1am when they literally flooded in. The police had finally made their move at the camp, clearing out the detritus of campers and tents. The remaining campers had tried to resist by sitting down and locking arms, but horror stories unfolded of riot police 'picking people off' and dragging them away (nobody was sure what happened to them; either arrested or simply told to feck off) and generally beating people with batons and shields.

One girl said a copper threatened to break both her arms if she didn't let go of another protester and somebody else said the police had actually 'commandeered' some red buses ready to move protesters, though ultimately there had been no need. Despite taking a literal battering, most protesters carried a smile and sense of some kind of victory. We may have been well short of a full 24 hour camp but we still held out for a good twelve hours. Finally the day caught up with me and I headed to the top floor, where at least a hundred more protesters were sprawled on the hard floor in sleeping bags and darkness.

Continue reading... Part 3

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