It’s been just over a week since 200-500 thousand people marched across London. What kind of response have we had, and why? Are these even accurate or viable views to be held in light of what happened?
Media response to the march
From what I’ve seen the general response to it was ‘the march was ok – but look at these broken windows and be horrified’. I personally spoke to Julia Hartley-Brewer, a presenter from LBC 97.3 on Monday, when she was asking about what anarchism means, etc. I’m probably the worst person to ask this kind of thing – I’m not an anarchist and although I know people who are, I don’t really believe myself to be in such a position as to explain their motives to somebody. For the record, I don’t think I can speak for a whole range of people. So I clarified I wasn’t an anarchist; that I merely ended up with the black bloc by accident at the protest – which is true – and then gave my explanation to all of these issues and arguments which is: Ultimately, we are all individuals and are responsible for our own actions – it shouldn’t worry us what Joe Bloggs next door is doing. Whether we choose to do things in groups or not – you can’t legimately say that because they were in the same place at the same time that they automatically must believe in the same things. And in fact this is one of the problems with the black bloc – anyone can turn up dressed in black. Perhaps on Saturday there were people who turned up who weren’t anarchists at all. We don’t know, and it’s something that can’t be controlled.
Another question was – and in hindsight, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever – “You were there – why didn’t you try and stop them? Why didn’t you shout at them to stop throwing things?” – I’m not even sure I answered it because I was totally stunned. I’m 22; a young woman with no weapons, no scarf to protect my identity, and no authority. Firstly, why would I want to tell them to stop? I don’t care what other people do at the protests because as far as I’ve seen it has very little impact on me – and until I see the black bloc actually hitting peaceful protesters then I will continue to think so. The impression people get is that at protests people just start fights and that’s absolutely not the case – the only reason people get hurt is if there is a fight between individuals, or when the police get involved and inflame the situation. Secondly, why should I tell them to stop? I’m not the only person witnessing this. There are dozens of photographers, reporters and other members of the public milling around, who are far bigger, older, and stronger than I am. It is telling that not a single person shouted at them to stop or attempted to intervene, out of a watchful crowd of a hundred. The police didn’t even turn up until it was too late, moving in to protect HSBC when protesters had already started moving on.
I wasn’t really allowed to finish what I was saying, and I kind of understand why. Firstly, they ran out of time and needed to go to the adverts. And secondly, I don’t think anyone listening to LBC actually wants to know about what really went on, from the view of someone who was ‘involved’ (in quotes, as I wasn’t actually involved in any vandalism that day, but happened to be in the area). Their audience doesn’t much care for the ins and outs of anarchism either – not that I was the right person to explain it. Julia was asking for anarchists to ring in and explain what they wanted – but similarly, what anarchist would listen to LBC?! I wouldn’t have thought many true anarchists do. Moreover, who would be willing to bother wasting their time trying to explain themselves – the listeners have already made their minds up; the presenters have made their minds up, and a cut-off explanation of things isn’t going to change anyone’s mind. So I feel a little disappointed (in terms of feeling that I wasn’t really given that much of a chance) but I completely understand why and frankly I don’t blame them. The listeners need someone to shout at on the radio; someone who challenges their long-held beliefs and makes them grumble about ‘the bloody state of this country’ or whatever. And that person was me last Monday. I get it – I understand how the media panders to their audience and treats people who disagree with the same contempt that their audience would, if at all. I don’t hold any grudges either.
The main frustration with the media narrative of good protester/bad protester is that it is so prevalent, and the left can’t even begin to counteract that when pretty much all of the mainstream media is right-wing or right-leaning. How can we get our message out there that the black bloc isn’t mindlessly destructive? That police were the ones hitting protesters with little or no reason, and not holding back? Even a brilliant eyewitness piece in the Independent was derided as fiction by readers.
Police tactics and attitude
Like I said in my write-up of 26th March, there was pretty much one occasion where I thought the way the police (attempted to) handle the situation was laudable. That was outside Fortnum and Mason. The officers there didn’t push back, didn’t hit anyone and only spoke loudly to tell people to move back. Of course, they were too weak to hold it against the crowd that was pushing back – but the point is they didn’t do anything unnecessary. At other times during the day – and the worst example I can think of this is at Trafalgar Square – police acted in an antagonistic way towards protesters, pushing them back and kettling them when there was nothing going on. This kind of treatment is highly inflammatory – is it any wonder that those who were having a nice evening with their friends, stood by a fire, or dancing to music took exception to being moved out of the area in such an aggressive way?
Basically, the police need to stick to one tactic and run with it the entire day. My suggestion would be more hands-off like they were at Fortnum and Mason, ie watch the situation as it unfolds and go in if and when necessary. If they do need to go in and people are getting upset, explain to them exactly why they are being contained. Don’t use words like ‘sterile area’ because that’s nonsense and we all know it. The problem with protests is that everybody gets caught up in the moment – the kid who threw the fire extinguisher, I would propose, would never in a million years just pick up a fire extinguisher and throw it off a roof for kicks. Not saying he was encouraged to, but that people in crowds do immensely irrational things. And the same is true of the police – if only the Met would stop kidding themselves that every single police officer acts in a professional way. It’s understandable. We’re all human. We all get carried away. But in the same way the police, and the public at large, want protesters to condemn each other’s tactics (which I refuse to do), the police should actually condemn some of their colleagues for acting the way they did. Does this seem like a reasonable response to you? Of course protesters get carried away but the differences are: a) protesters are (usually!) not paid to be at protests; they go because they believe in a cause, rightly or wrongly; b) police have a duty to be professional at all times when working with the public – and ‘hitting people with batons’ doesn’t fit into my definition of professionalism; c) police are supposed to neutralise situations, not inflame them by intimidating people.
Regarding condemning of those involved in vandalism, I don’t think infighting is the answer, and I don’t think violence is the answer either. But I do honestly think that if the cuts are going to be affecting people as badly as it is believed they are, then broken windows will not be enough to put them off protesting. When people are pushed too much; when they have nothing left to lose, they will start protesting.
In the aftermath of the TUC march we need to be open and honest with each other – not judgemental; not condeming… For what’s done is done. What we need to do is move on from this and learn some lessons. We could probably start with understanding of what solidarity is, and adopt St Paul principles, or some form of. We can start with the third: “Any debates or criticisms will stay internal to the movement, avoiding any public or media denunciations of fellow activists and events.”
As the great saying goes: “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”