|G20 Protests and Demonstrations, Big Ben, London, 2009, MW.|
G20 London 2009 Summit Protests and Demonstrations|
Recession and Spiraling Trade
The world faces a problem: recession and a spiraling fall in trade. The Economist puts it like this, “Trade is contracting again, at a rate unmatched in the post-war period. This week the World Trade Organization (WTO) predicted that the volume of global merchandise trade would shrink by 9% this year. This will be the first fall in trade flows since 1982. Between 1990 and 2006 trade volumes grew by more than 6% a year, easily outstripping the growth rate of world output, which was about 3% (see chart 1). Now the global economic machine has gone into reverse: output is declining and trade is tumbling at a faster pace. The turmoil has shaken commerce in goods of all sorts, bought and sold by rich and poor countries alike.” According to the Economist, “The immediate cause of shrinking trade is plain: global recession means a collapse in demand. The credit crunch adds an additional squeeze, thanks to an estimated shortfall of $100 billion in trade finance, which lubricates 90% of world trade.”
How the Crisis Started
The crisis stemmed from the fact that the financial institutions started to lend money to people who invested their money in shares rather than activity, i.e. they were relying on the value of shares going up further through other investors buying their shares off them for a price higher than what they bought it. This turned out to be the case, which meant more and more money which had been earned through industry and manufacturing was being invested in the financial industry. The bubble caused a distortion in the economy – first it created a massive financial and banking sector which actually contributed very little to the real economy, i.e. it did not produce any goods or materials. Second, the investment of money not just in shares, but in the housing and car industry, meant that the value of housing, and all the products associated with housing were driven up, increasing the housing industry, not to cater for the needs of people who had money, but to cater for the desires who had borrowed money that was not there’s to invest in housing.
|Employees of Deutsche Bank Watching G20 Protests, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
In short, much of the money that was really owned by people, was lent by their banks to people who had no industry or way of paying back the money, than their dependence on the prices of either shares or housing continuing to grow. What happened was that whilst house prices continued to grow, everyone invested, but after a while, everyone who had wanted to invest in new housing had, and prices began to drop, at this point, investors, who were relying on increased house prices to pay off their mortgages, no longer could do so, so if they couldn’t collect enough rent to pay off the rent, they had to declare their mortgages bad. The banks then had to write off the debt, they had in effect used the money that belonged to people, to invest on a housing market, which relied on more investors entering it. The banks had lost real peoples’ real money, and had effectively pouted it into the hands of the housing industry. The banks debts then mounted, until such a point that it became clear, that nearly all the banks were effected, but that it was not clear which ones were effected and how badly. At this point not only did banks run out of cash themselves, they also stopped lending the little money they had to each other.
Previously banks had been able to loan money, because whenever money had become available to one bank, it would quickly loan that money on to another bank, who would loan it on to businesses and investors. So with banks no longer trusting each other, having big debts, and little cash to loan out, the economy, which had up until recently been based on a large supply of credit, started to halt. This is what we call the credit crunch. Not only were people who wanted to invest in property and shares deprived of cash, causing a fall in the value of housing and shares, but healthy businesses experiencing liquidity problems also went to the wall, as they could not lay their hands on cash to tide them over dry periods. We are now in a situation where the economy, i.e. what people get up out of bed to do, has to readjust itself, to an economy that previously serviced the needs of speculative investors who rather like a flock of lemmings, borrowed money to invest in the bubble economies of housing, financial services and cars; to one which responds to the demands of people who actually own money. People will have to reskill. For example bankers are training up as teachers. The problem is that not many people who own money are particularly enthusiastic about spending it right now. Furthermore not everyone owns money. A lot of people don’t have much money, they were used to borrowing and spending what they didn’t have.
|Handing out Literature, Big Ben, London, 2009, MW.|
Recently the governments paid the shareholders of banks a lot of money to take ownership of the bank. Essentially what this meant was that each one of us, through the taxes we pay, were not just giving a gift to the owners of the bank, we were also taking responsibility for repaying people who had put their savings in the bank. What this means is that the taxpayer is shouldering the burden of the mistake made by the banks and the investors who they lent the money too. The problem is that so many people have lent to invest, and have bank savings and are tax payers, that its difficult to know where to begin and whom to blame. What is clear is this, the new economy will be decided by people who have money, (on an international scale this means the Chinese and the Arabs) and those that don’t will be marginalized. Previously, we had a more meritocratic society, in that an economy in which there is a lot of lending, actually promotes opportunity and channels resources into the hands of those who have little but who have a desire to show enterprise. With very low rates of lending, an inhibited desire to consume, we can look forwards towards a recession, job losses, and a lot of pain. This my dear, is why we have a problem right now. And it is to these issues that the G20 will direct itself. And it is this set of events which has caused thousands of people to take to the streets in London.
Herman E. Daly argues that the current financial crisis is not a liquidity crisis, but "a crisis of overgrowth of financial assets relative to growth of real wealth." Daly argued that whilst we thought our economies were growing, they were actually receding or at the very least not growing as fast as we thought they were. What banks were doing were lending money that they never had to people, which they then packaged together as a set of debts, which they then sold on. Real investors money was used to own the debts of people who could never afford to pay the money back. The problem is banks didn’t care, the more debts they could package up and sell, the more money they could earn, and the more commission they could earn. Furthermore banks were keen to invest in purchasing debts from each other, because whilst there was a belief that people in the real economy could generate the wealth needed to pay the debts off, the value of the debts increased. The sorry fact was that the real economy wasn’t producing enough wealth to pay off the debts. However, whilst banks continued to create more and more debts, people had more and more money to consume. The whole global economy because based around the needs of people who consumed with money they had no chance of paying back. It looked like the economy was growing, but it wasn’t. Instead the economy was being distorted, the financial, housing and automobile industry grew, whilst other industries receded, and the actual productivity remained the same, but it seemed to grow because of increased activity in the financial sector.
At the end of the day the party had to come to an end, and we were left with a) a lot of people who couldn’t pay back their debts b) a lot of people who had lost their wealth because it had been invested in buying the debts of those people who couldn’t afford to pay them back and c) an economy which was distorted – producing far more housing and cars than people who actually owned the real money wanted to buy d) high levels of employment as a result of people from those industries bloated on debt based finance retracted and e) an economy in which almost everything from products to labor was overvalued. What we need to work our way towards is a soft landing, but lets not kid ourselves the landing wont be anything like as attractive as it was when we first took off.
What we have is a situation where the bankers were allowed and encouraged to gamble and effectively give away the savings of those who had earned it based on the real economy, to people who wanted to spend it, and in the process cream off a top layer for themselves in the name of doing business. There is no real remedy to this situation – the bankers have been allowed to and have effectively committed the crime – they have spent the money it is gone. Savers will suffer, those consuming on borrowed money who can’t pay back will suffer, and the distorted economy is distorted. The soft landing is a matter of getting used to a world without debt based finance; devaluing the cost of products and labor to a cost that is closer although not commensurate with the value of the real economy; establishing whether anyone owns anything anymore and what those that really do have money want to consume; and then building an economy which meets those needs and wants.
According to Allen and Overy, “We have it in our power to stop this kind of thing happening again. We can stop it by making sure that money is not too cheap or plentiful, that central banks fix higher interest rates that restrict the amount of credit available to borrowers to buy assets like houses or shares, that we insist that banks have more capital, that we close down their sources of capital like securitisations. We can stop the free flow of capital across borders. We can do these both good and bad. It is possible to do this by collective will, by waving the legal wand, by political decisions across the planet, by our memory of the disaster. Ultimately we are masters of ourselves, our banks, our money, our behaviour, masters of our destiny – if we want to be. We can get a sledgehammer and smash the whole thing – if we want to.” However the fact is that humans, because of their desire to profit, will always create speculative bubbles, i.e. they will always start to invest in something whose price appears to rise steadily over time, hoping they can get in and get out in time to make a profit, and on the basis of doing very little work other than waiting. That was the housing industry for you, those that invested in housing didn’t actually do anything, they simply waited. One of the solutions might be to abolish private letting – another might be to abolish ownership of more than one house.
Its difficult, debt based finance is considered a good thing by many because it oils economy. As the Economist puts it, “there is nothing inherently undeserving about finance; even in their flawed state, more liquid markets have brought huge benefits to the rest of the economy. The lower cost of capital has made it easier for industry to invest, innovate and protect itself against interest and exchange-rate risk.” The point is that during boom years, it is always tempting, and it always seems reasonable, to create a little bit more debt based finance to further encourage and oil the economy – but where and when to stop? And as the Economist has argued, who is going to be taken seriously arguing against further debt based finance when times are good? Raghuram Rajan points out, “Ironically, faith in draconian regulation is strongest at the bottom of the cycle, when there is little need for participants to be regulated. By contrast, the misconception that markets will take care of themselves is most widespread at the top of the cycle, at the point of most danger to the system. We need to acknowledge these differences and enact cycle-proof regulation.”
Are Things Really That Bad?
But the question of whether things are really all that bad needs to be asked and then re-asked. The Independent talked to Tim Harford, Financial Times journalist and author of The Logic of Life (just published in paperback) who doesn't think things are so bad. The Independent quoted him as saying: "The last time we had a really bad economic depression, we got National Socialism and I'm sure this isn't the alternative these guys have in mind. We have to ask the question, is it really all that bad? Unemployment is clearly terrible but it's nothing like America in the Great Depression of the 1930s. In 1981, it was also bad, it was a rotten time. But was that the end of capitalism as we know it? People have a tendency to engage in wishful thinking. Journalists want it to be really appalling because it makes an exciting story; anarchists want it be the end of capitalism because that's what they've spent their lives hoping for; and economists think that it's nothing really that remarkable."
Its Not the Bankers Fault Stupid – Its Just Human’s Are Greedy
There are some people who are saying the bankers should pay for the crisis they created. It doesn’t work like that – it works by people putting their money into a bank – and entrusting the bank to invest it wisely. Where the bank looses the money – the original investor looses the money. This creates a motivation on behalf of the investor to invest wisely, e.g. on the basis of what we know right now investing in Barclays rather than Lloyds TSB or the Royal Bank of Scotland. However reality begins to change once one’s livelihood is threatened – now it is solely the banker’s responsibility to have invested the money wisely, the public who invest their money into the banks are seen to be helpless, powerless twits, whose securities should have been looked after by a paternalistic and caring banking sector. So for example, according to Fox New, “Berlin police estimated that around 10,000 people gathered in front of the capital's city hall and more than 1,000 in Frankfurt, Germany's banking capital, for similar demonstrations under the slogan: "We won't pay for your crisis." Its not a crisis – its just that there are now lots of personal crises – the public didn’t bother to check whether their banks were investing their money properly or wisely and now they are paying for it. But the banks aren’t responsible for this – they really aren’t.
|Eat the Bankers, April 1st Demonstrations, Bank of England, London, 2009, MW.|
We have two problems. The first was created by the fact that banks lent out our money several times over – so we thought the country was several times as wealthy as it actually was. This led to inflationary pressures especially in the housing market – where the same money was lent to several different people – all investing in housing leading to unrealistic housing prices. We now realize we have a fraction of the wealth we thought we had. This creates deflationary pressures – i.e. where everyone has less money prices are reduced. This problem can be solved by creating a soft deflationary landing to a level where the price of labor and goods reflects the value of the money we have not the value of the money we have and we loaned. This means everyone has to accept lower wages – we can either do this peacefully based around a consensus and agreement between corporations, banks, trade unions or governments – or we can do it aggressively – letting perfectly good companies whose workers refuse to take pay cuts go to the wall – and then watch as millions of unemployed people try to reform and reorganize new companies and enterprises.
The second problem is that banks are no longer making such risky investments – so they are not looking to lend their money on to others – which means there is less money to be lent to people – which means less activity and less economy. We have to get used to less activity – but at least the activity will be invested in activities which are genuinely producing material benefit for people – not leading to an apparent generation of wealth – which is the artificial effect of lending x amount of money to people ten times, making it seem that we are ten times as rich as previously – when actual fact we are equally as wealthy – but with prices ten times as high. We should have also let the banks go to the wall – and started again with a heavily regulated banking sector – which was not allowed to lend out peoples’ money irresponsibly. No-one wants to have to feel the pain from this – i.e. the rich bankers who keep their pensions and bonuses, the people who have banked with them who want to keep their savings, and the businesses who are funded by the banks who want to hang on to their business and jobs. So what Gordon Brown is doing, is in the name of the people, funneling money into the banking system, paying for the debts, and thus, keeping the bankers sweet, keeping the investors sweet, keeping the businesses sweet. Who looses out? All of us – the poor! They never really had anything to loose in the first place, however whilst Gordon Brown borrows money to give to the banks so they can lend to businesses and pay bankers bonuses and salaries, we move a step closer to becoming bankrupt – i.e. not being able to borrow any more money because no-one believes we can pay it back. Once we become bankrupt, social services and welfare will be cut.
|Fred Goodwin makes an appearance at the April 1st Protests, Bank of England, London, 2009, MW.|
|Fred Goodwin makes an appearance at the April 1st Protests, Bank of England, London, 2009, MW.|
People are blaming the bankers, but there is in actual fact no-one to blame for this. The this needs to be qualified too. The ‘this’ is the fact that people are loosing their jobs, consumption will have to be reduced. It is ironic that it is precisely that people are facing the prospect of lower consumption that they are out on the streets protesting against greedy bankers, it is not so much the greed of the bankers that people resent, so much as the increased consuming power of the bankers that they are envious of. The bankers are not to blame for working within a system, which promoted risky investments, a system which was encouraged and deregulated by politicians who realized that whilst the bubble was growing there were huge financial gains to be made from encouraging bankers to reap the rewards both for themselves but through the state through taxation, and politicians who were encouraged by the people who voted them in, who probably formed the majority of people marching in demonstration and protest today, who voted in the governments believing the deregulation of banks not to be a serious enough issue to vote against a government for, and realizing that even if it was a risk, whilst the bubble was growing, they were happy enough to see their elected government ensuring that the country got a share of the pie. We all contributed to this fucking mess – if you can call it a mess – its only a mess for those who no longer have jobs and cannot consume so much – by voting in the government, who deregulated the banks and encouraged the lending of our money several times over to riskier and riskier ventures which in actual fact were not producing anything of material benefit, but were instead relying on house prices going up and up, as more people poured their money into it. Now we are in deep shit, because Gordon Brown has poured what little remaining money we have, and we have on credit into the black hole – it has simply disappeared.
Or is it the Unpredictable Dynamism of Capitalism?
According to philosopher John Gray, interviewed in the Independent magazine in April 2009, over the last fifty years, western governments have, working in partnership with the richest capitalists created a ‘semi-open global free-market’ especially for capital, which ‘has its own features, its own logic, its own dynamism.’ Its an interesting point, that no-one can really predict where or how capitalism is going to develop, only that it will develop, and it will reach crisis points whereby the system has begun to develop and implode on itself, each crisis resulting in a period of destruction and reconstruction. No-one really quite knows where its all going to lead. That seems to be the message coming from John Gray.
But isn’t this just academic bullshit? We all know where its going. Technological innovations are meaning man is beginning to become stronger and more powerful, more men now have the power to destroy the world in an act of hatred than ever before, thanks to industrialization and nuclear weaponry to name but just a few technologies. With this increasing power, and new surveillance technologies thanks to computers and cameras, we also have the power to control populations more and more. As much communication is now carried out via electronic media, which means most communication and interrelating can now be mapped, tracked and listened into. We are, as John Gray knows, heading ineluctably towards a society with fewer political units, a homogenized culture, more powerful elites, fewer people controlling all the worlds resources and people, an ever growing number of possible stand offs between nuclear weapons. Capitalism, which don’t mean nothing more than a particular mode of control and production in western societies, part of which has been adopted by China, India and Russia is just a small part of this evolution whose end point everyone sees more or less vaguely in the distance, and this being the inevitable consequence of human’s desire for more, power and control; and there’s nothing we can do to stop it, because we know we cannot change what we are.
That’s why people prefer not to think about it. But in any case John Gray says, “A semi-open global free market was created, especially for capital. It has its own features, its own logic, its own dynamism. I don’t think anyone fully understood how it worked or how big it was growing. So then it becomes very difficult to control, because there’s no entity that embraces the economy. Each separate state or entity presents problems without even comprehending what is happening. They all react in different ways as they resolve different issues. The elite oscillates between immediate crisis management, and just dithering, or not knowing what to do, or quarreling about who is to blame.
John Gray believes that Gordon Brown’s attempts to re-regulate at an international level is remote from what is happening, which he says ‘includes an entrenchment of illegal parts of the economy that are rather globalised’. John Gray makes a very interesting and important point, “If you’re going to bail out a bank there will be pressure – so far not very effective – for the benefits of that to be felt locally”. I suppose the really interesting point is that banks do not restrict the lending of their money to local markets, or to put it another way, that whilst savings might have a local or national dimension to them – in that most of us bank with banks we know about – banks do not limit their investments to the geographical area in which most of the savers reside.
The consequence, bailing out banks, which means giving them more money to loan out, and to pay off savers wanting to withdraw their money, will not mean more local investment if the banks can find a more profitable investment of that money elsewhere – for example in the Asian economies! Furthermore let no-one be under the illusion that we have bailed out banks to the extent that they could pay off all the savers if they wanted their money back all at the same time. They couldn’t repay the savers – or get nowhere near it. Banks lent all their savers money out – to other banks – who one way or another loaned the money out to people who can no longer afford to pay the money back. Banks don’t have your money, it has disappeared for good!
It is interesting to see slogans like ‘Homes Not Property Speculation’. It is impossible for anyone who builds a home to not be in the business of property speculation in some sense. Some would like to see a rule whereby one person can only own one house. That would certainly make more space for everyone else. However some would argue that if one has worked hard and has been successful enough then they should be able to buy more than one house for themselves. Furthermore the idea that by stopping people from buying more than one house would mean that all of us are more likely to afford a home, assumes that houses are built to service the housing needs of people who don’t have money. This is not the case, if those that can afford and want two houses aren’t able to buy a second house, then that second house wont exist. The only way in which the government can really do away with property speculation is if it decides what people need, and then funds the building of houses to meet that need.
|Homes Not Property Speculation, G20 Protests, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
John Gray acknowledges that industrialization is still occurring, and believes most environmental and ecological projects are being reined back because of ‘the immediate imperative everywhere – in China for regime survival even, or in democratic countries just as part of winning the next election – is to try to get the show back on the road.”
Importantly Gray believes that “The way democracy works and the way the mass media works is to avoid confronting these admittedly intractable problems, because there is actually underlying despair.” Says Gray, “Its Prozac politics” i.e. people have a very fragile mental resilience. It’s true. Under New Labour, we’re throwing money, which the government doesn’t own, i.e. that like the banks before them they are borrowing, back into the banks, and when unemployment goes up, they are creating massive training and jobs for people who cant get proper jobs schemes. We are creating another false economy to create with the economic crisis.
This does raise the question of what is a real economy. Isn’t any economy false or is any economy real? I suppose the question is how sustainable is the economy. The economy proposed by New Labour, in which the government throws government money at every problem, i.e. broke banks and unemployment isn’t ultimately sustainable – and could lead to even greater problems. Who is going to be the unlucky bastard who is going to have to do deal with the system and country when the whole thing comes to a shuddering halt and we loose complete faith in money and in each other? When all of a sudden we feel like isolated atomized individuals and groups, who have lost their faith in each other and the systems which unite and bond us? There is a sense that governments all over the world, from Obama to Brown, are engaging in this prozac politics of Gray – are we entering an age where increased desperation, poverty, crime and murder are masked with CBT inspired statements of optimism, green shoots and smiles.
John Gray says, “Realism is a necessary condition of serious politis and serious polic-making. And realism isnt popular. Because what many people are looking for in politics – including green politics at the moment, is a meaning for their lives. If you say to people, ‘We cant move to a world in which we don’t have either rnuclear or fossil fuels. That’s impossible,’ they will say, ‘That’s not impossible, not if we all want it.’ But many countries don’t want it. Russia’s not going to do it. Venezuela’s not going to do it. Iran’s not going to do it. Their wealth and power depend upon fossil fuel. Well we can do it they’ll say.
The G20 Summit
On the 2nd April Gordon Brown hosted the G20 Summit in London. Leaders from 22 countries were at the summit. According to the Guardian, “The G20 is an organisation for finance ministers and central bankers, who in the past met once a year to discuss international cooperation in finance.” The countries at the summit represented 90% of global GDP, 80% of world trade and two thirds of the world's population.
The London G20 meeting was for all the leaders of the G20 countries. According to the Guardian the policy agenda developed by the last G20 meeting “did not in fact go much beyond pre-existing international initiatives that had recently been developed in more technocratic international bodies.” Prior to the summit the British government had said that it had expected world leaders to make three commitments:
London Lite reported on March 31st 2009 that ‘World leaders will be given a G20 summit goody bag as they leave a dinner in Downing Street tomorrow evening. The gifts are being put together to showcase British creativity and each bag is reported to contain a designer tie, chocolates, a tea towel and a candle.” London Lite then went on to identify every company that was responsible for providing the items before ending, “No 10 refused to reveal how many of the packs were being given out, who they were going to, what the total cost was and who was footing the bill”. Even at times of severe austerity people in the upper echelons of political life feel that it is the natural order of things that taxpayers’ money be spent on lavishing goods on each other. The middle classes have their equivalent activities, in the form of international conferences, subsidized work focused trips and holidays abroad.
Prior to the summit Gordon Brown was arguing that the world must avoid protectionism. The Economist quoted the World Bank who said that since November 2008, seventeen of the G20 have restricted trade, raising tariffs, banning imports on questionable grounds and subsidizing exports. They also quoted an economist who argued that, “trade has fallen so fast and so uniformly around the world largely because of the rise of “vertical specialisation”, or global supply chains. This contributed to trade’s rapid expansion in recent decades. Now it is adding to the rate of shrinkage.”
Protectionism in itself sounds bad – but it is a policy option available and used in all political economies – including the most liberal. Protectionism if pursued over the long-term leads to a less wealthy but more stable economy, less prone to crises. In import-substitution economies, which reduce imports and aim to find national solutions, have been shown to work in Latin America. It worked in Brazil and Argentina during the 1960s and 1970s for a while, until a more neo-liberal and external finance model was preferred. However in 2009, it is likely that if countries do operate protectionist policies it will be a short-term opportunist and populist response to workers and unions.
The Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was reported on Channel 4 News to have told Gordon Brown that the crisis was caused by "white blue eyed people". This overtly racist remark has been noted, but there has been no visible backlash. It is interesting how the whole agenda about racism never applies to the dominant one, i.e. you can racially slur white people, and white people with blue eyes without anyone batting an eye lid, whereas if you racially slur other ethnic groups you can find yourself battered. I find this state of affairs deeply offensive to the human race in general, and very patronizing to those groups who don’t come from the dominant ethnic group (i.e. its almost to say the whole anti-racist thing is a way of patting you on the head and saying there, there – because when it comes to racism we don’t really give a shit – see the way we couldn’t give a f*** if you slur our own dominant white ethnic group).
Reshuffling of the New World Order
Many commentators believed the summit would represent a reshuffling of the world order, with China coming out puffed up and proud. Gaby Hinsliff wrote prior to the summit, “Many economists believe a recovery now requires bursting that artificial bubble and rebalancing the economy so that Chinese consumers are encouraged to spend a little more - reducing America's trade deficit - and Americans a little less. Malloch Brown suggests Britons, too, will need to relearn the art of saving.”
Sister Kaff summarized the interests of some of the main players well, “The Chinese were most concerned that in exchange for offering more money to the IMF, it would have a larger influence on the world stage, and that they would prevent French efforts to make the Hong Kong and Macau tax havens transparent. The French with their mistrust (well placed) of globalisation and free markets, and the Germans with their systemic prudence, were seeking to tame and train rampant Anglo-Saxon capitalism. The Russians were seeking to establish a new reserve currency and had concerns about saving money on their military budget, and the UK wanted to get more money for more bailouts, and to preserve free trade and other shady things pretty much as they were before.”
More Public Spending?
According to the BBC, “The most controversial issue is how far governments are prepared to go to agree further public spending to boost growth. European countries, in particular, are resisting the calls from the US to promise to spend more not only this year but in 2010.” They added, “Restructuring the international financial institutions is also likely to be controversial, as giving more power to emerging market countries such as China and Brazil would mean taking away power and influence from European countries in the IMF and World Bank.”
The BBC reported George Soros saying, “Mr Soros said regulators and the financial sector shared the blame for the meltdown, as they "participated in this crazy boom built on false premises on the belief that markets are self-regulating and should be left alone” the BBC also reported Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva saying that everyone was suffering from the recklessness of those who had turned the world economy into "a gigantic casino". And that “We are rejecting blind faith in the markets.”.
Let the Market Correct the Situation
Boris Johnson agrees with all those people who don’t believe the tax payer should be paying for the money invested by savers in banks which invested it in investors who invested it in the housing industry which was not able to return the money to the savers. He said, “So, in a spirit of compassion, let me give the G20 protesters the slogan they need. Here is a demand they could make that would transform the lives and hopes of millions of the poorest people on earth. It is a global stimulus package that doesn't involve borrowing untold trillions from future generations. It is something the world's leaders have been trying and failing to do for the past nine years, and if I were the man with the megaphone my cry would be: "What do we want? The completion of the Doha Round of world trade talks! When do we want it? Now!"” Boris Johnson is thus one of those ultra neo-liberals who thinks that free market economics should be allowed to play its course, and that if a bank wrongly invests, it should go to hell, along with its savers. This would be a very painful, but ultimately successful way for an economy to get back on its feet again. The problem is, its coming from a politician whose closest run in with pain has most likely been running out of his favorite tipple at two o’clock in the morning, and who thanks to some good fortune, is highly unlikely to ever experience chronic economic shortage or suffering, but who is more than happy for millions of working class people to go through it. It is the stuff of Thatcherite economics, and it is what anarchists hate Boris Johnson for.
Still it is interesting that it is Boris Johnson, who of all the political commentators, seem to be most passionate in articulating the needs of the Third World, saying, “Worst of all, the near-collapse of the banking system, and the shortage of credit, has encouraged the big Western financial institutions to turn their backs on the developing world. Money is being sluiced back home, to Europe and America, with catastrophic consequences for anyone who wants to get a loan in, say, Nigeria. In these circumstances, it is doubly immoral and disgusting that we continue to restrict the access of the developing world to our markets, and that we continue to use huge sums of taxpayers' money to dump our products on the Third World.”
So Boris’ conclusion is, “Of course I am not suggesting that the completion of the Doha Round will solve the banking crisis, and lift the world out of recession. But unless we have the political courage to do a deal, we seem to be legitimating the current disastrous trend towards economic nationalism and protection. I don't want to read any nonsense in the G20 communique about how they are "resolved" to do a deal. I don't want them to "reaffirm their commitment". There is little point in having this summit unless they recognise the gravity of the situation, and sign an agreement next week. So there's your chant, my crusty friends. What do we want? Free Trade! When do we want it? Now!”
Need to do something
For many people, the G20 summit represented an opportunity to really do something to get the economy back on track. I personally found this perspective a rather cozy vision of the world – as if the world leaders were all gathering around the table to think about what they could do to make life better for everyone – rather than what could be done to increase their nation’s strengths and interests. Nevertheless the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg seemed to capture this populist zeal for something good to happen, when he was reported by the Guardian as saying, “A grand one-day summit cannot alone deliver us out of the global economic crisis. But its timing, and the expectations raised, means that this week's meeting is of immense psychological importance. People desperately need to see that their leaders are able to work together, take radical decisions, and stick to a plan that offers hope. If not, this summit could become the fateful moment when recession lurches into outright slump."
The desire to turn up to protest to get the economy back on the right track, without having a particularly strong view on what that might be, is akin to the old pagan festivals in which people would gather around to offer sacrifices to the gods, hoping that by whatever mechanism the gods would bless the people with good weather and good crops the following year. Pagans coming to give sacrifice to the human gods of government and finance. Are we witnessing the beginning of a new religion?
The Put People First Protests on March 28th 2009
In anticipation of the G20 summit a demonstration was held in London. 10,000 were predicted to attend the demonstrations. According to the Guardian, “The Put People First march yesterday was organised by a collaboration of more than 100 trade unions, church groups and charities including ActionAid, Save the Children and Friends of the Earth. The theme was "jobs, justice and climate" and the message was aimed at the world leaders who will be gathering for the G20 summit here this week.”
According to an Indymedia site, the day before the march, “ 10000 copies of a spoof Financial Times were distrbuted in London, according to an article on London Indymedia. An associated website was also published at http://ft2020.com/. Set in 2020, the 12-page paper revealed how action in 2009 reined in climate change, saving billions from extinction. Carbon rationing didn’t kill us, it explained, despite the inconvenience to multinational companies. But we couldn’t have endless growth with finite resources. Editors even apologised for suggesting otherwise.” The Times said of the paper, “Thousands of copies of a spoof version of the Financial Times were distributed this morning by climate change campaigners. The fake edition of the paper, which had 12 pages and is also posted on the internet, was set in 2020 and largely focused on issues about capitalism, human rights and the environment. The paper was largely written by two people and funded by donations made online.”
Prior to the protests the police and media were implying that an anarchist contingent might be prepared to use violence at the demonstrations. The evidence offered for this by the police was little more than saying a few old faces had turned up that they hadn’t seen for a while.
A few key anarchists helped poor fuel on the fire mind. The Independent interviewed Ian Bone, an anarchist, who said, “"People are in an incendiary mood." 1 April will see the biggest ructions on the street since the poll-tax riots and possibly even the Gordon riots of 1780. I don't think politicians realise quite how angry we are. In the past six months, this country has been turned upside-down. A deep recession has been created by a few greedy bankers and as a result, thousands have lost their homes and jobs. A dam of resentment has built up and 1 April is when all these pissed-off people march on the City to take what's theirs. Capitalism itself is on the ropes." The Independent continued, “Bone believes the anarchists' moment has finally come. With the banking system on its knees and capitalism ' floundering, a window of opportunity for real change has arisen. "We need to seize the moment," he says. "There was a moment in May 1968 and another in the 1980s under Thatcher when the miners were on strike, but we failed to grasp either. This one is different. No one's ever seen what we are seeing now with the economy and it's the economy that drives people to the streets." Bone's own particular brand of anarchism is extreme. "I'm full of class hatred," he tells me cheerfully over a pint in the local Wetherspoons pub after the demonstration. "I just want to overthrow the ruling classes."
The Guardian also hinted that the anarchists might cause a lot of trouble reporting that, “The group London Anarchists has called on its followers to join in "fucking up the summit and other adventures".
The Independent also interviewed Chris Knight, Chris Knight, a professor of anthropology at the University of East London, and one of the co-ordinators of G20 Meltdown, describes himself as moderate. "I'm the kind of anarchist that adheres to some form of organisation," he says. "I'm not into throwing bricks through windows; what I'm talking about is something closer to revolutionary, or anarcho, communism." The Independent continues, “Since the economic crisis began, Knight has regularly taken to the streets brandishing a placard reading, "Eat the bankers". "We haven't got any secrets," he tells me. "On 1 April, we fully intend to overthrow the Government. ' Gordon Brown is on his last legs, this is his last throw of the dice. The revolution starts here."
The March from Embankment
The police reported that 35,000 people had turned up to the march. I don’t know how the police estimate these figures and whether their methodology is valid. However I saw the demonstration go past Big Ben from start to finish and don’t believe I saw 35,000 people. More like fifteen to twenty thousand.
The march started on the Embankment. When I arrived there I walked around desperately finding somewhere where I could have a piss for free. I tried Starbucks and Costa Cofee, but they seemed to have no toilets, I even tried the stamp collectors fayre a subterranean culture of badly dressed old people, with poor eyesight and even worse posture, which was momentary distraction from my full bladder, but which did not provide the answer to my pressing problem as the toilet door was locked and for staff only. Stephen Moss writing for the Guardian said, “Westminster is not a great place for someone like me, who has a weak bladder, to go on a march. The public loos there cost an outrageous 50p a go. The Socialist Worker magazine-seller next to Embankment tube station is on to this in a flash. "50p to have a piss – a lesson in capitalism," he is soon shouting. Later, I'm pleased to see someone has punched a hole in the wooden sign advertising the price.” In the end I walked all the way to the National Portrait Gallery where you can always be assured a good quality toilet seat.
|Marchers gather at the Embankment, Put People Before Profits March, London, 2009, Lewis Cleveland.|
|G20 Protests, Big Ben, London, 2009, MW.|
The Guardian continued, “The marchers, estimated at 35,000 by police, accompanied by brass bands and drummers and a colourful assortment of banners and flags, walked the four miles from Embankment to Hyde Park, where speeches from comedian Mark Thomas and environmental campaigner Tony Juniper, and music from the Kooks, made for a party-like atmosphere.”
There were a small group of anarchists who attended the march. The anarchists, dressed in black, some of them with scarves covering their faces, generally looked cool as fuck, like some post-nuclear vigilante gang, their black signifying the dark depressing reality from which humanity starts, and the point from which they wish to depart. The Guardian reported, “A group of fewer than 200 anarchists joined the march and were kept isolated and surrounded by police. Chants of "Burn the bankers!" were the closest anyone came to any show of aggression. Whether the police presence was heavy is debatable but they certainly had a line of police accompanying them, whereas no other group were honored with such a presence. Bibi van der See called this ketting. She said, “It was the very special policing tactics that were focused on them: the anarchists, the police seemed to feel, were such an imminent danger to society that they needed to be 'kettled' — in other words, to have three police vans crawling along blocking their left-hand side, and a tight line of police one behind another on their right-hand-side, to make sure there was no possibility of break-out.”
|Police showing their support to the Anarchists, Big Ben, London, 2009, MW.|
Stephen Moss attended the march, he reported, “I fall in with some anarchists halfway through the march – a delightful young Greek called Alex and an Italian, who is happy to talk about Bakunin, but is, I sense, a little suspicious of me. The anarchists march together – with the police flanking them in a way they don't with the rest of the march – and I am intrigued that they never shout slogans or bang drums. Their mission is a serious one.” Moss goes on, “Alex tells me a reporter from the Sunday Times has already approached him to ask why anarchists wear masks. "Work it out for yourself – you're a journalist," he'd told him. "People always ask why we wear masks; they never ask about our ideology," he complains. In essence, that ideology is: power corrupts; all elites will be corrupt; so government should be by the people, for the people – a mass movement of the type they claim is emerging in South America. Hezbollah is also mentioned favourably, a movement they see as developing organically. "Organic" is a key word for anarchists, and it would save a lot of aggro and bad press if they were called organicists rather than anarchists.”
Good point Stephen but who wants to be called an organicist? And in any case everything is organic – its just that some organisms are nice and some are quite nasty. To call anarchists organic is to miss the point, anarchists are like Christian, they dream of a reality which transcends human nature as it is and known. Structure, corruption, self-interest and greed underpin all human activity – the question is not how we can do away with it, but how can we manage it in a fair way.
A Rainbow Alliance is No Alliance At All
Stephen Moss wrote about the variety of organizations on the march. He said, “Socialist Worker has a three-point strategy: "Seize their wealth," "Stamp out poverty," "End all wars." Sounds good, but I can't work out exactly who "their" refers to. The Socialist party is hot on slogans, colder on the mechanism by which they are put into practice. The likely outcome to the current crisis still appears to be government by Etonians.”
Most of the movements on the march had any serious or popular agenda for instituting important structural political change. The people involved in the march did not want to genuinely change things. Instead they used the march as a kind of mild self-help. Protestors are full of people who for whatever reason, feel that they have been wronged in life, probably at a personal level, and feeling quite hopeless want to transpose their woe on to a faceless, unintelligible other – the government, the state, the capitalist, the rich and the greedy. Its not so much that socialist workers and anarchists want to change things, they know they are completely ineffectual, and too screwed up and traumatized, too aggressive, unintelligent and incapable of engaging people into a different way of presenting an intelligent alternative, they just want to shout out to people ‘we hurt’. Fair enough.
Although Boris Johnson, writing in the Daily Telegraph doesn’t seem to think so. He claimed the protestors didn’t really know what they were going to protest about on April 1st. He said, “The embarrassing truth is that they haven't a clue. They seem to be cross about the recession, and also about climate change – even though there is nothing like an economic downturn for reducing CO2 emissions. They are apparently enraged that state money is being used to prop up the banks, though they don't mind forcing the taxpayer to cough up millions to police their antics. They say they want to "burn a banker" and "stop the City", and no matter how superficially appealing those ambitions may be, it is hard to see how they can be turned into practical economic policies.”
|Tackling a very practical problem at the G20 Protests, Big Ben, London, 2009, MW.|
|G20 Protests, Big Ben, London, 2009, MW.|
|G20 Protests, Big Ben, London, 2009, MW.|
|The Big Clean up at the G20 Protests, Big Ben, London, 2009, MW.|
The TUC didn’t seem to be turning up to do anything more than saying ‘we’re here’ to represent threatened workers, and stating the downright bloody obvious to the government. Their message is “The importance of this summit cannot be underestimated. Unemployment and deprivation will grow massively over the next two years unless governments work together. People need to know that there is an international solution to this crisis. If the summit suggests that there is not, many will turn to nationalist and protectionist politics with all that implies for the global economy and world peace.” Mind you they do go on to say that, “But while the immediate response to the crisis will be at the forefront of the leaders' minds, the unprecedented Put People First coalition shows there is a huge appetite for a new economic direction. Thirty years of the increasing dominance of the neo-liberal agenda has got us into this mess. The summit must show that the next 30 years need to be about a renewed era of economic growth based on a much fairer share of the proceeds. One that is environmentally sustainable and one that does not end in the burst of yet another financial bubble.” But what are they really saying? Nothing much.
Protest as Carnival: having a laugh and caring little
There is something carnavalesque about protesting, the being a part of a big crowd, being together and having a bit of a laugh. For the more agitated and violent the whole, the need for an emotional fix, is very similar to the expressed needs of football hooligans. Football hooligans are of course much more honest about the emotional kick they get from fighting and confrontation. The protestors pretend that they are doing it for the people and the police for the sake of public order. Whatever the so called reasons, it is clear that a lot of protestors and police enjoy confrontation. They are much more focused on the enemy and combating the enemy than they are on creating peaceful societies.
As one commentator, on the Guardian observed, “Apart from the small contingent of student SWP calling 'One solution, Revolution' and about 20 anarchists making noise the spirit was generally depressed and lacking any anger or sense of direction.” Cognitator joked, “Perhaps the police were adding their number to the protesters. As opposed to taking them away as per usual.”
|There was a big press presence, as many onlookers and police as protestors at the G20 Protests, Big Ben, London, 2009, MW.|
|Having a bit of fun in aid of something or other, Big Ben, London, 2009, MW.|
|Police in line and in good spirits at Put People Before Profits March, March 2009, London, 2009, Carlos Mayoral.|
The protest ended up in Hyde Park. I didn’t go, it was too cold and rainy, and although I did aim to walk there via a short-cut through Victoria, I ended up taking refuge in Westminster Cathedral, where I saw another procession, of Catholic priests and altar boys, who were holding a service for the Union of Catholic Mothers. I listened to the Catholic priests, they sounded much more happy and at peace with themselves and their surroundings, than the rankerous socialist bile spitting leaders.
I had a friend who made it down to Hyde Park who said that there wasn’t a lot happening, people wandering around a little bit confused, a few bands playing, then it started to rain and everyone went home.
Stephen Moss was there, writing for the Guardian, he said, “When the march eventually gets to Hyde Park, the anarchists refuse to join the "TUC bureaucrats" for the official rally and hold their own open-platform meeting at Speakers' Corner, dominated by elderly men in hats who talk less about Bakunin than about beating up the BNP and confronting the police on the streets of Whitechapel. It's all a bit depressing (and expletive-filled – I take serious exception to the denunciation of "Oxbridge cunts"), though I like the fact that the elderly men refuse even to use a megaphone – only the ordinary human voice is organic enough.”
The Guardian also reported, “Thomas told the Observer he believed the protest marked "the start of a grassroots movement". He added: "This is a moment. This is the first time people have had a chance to come out on to the streets in a big way." But this is nonsense. This was just an opportunity for a plethora of groups, amongst whom there are more differences, and the only thing that can unite them is a general concern for jobs, justice and climate, which incidentally are three themes that unite most of the country, and all the main political parties, to catch the government at a weak moment, and hope to build up support for whatever cause they have, on the back of the anger and desperation amongst people at this time. The fact that the crowd were united by three themes – meant that they represented nothing apart a vein desire to delude themselves that somehow everyone in the crowd was marching for what they were marching for – when in fact many of the groups were much closer to the government than the groups they were walking next to. JA talking on indymedia’s chat pages said, “the message of the whole thing was so dilute. The speeches could've meant anything. 'We need a shift to an economy that Puts People First!' 'The G20 leaders must deliver their promises and come up with a solution that helps everyone!' I'm sure with this ambiguous rhetoric, the G20 could spout any old shite and it might seem to the many confused participants of this march that they've 'delivered' it.”
|Protest Dog, Hyde Park, London, 2009, Benjamin Edwards.|
|Two elders enjoy a sandwich at Put People Before Profit Protests, Hyde Park, London, 2009, Carlos Mayoral.|
1st April 2009 Financial Fools Day in London
Getting Ready for the Big One on April 1st 2009
The police and media never ever got me so excited for the end of the world as we know it as they did with the April 1st demonstrations. Being on a work day, a Wednesday, the April 1st protests were always going to draw a more bohemian, younger, work shy crowd than the weekend protests the weekend before. But it was this weekend that the police were warning the public and press about. According to the Independent the Metropolitan Police said that the G20 summit will present an unprecedented challenge as up to 2,000 protestors attempt to bring London to a standstill. There is some interesting deliberately sloppy and therefore ambiguous use of language here to imply things which aren’t really implied. Of course the G20 summit will be a challenge, hosting the leaders of the twenty wealthiest countries will be an interesting one. But two thousand protestors bringing London to a standstill?
The London Paper, the free evening paper read by millions of Londoners everyday, carried the headline (Mar 27 09) ‘Police braced for ‘unprecedented protests’: G20 Chaos: London On Red Alert”. Richard Moriarty reported ‘London was on red alert today as thousands of police officers prepared for an “unprecedented” week of protests around the G20 summit.’ Moriarty and the Metro seemed to distort the words of the Metropolitan police for effect. Later on in the article Richard Moriarty quoted Commander Simon O’Brien as saying, “We are seeing the return of some old faces. G20 is attracting a significant amount of interest from protest groups. There is an almost unprecedented level of activity going on.”
Let us be clear about what Commander Simon O’Brien was saying at this point. The phrase ‘an almost unprecedented level of activity’ means that there was not an unprecedented level of activity going on, i.e. that it was high but that it did have a precedent. Richard Moriarty did not make explicit what his source was for the headline, ‘Police braced for ‘unprecedented’ protests’. He seemed to be drawing from O’Brien’s quote and yet we have just established that by saying almost unprecedented O’Brien was saying that they were in fact ‘not unprecedented’ but ‘precedented’. To the extent that Richard Moriarty was implying that O’Brien had himself claimed there would be ‘unprecedented protests’ Moriarty had extricated unprecedented from a quote which was about activity amongst interest groups and inserted it into a headline about the likely scale of the protests, and stripped the word unprecedented of the qualifier almost, producing the new statement: Police braced for ‘unprecedented’ protests. Richard Moriarty was thus responsible either for a) providing no evidence to back his claim that the protests would be unprecedented and/or b) assuming that he was using the quotes from Commander Simon O’Brien as evidence grossly distorting what O’Brien said, with the effect being that the misquote made it look as if the Metropolitan Police believed that the scale of the protests would be unprecedented. This distortion of what was said obviously allows for sexier headlines, more people want to pick up the paper, and will then lazily cast their eyes over the advertisements, but it also puts people on edge, police, bankers and protestors unnecessarily. When I was at school we knew this kind of re-reading of what people have said to cause an emotional response ‘shit stirring’ and the London Paper and Richard Moriarty were both possibly, and unless Moriarty had failed to clarify his source for the headline, responsible for shit stirring on 27th March 2009. The fact is, whether the phrase came from the London Metropolitan Police or Richard Moriarty or the London Paper Editor, the protests did not turn out to be unprecedented, neither was there a shred of evidence produced by the London Paper or the Metropolitan Police to show that the demonstrations would be, and yet they decided to tell the millions of people that read their papers that they would be. Why?
On 26th March 2009 Rob Singh writing for the London Paper reported, “Private bodyguards are being enlisted by bankers in the capital amidst fears of violence during the G20 conference next week. City workers are being advised to stay at home, reschedule meetings and dress down so they are not obvious targets for anti-capitalist protesters. Banks, insurers, accountancy firms and brokerages have all circulated emails to staff with instructions on security measures.”.
The hyperbole, sometimes the doing of the newspapers, and sometimes the doing of the police whose message the newspapers carried was not confined to the London free papers. The Independent wrote, “The police have advised bankers and lawyers to dress down to avoid being marked out as City workers, to leave their cars at home and use public transport, to cancel meetings and to forgo outdoor cigarette breaks.” The Daily Telegraph reported, “The G20 conference will lead to a London "lockdown" next week, with parks, roads and businesses closed to keep world leaders safe, Government officials are warning.” The media really build the event up, all part of their attempt to build readership and sell advertising. It’s interesting how a force created by the desire to advertise and promote consumption causes papers to distort and promote a threat and confrontation to the very system upon which it is built. The Daily Telegraph article continued, “Protesters with armed with buckets and spades are among several thousand people who are planning to bring chaos to the heart of central London.” The Times reported that, “Scotland Yard is to deploy officers armed with 50,000-volt Taser stun guns to deal with violent demonstrators planning to disrupt this week’s G20 summit in London.” The Independent wrote, “Some groups are said to be considering filling roads with sand and then sending children to play in it, making it impossible for police officers to forcibly remove them.” It is worth at this point pointing out that only a handful of people were charged for having knives on them, no bankers were attacked, no-one turned up with buckets or spades an no children were used by adults to defend themselves against the police. The police didn’t use their taser guns. It is not clear how many people turned up to the protest, some say around 50,000, one twentieth of the million people who turned up to protest against the Poll Tax.
But the protestors were being stirred up by some of the organizers too, hoping they would ferment the vanguard of a new bloody revolution. Chris Knight, a professor at the University of East London, was quoted by Rob Singh of the London Paper as saying “bankers could be hanging from lampposts”. Rob Singh also wrote, “Warning that “things could get nasty”, he told BBC Radio 4, “We are going to be hanging a lot of people, like Fred the Shred, from lampposts on April Fool’s Day and I can only say, let’s hope they are just effigies.” “To be honest if he winds us up any more, I’m afraid there will be real bankers hanging from lampposts, and let’s hope that he doesn’t actually have to happen.”
A day before the April 1st protests, London Lite, another free evening paper reported ‘Anarchists plotting to storm City banks’. Bo Wilson claimed, “Hundreds of anarchists plan to storm City banks in a series of co-ordinated attacks after avoiding police detection by masquerading as peaceful protestors in legitimate G20 marches.” He added, “The plans were revealed to anarchist leaders representing 200 members from across Europe at a meeting last night”. Bo Wilson claimed that this meeting took place at rampART in Whitechapel where, “anarchists discussed plans to “swoop” on the area” in “swarms of two or three”.
Days before the event a raid in Plymouth, which first reports had said had unearthed explosives, was later found to have unearthed nothing more than fireworks and a deactiviated gun. Two days before this event the Guardian reported that, “Five people have been arrested in connection with a suspected plot to use explosives made from fireworks to disrupt the G20 summit. The three men, aged 25, 19 and 16, and two women, both 20, all live in Plymouth and the surrounding area. They are political activists unaffiliated to any terrorist organisation, and were arrested at addresses in Plymouth. They are being held under terrorism legislation. The explosive devices were made from simple fireworks, police said. Paul Netherton, Devon and Cornwall assistant chief constable, said imitation handguns and an imitation Kalashnikov, as well as devices made from fireworks, had been seized. The deactivated weapons were "not major" and "probably not even lethal".”
Mind you some of the activists were themselves drumming up a bit of drama. Chris Knight was talking about eating bankers, and being disingenuous about whether he was using the phrase as a metaphor.
The protests at the Bank of England were just one of a number of events being planned for the day. Events included:
The Guardian also reported that two days before the event, “Police agreed to an urgent meeting with one of the main G20 summit protest groups, after criticism that they had failed to initiate dialogue with protesters planning direct action this week. Senior Metropolitan police officers will meet tomorrow with organisers from Climate Camp, the largest and best organised group of protesters, who are planning to set up camp in London's Square Mile on the eve of the summit. A second group of protesters, G20 Meltdown, have also indicated they would be willing to meet with police. Climate Camp organisers, who are using social networking sites and text messages to alert activists to developments, have said they will converge at the European Climate Exchange in Bishopsgate, at 12.30pm on Wednesday. It is possible their so-called "swoop" will switch to a new site at the last minute, meaning hundreds of tents, compost toilets, kitchens and food stalls could appear at an undisclosed location in the capital within minutes. Organisers hope the camp will last overnight.
Meanwhile the newspapers were masturbating all over their chests at the high level security that the Metropolitan Police had claimed to be putting in place to protect the ExCel building where the G20 summit was due to take place The Independent report that, “The G20 meeting takes place at the ExCel centre in Docklands, and the Metropolitan Police plan to use a marine unit to prevent attempts by protesters to infiltrate the site by boat.”
According to the Independent, the timetable for April 1st was planned as follows. First, the Financial Fools' Day, where a demonstration would be held outside the Bank of England. Indymedia called the demonstration the “G20 Meltdown 'Banquet at The Bank' Financial Fools Street Party”
I know I’m criticizing the media, but I’m just as guilty as the police, the media and any fifteen minute anarchist fame seeker in wishing the revolution on. Yes, the media and police both hyped the April 2009 marches as like the possible end of the British way of life, of democracy, of capitalism. As time would tell, nothing could be further from the truth, all we really learned is how nasty certain elements of the police can be when treated like fighting dogs by their own senior officers (i.e. being hyped up and filled with the fear of the public). But boy, just like the riot police, just like the thousands of photographers and journalists, just like just about everyone who went there, I was willing a revolution – something to talk, think and feel about – to release me from my everyday fears and frustrations – war may be bad but peace is fucking boring – I once read.
How the Day Started
Indymedia reported that, “The day started with a big banner reading Smash Capitalism hung near Tower Bridge and a Critical Mass bike protest.” One group of protestors drove a Blue Tank down Bishopsgate.
|Protestors Driving a Blue Tank Down Bishopsgate, London, 2009, Edd Last Hours.|
Marching from Moorgate
For me as for many others the morning of April 1st 2009 was a beautiful Spring Day. The City was overcome by a beautiful relaxed peace, only one or two city workers strolling around an otherwise tranquil environ of concrete and glass.
By half past ten in the morning 200 odd people had gathered at Moorgate. By eleven there were 300, and around about 30 policemen, all looking around, waiting for the day to begin and wondering what the result would be by the time the sun falls.
Of note were two city provocateurs, one, a 5ft 7, 15 stone, plump guy, as wide as he was tall, dressed in a pinstripe suit. I wasn’t sure whether his attire was an attempt at parody or provocation. He stood comfortably amongst the protestors, chatting and looking around like he was waiting for the march to start. Later on I saw him walking away with a friend, who had a t-shirt which I had to do a double take on. The t-shirt said, “meat is murder, and then underneath “very tasty murder”. Maybe the guys had come for a bit of a barney – but the pin stripe was never going to get any trouble off anyone. Why are the ranks of the anarchist front lines never brimming with men his size?
On the topic of bankers, and how they must have felt, I did see several bankers during the day, dressed to the nines. Some had clearly taken personal affront to the protests, and had been primed by the police’s warnings, but instead of dressing in designer jeans and tops, were walking around with puffed out chests, strutting around like male pigeons on heat, all dressed in their best city boy pin stripes. The thing is a lot of bankers do body building and actually look quite tough, the anarchists and protestors tend in the main to be thin, young and skinny and some look quite malnourished. Most of the bankers, buoyed by the numerous steaks and beers that their needlessly large wages allow them to consume, don’t have much to fear.
The police looked a little nervous. For them, days like today, are all about holding one’s nerve, although as we were to find out, quite a few failed in this task on April 1st 2009. The police have to hold their never everyday. I have to say that I admire the way the majority of police handle themselves under such intense pressure. You can see that some police do the job because they like the control and power, they probably all do to some extent, but others are also in it because they believe they have a job to do in protecting people from incivility and bullying. The police are often a minority on these occasions, although a well-tooled minority it has to be said.
It seems to be lawful to take a photograph of a policeman, but they don’t like it much. They’ll either look away or try and stare you down. They always intimidate me but it doesn’t stop me from taking a few snaps. I took four to five photographs of a group of policeman stood against the wall in Moorgate, one of them approached me, and said ‘that will be five pounds please’. I asked him what he was charging me for, he said one pound for each policeman. I offered him my address so he could send me an invoice and he told me he’d let me off this time. I guess it was his way of telling me to fuck off. During the time that he spoke to me all his colleagues had moved from the spot where I had taken photos of them. No-one likes someone filming them, especially if they are unsure of their motive. During the protests later on, several police were videoing and photographing, some officers, mainly the female ones, take copious notes.
|Police Waiting for the April 1st Protests to Begin at Moorgate, London, 2009, MW.|
The walk from Moorgate to the Bank of England was pretty peaceful, there were an assortment of people, all seemingly atomized and peculiar in their tastes and causes. I saw flags from Tibet, Iraq and the old Soviet Union being carried. As the small procession worked its way through the streets towards the Bank of England, city workers, janitors and receptionists came to their windows, or stood outside their officers to watch the passing crowds. Some had built this up as the revolution to bring them down – but at this point it was really just a stroll through the woods.
|Following the Red Horseman Down to the Bank of England via Moorgate, London, 2009, MW.|
|Bankers pondering the April 1st March down Moorgate, London, 2009, MW.|
|Marching towards the Bank of England from Liverpool Street, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
|Wishful thinking @ the Bank of England Protests from Liverpool Street, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
Protests at the Bank of England
The procession from Moorgate was the first to arrive at the Bank of England. Between twelve and one the remaining three marches arrived.
The Times reported that there were around 4,000 protestors at the Bank of England. I would say that there were nearer 7,000. Once the protestors had gathered on the steps of the Bank of England it wasn’t altogether obvious what was supposed to happen. A few chants were initiated, but by and large those with loudspeakers, had loudspeakers that didn’t work, and were not charismatic or well known or trusted enough to really engage the crowd in any kind of co-ordinated action. At about one o’clock one protestor announced that everyone now needed to go to the EdExcel Centre where the G20 summit was due to be held the following day. But he wasn’t going anywhere because by this time the police had decided to block off all entrances and exits from the Bank of England.
|Crowds Gather at the Bank of England at midday, Big Ben, London, 2009, MW.|
|The Red Rider at the doors of the Bank of England, London, 2009, MW.|
Quite why the police had decided to turn the protest into a ghetto is not clear. Certainly the official reason given by police at the time was that a small crowd, which had broken away from protests, had caused some damage, and that as a response the police drove them as well as everyone else back into the Bank of England, so as to contain the violence and activity. At about one o’clock, as it became clear that police were blocking off access to and exit form the protests, a small stream of young anarchists, dressed in black, made their way up Threadneedle Street, where a game of push and shove with the police ensued. During the push and shove, missiles were thrown at the police, and television footage clearly shows one policeman receiving a hefty hit over the head by a demonstrator armed with a pole. There was a lot of edginess between the police and the protestors, and a number of protestors hurled things at the police. None of the violence can be condoned. However just to reiterate, was this the end of civilization as we knew it, was London drowning in the blood of the bankers and police. No, in terms of the damage done, there have been worse scenes at football matches.
While there was a tussle going on up Threadneedle Street those who were less feisty had settled own in the central area of the Bank of England, which had been turned into a a theatrical ghetto. A variety of entertainment and stunts were being pulled off for the enjoyment of the crowd. A brass band had been playing since the start. Billy Bragg did a few songs. There was a samba band. Several young people were dancing in and around a statue area to a techno trance sound system that had been set up – how many people can say they had a rave at the Bank of England? People dressed up as bankers or as the rich strolled around ironically. Trannies against greed lapped up the photo opportunities. Numerous young people armed with sticks of chalk didn’t miss their opportunity to write on the walls of the Bank of England, tell everyone and the world what they thought about the mess we were all in.
|A Brass Band Played from the Start at the Bank of England April 1st 2009 Protests, Big Ben, London, 2009, MW.|
|Billy Bragg at the April 1st Protests, Bank of England, London, 2009, MW.|
|FCUK the system, Man Taking in the Sun at April 1st Protests, Bank of England, London, 2009, MW.|
|Photo Opportunity for Trannies against Greed, April 1st Protests, Bank of England, London, 2009, MW.|
The piece de resistance of the afternoon had to go to the guy who scaled the columns of the Bank of England, best described by Sister Kaff, who said, “Later on, a hooded scoundrel very skilfully scaled the façade of the Bank of England between the wall and a column, and after some perilous and impressive hanging on by his fingertips and gripping with his thighs, he secured two banners to the top of the Composite columns of the Bank - Stop trading with our futures U morons! Said one banner, and the other one said something like After years of struggle against capitalism, it ends all by itself! I couldn’t read all the second one as he didn’t manage to hang it out taught enough.” The message put up by this human chimpanzee got one of the biggest cheers of the day – this is what people had turned up for – and this is what the majority of the nation feel aggrieved about – the fact that collectively and spearheaded by the bankers – and fueled by our rapacious desire to be home owners - we gambled all our money away on deregulated banking and high risk investments. The man erecting the banner caused come consternation to the security guards who had spent most of the day looking down and filming the crows from above. Because he was working under the ledge of the building the guards couldn’t see what was going on – when you have been kettled by the police – you take great joy in any form of discomfort or frustration experienced by the authorities.
|Young man climbs columns at Bank of England Museum to erect banner, April 1st Protests, London, 2009, MW.|
It is interesting that all of the news reports, just like this one here, emphasized that the protests were generally peaceful. But that fact was given just a second’s thought before attentions turned to violence, which is always so much more interesting. The ITN News report summed up the day well, “Despite the size of the crowd the main gathering remained good humoured. The faces of those whose job it was to police it reflected that. But it was as the protest was breaking up the atmosphere changed remarkably. The demonstrators discovered the police had blocked all routes out of the City. Soon there was confrontation.” Even the Economist thought so, “Back in the office, we watch coverage of the day. From their headlines and descriptions, you would think full-scale riots had broken out. There were certainly altercations between the police and small groups of protesters but on the whole, it was fairly peaceful.”
|Lady watches the protests from underneath the shelter of the Bank of England Museum, London, 2009, MW.|
Middle East News reported, “Eleven people were arrested for being in possession of police uniforms, a police spokesman told CNN. They had earlier been stopped while riding in an armored personnel carrier near Bishopsgate, close to the Bank of England. A total of 19 people were arrested, polcie said.”
Nevertheless the stories and photos that sell papers are those that stir the emotions, i.e. those that strike fear into the reader. And it is those stories that we will now revel in ourselves.
|Builders watching the April 1st Protests at the Bank of England, London, 2009, MW.|
|Punk or anarchist at the April 1st Protests at the Bank of England, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
|Lady enjoying herself at the April 1st Protests at the Bank of England, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
Although the police, media, business leaders and some of the protestors had warned city workers to stay at home in case they be subject to violence, in actual fact there were no reported attacks on city workers during the protests. In general city workers were either mildly amused or mildly nervous about the whole thing. The march to the Bank of England through the City bought many workers to their windows, taking a look at the group of people who according to the media, and according to some of the banners held by the protestors wanted to bring an end to the social structures of which they occupied a rather minor status in.
|Workers outside a lingerie shop in the City of London laugh as the G20 Protests go by, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
Builders meanwhile tend to have a more guarded emotional reaction to the protests. Builders are of course, the lowest of the low, when it comes to the capitalist social structure, doing the heavy work for the architects who build buildings for the financiers, who invest the money belonging to the capitalists. Builders cannot go on and on about wanting the system to collapse, that’s why at least in public they all end up reading the Sun and looking at tits, because they know to come across as anything other than a narrow minded sex obsessed fat ignorant sexist will lead them to become quickly isolated. So when it comes to the protests, you wouldn’t find many builders coming in their pants or being told by one of their colleagues to stop clapping so enthusiastically in support of the marchers. Instead the usual thing for a builder to do in these circumstances is to slouch lazily against a wall, bemused, as if the spectacle of the protestors was not to their taste, and interfered with an otherwise incorrigible mental dedication towards building, breasts and the stories of rape and sexy shenanigans juxtaposed in the Daily Sport.
|Builders in the City of London look rather bemused as the G20 Protests go by, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
A crowd of bankers looked on to the protestors from the heights of a building on Threadneedle Street. Protected by the huge steel, concrete and glass structures, on a platform hundreds of meters above the crowds below – they seemed so protected and safe and comfortable. Untouchable, they had through the money they had managed to siphon off from working people, through holding people’s money, loaning, lending and investing, worked themselves away up from the mêlées and malaise of human life, all dressed smartly, all feeling comfortable, watching down as if watching the television, as the world below them developed into violence, frustration and anger. They all looked so snug, like people stranded in a flood, sure that the lifeboat was going to reach them and take them away
|City Men watching the G20 Protests from Great Heights, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
What are we protesting against again?
The April 1st protests and demonstrations were marked by a variety of different causes. In fact the sheer number ranging from anarchists, to socialists, to trade unionists, to environmentalists, to those seeking an end to Chinese dictatorship and rape, to those who hate the police, to those who wanted to witness the revolution but weren’t so sure they wanted to partake in it was bewildering.
There are of course always a handful, or more than a handful of people, young and old, but more often young, who for wanting something better to do with their time, just want to exercise a bit of aggression and anger towards anything that looks soft enough to take it. Hence one protestor wrote the word ‘cunt’ on the hind of the statue of a horse in front of the Bank of England. There were a number of populist slogans being paraded on the day including Barak Obama’s ‘Yes We Can’ which can mean anything to anyone. ‘Yes We Can’ suggests a brave new world in which we take care of each other, erect thousands of wind turbines and don’t use plastic bags anymore; it is at the very least positive, hopeful and engaging. The writing of ‘cunt’ on the other hand, or should I say other hind, in this case that of a statue of a horse, whilst running the risk of alienating radical feminists, has a similar power in appealing to the masses, although on this occasion appealing to their rather more disgruntled pissed off selves, selves which are not entirely clear as to what or whom to be pissed off at (Horses? Statues?).
|Yes We Can What? at the G20 Protests, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
|Yes We Can What? at the G20 Protests, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
Some people wanted to abolish money. One day money as we know it might be abolished. Instead what we will have is a society run on credit – which means that all money becomes imaginary and no longer linked to anything other than the value of what those who run the system and who form part of the system (i.e. anyone who partakes in the idea of credit) want it to be.
There are some people who would like to think that society can be run without having money or credit, where we would all barter or take care of each other or something. This isn’t a very widely held view – however most people would appreciate the opportunity to see a banner saying ‘Abolish Money’ tied at the entrance to the Bank of England tube station.
|Abolish Money at the G20 Protests, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
Children and Protests
Children’s emotional attachments to the adults who drag them out on protests is too strong, and they are too dependent on adults, to ever make a free choice to enter into a protest. Mind you children are used by adults to do all types of activities, including schooling, churches and other religious ceremonies, sports and prostitution, so in relative terms there is little wrong with taking your children on a protest march. However I cant help think when looking at children waving flags, what is going on through their mind other than ‘I better do this to make mummy happy.’ Of course adults can explain to children why they are bringing them on protests, and the children may be able to rattle off the explanation and rationalization, but it’s still the same thing, an attempt to please mummy or daddy. Children have always been the pawns and emotional bedding for adults.
|Little Baby Anarchist at the G20 Protests, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
But first… The Flickr Revolutoin!
Two things became apparent during this protest. The first was that there were more people who were coming to film the revolution than take part in. The second was that if Big Brother if it exists will not be one person controlling everyone else, it will instead be everyone controlling each other through the use of digital cameras.
|Everyone wants their Flickr moment at the April 1st Demonstrations, London, 2009, MW.|
|Police filming protestors filming them back – but how long will this balance last? April 1st Demonstrations, London, 2009, MW.|
There were photographers everywhere; the revolution really will be televised. In the procession leaving Moorgate at eleven in the morning there were an equal number of photographers to straight laced demonstrators. The Economist writes of how early on in the day at London Bridge, “There seem to be 20 journalists for every protester. They mill around with enormous cameras, frowning critically into the sun, scouting for shots that are not entirely populated by other journalists (no easy task).”
When I arrived at the Bank of England, I saw what on the face of it looked like the vanguard to a new revolution, all closely packed together under the statue of Wellington and his horse. On closer inspection I realized they were the vanguard of a new set of photographs, they were all photographers trying to gain a vantage point on proceedings. Duncan Campbell noted, writing for the Guardian, “One of the striking aspects of the 1 April demonstration was that, wherever you turned, someone seemed to be pointing a camera.
The police were videoing from rooftops and windows, their spotters pointing out suspects. The protesters were cheerfully taking souvenir shots of themselves with mobile phones on the steps of the Bank of England. The media were there in numbers. The local CCTV cameras are also, it appears, always with us.”
|Police and Security Videoing from the Top of Buildings at April 1st Protests, London, 2009, MW.|
The use of cameras was particularly evident on the front line, where the more aggressive and violent of protestors were confronting the police. Both police, but particular protestors were filming every action. Both sides realizing that if they acted out of turn and in a violent manner the moment would be captured on film several times and for perpetuity. And we know now of course that if it wasn’t for members of the public filming, we might never have known the truth behind what happened to Ian Tomlinson, the man who died at the protests, and of whom more will be said later.
It’s true to say that a lot of people had come just as onlookers – like myself it has to be said – voyeurs – wanting to live out our violent fantasies vicariously. Loads of people had come to watch the revolution take place, but not many people had come to make the revolution happen.
|Everyone wants their Flickr moment at the April 1st Demonstrations, London, 2009, MW.|
|Everyone wants their Flickr moment at the April 1st Demonstrations, London, 2009, MW.|
|Everyone wants their Flickr moment at the April 1st Demonstrations, London, 2009, MW.|
|Everyone wants their Flickr moment at the April 1st Demonstrations, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
And just as there were hundreds of photographers looking for their Flickr moment, so there were tens of people all dressed up, posed on top of statues, wondering if their fifteen minutes of fame was going to be delivered on this day. Later on in the day the Economist comment, “The four Horsemen eventually congregate on the steps of the Royal Exchange, along with a string of policemen and a motley crew of protesters. With the phalanx of journalists thronging around them, it feels more like a giant photo-op than a crowd ready to rampage.” Russel Brand, who appeared at about one o’clock attracted one of the biggest cheers of the day, he functioned as a black hole sucking in a scrum of photographers.
According to the police, the violence began when a small crowd, which had broken away from protests, and was heading towards the west end, had caused some damage. In response the police drove the crowd, as well as all the protestors back towards the Bank of England, to contain the violence and activity.
At about one o’clock, as it became clear that police were blocking off access to and exit form the protests, a small stream of young anarchists, dressed in black, made their way up Threadneedle Street, where a game of push and shove with the police ensued. People climbed on to shop fronts and window ledges to get a better view of what was happening. During the push and shove, missiles were thrown at the police, mainly bottles and barriers, and television footage clearly shows one policeman receiving a hefty hit over the head by a demonstrator armed with a pole. Every now and then you could hear odd glass smash and a cheer.
This was the beginning of a series of violent events, between phalanxes of police officers armed with batons, shields and dogs, and protestors, most of whom had nothing, although some found objects to project. Although I personally did not witness any violence, reviewing the personal accounts left by many people on different websites including the Economist, the Guardian and Indymedia, it transpired that many people felt they had been subject to cruel, violent, bullying and injurious police behavior.
Threadneedle Street began to fill with people, a few keen to get in on the action, and the majority keen to see it take place. People climbed on bus stops, bus shelters and ledges to get a view. Humans had become wallpaper.
|Young People Getting a View on the Police – Protestor Confrontations, 1st April Protests, Threadneedle Street, London, 2009, MW.|
|People Crowd the Streets on Threadneedle Street, 1st April Protests, London, 2009, MW.|
|Girl climbs bus stop to get better view of police protestor confrontations, 1st April Protests, Threadneedle Street, London, 2009, MW.|
|Man Climbs on to a Clock in Threadneedle Street to get a better view of the clashes between police and protestors, 1st April Protests, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
PeterM leaving a message on the Economist website wrote, “The girl next to me was hit over the head by a baton and was knocked unconscious immediately. Blood was streaming from her head and the police kicked her to get up and continued to do so until people dragged her away, again being attacked by policemen. The blood dripped from her head as she was taken away. This was repeated throughout the day.” A great example of the needless use of physical force, was the case of Ian Tomlinson, more of which will be mentioned later. However, there was also an unreasonable and extremely hateful use of police force and brutality directed at the Climate Camp set up on Bishopsgate, where there were no reports of physical violence directed by the protestors at the police.
Why wasn’t the Royal Bank of Scotland Boarded Up?
Some of the demonstrators smashed the windows in the Royal Bank of Scotland building.
Middle East News reported, “Demonstrators also spray-painted the word "thieves" and the anarchist symbol on the side of the building. The ailing bank has been the target of much anger following reports that its former chief executive was given a multi-million dollar pension payout despite overseeing record losses.”
Sky News questioned why the bank hadn’t boarded up its windows. One viewer of YouTube has claimed, “RBS was left unboarded on purpose. the police were a few metres away but didn't intervene. also the protestors were channeled down into threadneedle street. this was most likely done to invalidate the protests by being able to say 'look they trashed a bank'.”
Given that the Royal Bank of Scotland wasn’t protected, and given the undoubted professionalism and effectiveness of the police in all other matters that day, questions have been raised as to whether the bank, the government and the police agreed to leave the bank unprotected, as in some way an enticement to the extreme minority of more violently minded protestors, so as to create a ‘violent event’ and thus providing the police with a justification for creating a ghetto, and humiliating the protestors.
The present of the Royal Bank of Scotland provided by the authorities, the police and the government, for the usual minority element of hooligan minded protestors, also allowed gave the media the opportunity they wanted – to provide an image and story which massaged the erectile tissue of their readers – instead of the bland reality of a largely peaceful protest.
|Protestors draws the anarchist sign on the Royal Bank of Scotland – this was the only instance of vandalism during the April 1st Protests, London, 2009, Edd Last Hours.|
The Ghetto or the Kettle
At about one o’clock the police decided that they were going to keep everyone confined within the Bank of Area. All exits and entrances were blocked off. Photographers with passes were allowed to enter through the cordons into the demonstrations but no-one else was. Apparently this tactic of police officers is called ‘kettling’. It is a good metaphor – because it contains all the excitement in one area – by confining people to one space it also makes people feel nervous, anxious and makes them more prone to using violence. The police know this – they have trained psychologists who can tell them – not that you’d need a psychologist to tell you.
|Musician taking steps to leave the Bank of England protests, he would soon find he wasn’t going anywhere, April 1st Demonstrations, Bank of England, London, 2009, MW.|
|Milling around at the Bank of England, April 1st Demonstrations, Bank of England, London, 2009, MW.|
George Monbiot writing for the Guardian said something similar, “The way officers tooled themselves up in riot gear and waded into a peaceful crowd this afternoon makes it look almost as if they were trying to ensure that their predictions came true. Their bosses appear to have failed either to read or to heed the report by the parliamentary committee on human rights last week, about the misuse of police powers against protesters. "Whilst we recognise police officers should not be placed at risk of serious injury," the report said, "the deployment of riot police can unnecessarily raise the temperature at protests."”
Louise Christian, also writing for the Guardian, explained that, “Containment tactics were first used over a long period of time on 1 May 2001 when an anti-capitalist protest at Oxford Circus was corralled by the police for seven hours in bad weather and with no access to toilet facilities. Lois Austin, a demonstrator, and Geoffrey Saxby, a passerby caught up in the demo, challenged their false imprisonment in the courts and on 28 January this year, after Saxby dropped out of the action, the House of Lords ruled that the police had behaved lawfully and Austin had no right to compensation. Delivering the leading judgment, Lord Hope said that even in the case of an absolute right the court were entitled to take the "purpose" of the deprivation of liberty into account before deciding if Article 5 was engaged at all.’
|‘Darling Put the Kettle On’, Police at the Bank of England Protests, London, 2009, MW.|
A lot of people started becoming exceedingly frustrated at being kept in to what was a temporary ghetto at the heart of the city. Why, everyone was asking, but the police wouldn’t give us a reason. They speculated, guessed, said they didn’t know, but no-one would give an official reason. This arbitrary, unaccountable and unexplained use of force provoked an image of a police chief rubbing his hands, watching the small bulge in his trousers grow, surveying the CCTV aerial images, and thinking to himself, ‘Well you wanted to hold a protest in the Bank of England you’ve got all day to do it now”. We were stuck in this place, and many people wanted to leave. Meanwhile many people wanted to get in but were prevented by the police. At one point an officer told me that the people on the outside of the demonstration were people who had originally been inside but had since decided that they had wanted to get back in. The police are usually quite genuine people and when they try and lie its as bad as when they try and crack a joke.
|Riot Police at the Bank of England Protests, London, 2009, Matt Scandrett.|
|‘Kettle’s On, Teas Up’ Two Peasants Enjoying a Cup of Tea courtesy of the police at the Bank of England Protests, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
|The Kettle Begins to Boil at the G20 Protests, London, 2009, Samuli Ikaheimo.|
Wandering around the ghetto, a sense of panic set in, what would people do without food or water, and where would they go to the toilet. For men its OK, you can have a piss wherever, but what about the dignity of women. Apparently we were all to be denied what we thought were our basic human rights of freedom to move and associate, either for no reason at all, or because a handful of young people had smashed a few windows. There was nowhere to buy and food or drink from and few toilet facilities. There was evidence of a few portaloos in some videos I have seen since, but no way near enough for four thousand people. Men took to urinating against the walls in Cornhill, releasing a sea of piss which covered the pavements and spilled into the gutter. Super Kaff wrote, “As the news that we were imprisoned sank in and spread around the square, the festive atmosphere deflated to a hum of irritation and frustration. More and more people sat down and started chatting, playing cards, reading papers, dozing, twiddling fingers.” The Economist reported, “One man pleads to be let through because he is diabetic and has no food or insulin with him. The officers are unyielding. It is an “absolute cordon” and no one is going anywhere. Scrabbling around in our bags and appealing to the crowd, we manage to scrounge together a banana and a chocolate bar but he is shaky.” It wasn’t an absolute cordon though – two of my colleagues were able to escape through it at some point – and at another point I saw someone with a press pass allowed through. I asked the policeman why certain people were allowed through a second after the guy was allowed to pass through. The policeman said no-one was allowed through, to which I replied I had just seen someone pass through as had he, to which he replied he didn’t know why. The police seem to either have developed the habit of or be trained in a complete inability to treat the public with respect in dialogue with them. In this case the policeman lied to me and then decided to feign ignorance.
People began to get bored, and sat in the corners of the buildings, looking around, running out of energy, feeling aggrieved I imagine. Journalists started got their laptops out and wrote out their reports.
|Protestor types on laptop having been enclosed in by the kettle, G20 Protests, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
Meanwhile there were various people who were determined to enjoy their time in less than solitary confinement. Hammocks were erected, gas boilers set up and teas brewed, one group of youngsters had bought a sound system which they erected opposite the Bank of England and they started to rave. Meanwhile a whole host of pantomime like characters paraded themselves around the enclosure.
|Fairy who couldn’t give a FCUK at the April 1st Demonstrations, Bank of England, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
|Swinging in a hammock but most of the monkey business was carried out by the police at the April 1st Demonstrations, Bank of England, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
|Tea being served in the kettle, April 1st Demonstrations, Bank of England, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
|Mammon to G8! A Cheeky Chess Move in the kettle at the April 1st Demonstrations, Bank of England, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
|Laid back on the crossroads at the April 1st Demonstrations, Bank of England, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
For a few hours I was sat in the garden outside the Bank of England, feeling quite sick about being cooped up. I spoke to a girl, who had been drinking a bottle of brandy, who told me she had been to quite a few of these events, and we could expect to be here until ten o’clock. I was going a bit insane. We were momentarily living inside a Ghetto. I started thinking about what life must have been like for the Jews in the ghettos in Germany. Obviously the two hardly compare but I couldn’t help but feel degraded and angry for being treated by the police in this way. The police will of course say that they didn’t have the resources to deal with several hundred breakaway groups causing violence all over the city, so they resorted to containing everyone within one area. I don’t buy that argument, if several hundred groups want to break away and cause violence at multiple sites they can do it just as well at nine o’clock at night as they can at two in the afternoon. The only thing I would say, is that by nine o’clock they’re going to be feeling a lot more tired and drained. One thing I’ve learned is bring a packed lunch and a bottle to piss in.
After a while I suggested to my friend that we walk around the perimeter of the streets and protests, just to see what was going on at the different sites. At one point at the end of the street, the police line, if it had ever been there, seemed to have cleared away, it was about four o’clock. We started walking down the street, the street ended in a very narrow alleyway, which people seemed to be walking down in quite a happy carefree way. They weren’t protestors! We chose to walk down the alleyway and found ourselves coming face to face with another police line, but at this point, as was confirmed by the police, we were on the outside rather than the inside of the protest. As we walked away, we could see hundreds of people still waiting against the police lines either waiting to go in or come out, and I wondered for how much longer they would be waiting not knowing of the secret exit we had found. As I entered London unrestrained, a wonderful sense of freedom overcame me, as I could now move where I wanted.
It seemed like a similar protestor, Sister Kaff, had the same experience, she wrote, “A moment later, I passed a large, recently built boom-before-bust building, conceived of curves and stripes of dark pink and sandy stones. At its base was a pedestrian underpass, the entry was dark as Hades but with a flash of promising daylight at its other end. A diverse range of people were going in and coming out, and looking quite unperturbed, so Bunty and I went in. On either side of the dark and curvy corridor, were shops full of extravagantly vulgar things one would only buy with loads of money and no breeding or taste. But right now being a cultural bitch didn’t interest me, I sauntered nonchalantly past two nervous, fluorescent policemen, and out into the daylight of Poultry. My heart soared as off to my left, to the west, the road was clear, all the way into the distance, I was looking at my freedom and could have cried out with the elation of release. It was fantastic, and we stood a chance of getting our train! All the same, the road was lined with police vans full of large policemen (I hope they opened their windows from time to time) so I saved the victory fist until the end of the road.”
On April 7th Paul Lewis of the Guardian reported that the cordon was still in place at seven o’clock, which is quite amazing given that I had found a route out at about four o’clock. Lewis said, “The main protests of the day had ebbed away but hundreds of people were still penned inside a police cordon near the Bank of England around 7pm.”
Commenting on the kettling techniques used by the police Brighton Mayday posting on FIT watch asks, “However, there has been no attempt to link these two facts, and engage in the argument that the protesters were justified to fight back against this policing. There has been wide spread criticism of the police kettling people for hours without access to food, water or toilet facilities, yet there has been no suggestion that protesters were justified to use force to free themselves from this situation. Instead, media reports still insist these people were there just to cause trouble, without believing in any cause, and were nothing more than violent thugs.”
On May 1st Paul Lewis and Matthew Taylor reported that Scotland Yard had been accused of misleading its own watchdog after an official report on the policing of the G20 London protests was said to contain "false claims" and "gross inaccuracies". Crucially Lewis and Taylor pointed out, “The document, submitted to a meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority yesterday, set out the police version of events during the demonstrations last month, and included claims protesters and independent observers said were misleading… The report stated that "whenever possible, people were allowed to leave the cordon" around the Bank of England and the Climate Camp in Bishopsgate. But accounts from hundreds of people caught inside the pens for hours indicated police refused people permission to leave.’ The problem with statements of ‘whenever possible’ leaves the power to judge as when it is possible in the hands of the police – of course they let people go ‘whenever possible’ the point is, when did the police judge it to be possible – and in whose interests were they making these judgments? In practice the police rarely judged it possible to let people leave the cordon – the question needs to be asked ‘why?’ and ‘is the answer reasonable?’ The fact is that few people got through the police cordons, and most people when asked were not given any indication as to why they were being confined or kettled.
Ian Tomlinson: The Man That Died at the G20 Protests
By the end of the G20 protests on April 1st 2009 it had become clear that a man whoh had been at the protest had died of a heart attack. The man’s name was Ian Tomlinson.
On April 2nd the Times reported, “A man who died during the protests in the City of London yesterday was on his way home from work when he collapsed and is not thought to have been part of the marches. Ian Tomlinson, 47, was found unconscious near to St Michael’s Alley off of Cornhill near the Bank of England just before 7.30pm yesterday. He had been returning to his home near by from working at a newsagents.”
On the 8th April 2009 Paul Lewis of the Guardian reported that Ian Tomlinson has been attacked by the police from behind and thrown to the ground by a baton-wielding police officer in riot gear. The Guardian had obtained video footage (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/apr/07/ian-tomlinson-g20-death-video). The video showed Ian Tomlinson walking, hands in pockets, on his own, at a shuffling pace. Behind him a group of police were walking towards him at a faster pace. Tomlinson had his back to them and seemed to be unaware or uncaring of their approach or of any desire for him to walk with greater speed. Tomlinson’s footsteps seemed unsure and awkward suggesting that he might have been stubbornly maintaining his pace. However such a lack of awareness of one’s environment, i.e. there are not too many people who would nonchalantly stroll around with a pack of policemen and dogs shouting at him to move on, indicates that he may have been unwell. Once the police had got within touching distance of Tomlinson one officer armed with a baton appeared to strike Tomlinson on the back of his right lower leg, and then launched an unprovoked push on Tomlinson’s back, which caused Tomlinson to take a heavy fall on his front. Tomlinson did not get up, in fact eye witness reports suggest that he never stood up again, instead he sat up and started conversing with the police. The fact that he did not stand up, suggests that he was too weak to do so.
FIT watch observe of the video, “Furthermore, the reaction of the other officers reveals how endemic and normalised this level of violence has become within the MET. Not one of the officers present made any effort to restrain their colleague – as I have sometimes seen them do on other occasions – not one checks to see whether he is okay. The FIT officers standing directly in front of Tomlinson carry on their conversation seemingly oblivious to the violence perpetrated in front of them.” According to Clove (2009), “The FIT are ostensibly there to establish a rapport with demonstrators. Their remit frequently involves assisting senior officers in the handling of public order situations. They provide intelligence briefings which influence the policing of demonstrations. They are meant to identify potential troublemakers. By implication, this means they are also in a position to identify people who pose no risk, and - presumably - to leave them alone. These are the official reasons for the maintenance of the Met's Forward Intelligence Teams.” According to wikipedia, “Forward Intelligence Teams are units in UK police forces that use cameras, camcorders and audio recorders to conduct overt surveillance of the public. The police officers wear full uniform, and are intended to be a highly visible presence. Their uniform is different from normal police officers in that the upper half of their yellow fluorescent jackets is blue.”
According to the Guardian, “More than 30 seconds after being shoved to the ground, Tomlinson [was] lifted to his feet. The final footage of him alive shows him walking past the line of police dog handlers, who have formed a cordon blocking off Royal Exchange passage. Witnesses describe seeing him stumbling and looking glazed. He [was] walking east along Cornhill, away from police. About three minutes later, he collapsed.”
So why had the police officer pushed Tomlinson? What orders was the officer in question following? Anna Braithwate, a freelance photographer from South London, quoted by the Guardian, suggests that previous to the video clip, police officers in and around that area had been outnumbered by protestors. She surmised that this event had fired the police up, so they had come out determined to show their authority and power. It is of course, as every good policeman will know, at moments like this when a policeman needs to be a professional in exercising self-control and composure. It is when one has just been attacked that one is most likely to lash out. It is the job and responsibility of a policeman not to lash out unlawfully, or take revenge on an innocent bystander, but to rise to the professionalism required of his role, and to act appropriately. Said Anna of the officers, “When they came back I think this one officer just rushed in and lashed out. And it happened to be Mr Tomlinson.”
The Guardian said that, “Witnesses said that, prior to the moment captured on video, he had already been hit with batons and thrown to the floor by police who blocked his route home. One witness, Anna Branthwaite, a photographer, described how in the minutes before the video was shot, she saw Tomlinson walking towards Cornhill Street. A riot police officer had already grabbed him and was pushing him," she said. "It wasn't just pushing him – he'd rushed him. He went to the floor and he did actually roll. That was quite noticeable It was the force of the impact. He bounced on the floor. It was a very forceful knocking down from behind. The officer hit him twice with a baton when he was lying on the floor.”
Liberal Democrat justice spokesman David Howarth has called these actions: "an unprovoked attack by a police officer on a passerby. It is sickening. There must be a full-scale criminal investigation. The officer concerned and the other officers shown in the video must immediately come forward." But the question is, was the officer acting on orders? And what were those orders. If an investigation is to happen then it needs to make transparent the orders given by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, and especially in regard to what level of physical force is necessary and appropriate when a civilian is not providing a physical threat to a police officer.
Once Ian Tomlinson had fallen to the ground, he was attended to by a number of protestors. Peter, who was an eye witness, commented, “Around seven o’clock in the evening we were in an area to the east of the Bank of England, near Bishopsgate. We were with a crowd of protestors; there had been a few clashes down that road between the police and protestors immediately beforehand. I looked up, I saw a man, a man in his late forties, he was stumbling along, he was definitely unable to walk properly, he collided with a door that came out of a building and then walked a couple more steps and collapsed. A person who I was with who had some experience of first aid ran over with another group of protestors to see if he was OK. He was clearly in a bad way, I remember the person doing the first aid put him in the recovery position and tried to take his pulse which was weak, and we looked at him, and he couldn’t answer questions. We asked him what his name was, whether he’d been drinking, just tried to get a response from him, but he was he was definitely unable to understand the questions we were asking him. My friend, who was a first aider was trying to help this guy, and the police charged in, because they were trying to clear the protestors from the road, a lot of protestors running towards this man, and the girl who was providing first aid stood in front of him to make sure he didn’t get trampled on. And there was a man called an ambulance, and spoke with ambulance advisers, who advised that he be laid on his back. And then someone had notified the police, and they sent 4 PCs and two medics to find this guy. They arrived, they removed the people attending to him forcibly, they didn’t really one to listen to anyone about his breathing or his pulse. At this stage not everybody in the crowd knew what was going on, that a man had collapsed, and I saw there was one bottle that was thrown towards the police, it struck the wall about ten feet above them, and at some distance to my left. But then after the crowd instantly turned around and said there’s a man collapsed, there’s a man hurt, stop throwing things, and after that nothing more was thrown. And the police began attending to him, and medics began doing their job, and after that further police charges pushed us out of the area and that was the last I saw of him.”
Another protestor called Elias added, “The protestors were the people who were there in the first place, helping this man who had collapsed. There was a guy on a loudspeaker does anyone know a medic, does anyone know a doctor, can someone call 999. The people around him were very concerned, one of our friends was there helping him out, putting him in the recovery position. And there was a guy ringing up the ambulance. And so people were there, really really concerned.”
Of particular concern is the way that the Metropolitan Police and the media reported the event immediately after it had happened. Paul Lewis reported that, “In an official statement on the night of Tomlinson's death, the Metropolitan police made no reference to any contact with officers.” Furthermore, according to Lewis, police had claimed that “attempts by police medics and an ambulance crew to save his life after he collapsed – efforts which they said were marred by protesters throwing missiles as first aid was administered.” Duncan Campbell reported the following statements by various newspapers, “The police were "pelted with bottles by a screaming mob" (the Mirror) or "pelted with bottles as a medical team tried to revive a demonstrator" (Mail). Tomlinson had died "after being 'caught among the mob'" (Telegraph).” He added, “What is also striking is that, so soon after the inquest into the death of the Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes, assumptions about a suspicious death should be so swiftly made and the official version accepted so unquestioningly.” On April 2nd the Times reported, “A member of the public called police to see to Mr Tomlinson and officers, wearing helmets and protective clothing, formed a barrier around him as police medics tried to resuscitate him. The Met said that as the officers tried to revive Mr Tomlinson they came under attack from protesters who threw bottles at them. A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said that officers arrived on the scene to help and had to move the casualty away for urgent treatment.” The Daily Mail reported that, “Earlier officers were pelted with bottles as they tried to save a protester dying on the street.” It is not clear what sources the Daily Mail were drawing on in stating this so-called fact. Furthermore it is not clear what they meant by pelted.
In conclusion Paul Lewis wrote, “The Guardian has gathered statements from 15 witnesses who saw Tomlinson to piece together a forensic reconstruction his movements. This directly contradicts the official version of events put out by police in the aftermath of Tomlinson's death. The witnesses accuse police of lashing at protesters and bystanders alike, attacking them with batons, shields and dogs.”
Peter a Law Student, Elias a student, who both claimed to attend the demonstration on April 1st. They broadcasted a statement to contradict the account given by London Lite, which stated, ‘Police pelted going to help dying man.” Peter said “Bricks being thrown, the protestors threw bricks at the police whilst they were trying to help this man”. Elias said, “This has become the big headline, this has epitomized how bad the protestors were. We were there, it was nothing like that and the whole thing has become incredibly distorted.” He said, “The protestors were the people who were there in the first place, helping this man who had collapsed. There was a guy on a loudspeaker does anyone know a medic, does anyone know a doctor, can someone call 999. The people around him were very concerned, one of our friends was there helping him out, putting him in the recovery position. And there was a guy ringing up the ambulance. And so people were there, really really concerned. The protestors weren’t these destructive people who were letting this guy die, not in the slightest. The police came up, and shoved people out the way, the people who were saving his life initially were all of the protestors. There were some people at the back, and I personally went over and told them to stop them throwing it, like one maybe two bottles, OK that’s not a barrage, I told them to stop doing it and they were like OK OK, and the police were not under a barrage. The way its being represented there and its now become this massive headline, it’s completely false. It’s nothing like what we experienced first hand, what we saw, and what we know really really happened.” As the Guardian point out, “The film reveals that as he walks, with his hands in his pockets, he does not speak to the police or offer any resistance.” The police do not seem to think for a second that the man may be ill, or weak, or wish to engage with him to establish where is weak or ill. They seem simply to want to use physical violence to intimidate him to move.” Peter added, “And just the idea that any missiles in anyway prevented the police from providing care for him is absolutely wrong.”
Daniel MacPhee, quoted in the Guardian, claimed to have called the emergency services to get help for Ian. He said, “If the truth be that he died of a heart attack it's not surprising really because it felt like people were running for their lives. I looked over to my left and there was a man lying in the street. Someone shouted out, 'he fell down, over there' - as if to say that he fell down before somehow. I rang 999. I was on the phone. They said, 'is he breathing?' Then they asked me to put him on his back. So with the help of the person I was with, we managed to get him on to his back. Not long after that a group of four or five riot police came running out from the crowd and surrounded him. The ambulancewoman on the phone said to me, 'can you pass me to the police?' I said, 'I've got the ambulance on the phone, do you want to speak to them?' They just ignored me.”
So what should be the outcome. Phoenix Redux, commenting on events on the Guardian website, seemed to provide a reasonable conclusion, “My son is a MET constable and I know that he is passionate about serving and protecting the community. He is proud of the job he does, which is a tough one, and I am proud of him for choosing to do it with such commitment. The out of control bully who attacked Ian Tomlinson, his incompetent commanding officer and his cowardly colleagues, not one of whom appeared to remonstrate with him or move to Tomlinson's aid when he fell have done more than cause the death of an innocent man - and that is bad enough. They have brought shame on a police service and on the many excellent men and women who, like my son, are trying to do a difficult job with integrity. I felt sick when I watched this video. The actions of the police involved were indefensible and I can only hope that at least some members of the public can understand that not all MET officers are thugs and bullies who delight in wielding their power. But this will only be possible if those responsible are promptly disciplined, if the main perpetrator is instantly dismissed from the police (and if appropriate charged with manslaughter), and if the MET itself owns up to its responsibility for the failure in discipline and leadership that allowed this appalling assault to take place.”
Candid Camera pointed out the importance of the public being able to film the police during protest demonstrations. He said, “The legal process will take its course over the filmed assault on Ian Tomlinson – the newspaper seller who died of a heart attack at the G20 summit protests after being pushed over by a copper – but if nothing else the incident highlights the vital importance of allowing the public to film the people employed to police them. That right was cancelled by the Counter Terrorism Act 2008 which allowed for the arrest of anyone whose pictures “are likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”. This could, for example, include people taking pictures showing how police operate during a demo. An Al Qaeda supporter planning a suicide bombing could, arguably, benefit from close knowledge of the “kettling” technique used to keep protestors penned in a particular area. Imagine where we’d be now, if officers had decided on that basis to confiscate film and camera equipment from everyone entering the G20 protest zone.” Its only when you come in contact with the police that you begin to realize how important it is that there is a balance of powers. In the same way that the police used the incident at the Royal Bank of Scotland to take away the liberties of, and to humiliate the protestors, so they may come to use counter-terrorism measures as covers for simply exercising more power over citizens. Listen lets face it, we all enjoy the exercising of power over one another, the desire to dominate is a basic human fundamental, a nasty one, but its there, in all of us. And its in the police as much as its in me or you, or a rapist or a politician. Police, like everyone else, will take all the power you can throw at them, but you give them too much, and they’ll start becoming the criminal.
On April 9th the Guardian reported that, “The police officer seen on a video by millions of people assaulting a man at the G20 protests minutes before he died will be questioned by investigators today after coming forward last night.” Paul Lewis and Sandra Laville who wrote the article for the Guardian commented, “The territorial support group officer identified himself to his manager and the Independent Police Complaints Commission as fresh pictures suggested he had removed his shoulder number and covered his face with a balaclava before hitting Ian Tomlinson with a baton and pushing him to the ground last week.” They added, “But the officer has not been arrested on suspicion of assault or suspended from duty by the Metropolitan police.”
On the 22nd April 2009 Channel 4 released footage showing the assault on Ian Tomlinson from another angle – in this footage Tomlinson’s head seems to impact with the ground heavily. It is likely that such an impact would have caused concussion and confusion and a great deal of pain.
Timothy Garton said on watching the police assault on Iam Tomlinson, “Even if you did not know that Tomlinson had died soon afterwards, the sudden, unprovoked and seemingly casual violence of the assault would be shocking in itself. It's as if the policeman involved thought throwing passing citizens to the ground was the most normal thing in the world. I defy anyone to watch the footage and not be shaken”
Identifying the Police Officer that Assaulted Ian Tomlinson: The Man That Died at the G20 Protests
On April 22nd Channel Four News revealed a number of pieces of footage, which showed, what they believed was the officer who had assaulted Ian Tomlinson, involved in other scuffles and confrontations prior to his assault of Ian Tomlinson. Channel 4 had identified from their study of the pictures for the officer to have the number u41 on his helmet, to have his baton in his left hand, to have his luminous yellow vest tucked into his trousers and to be wearing a balaclava. Channel 4 pointed out that the IPCC had tried to take out a court injunction banning Channel 4 from showing the footage on the grounds that it could prejudice their investigations. Channel 4 pointed out that some of the officers involved in the event had still to be questioned 21 days after Ian Tomlinson had died.
Helene Mulholland, writing for the Guardian reported on 30th April 2009 that a police officer, John Hayter, a 49-year-old member of the royal protection unit, stepped down after he wrote on Facebook: "I see my lot have murdered someone again. Oh well, shit happens." Mulholland continued, “In a statement, the Met said: "The Metropolitan police service will not tolerate any of its employees making inappropriate comments via the internet." The interesting thing about the Metropolitan Police’s statement is the use of inappropriate as a qualifier for the comment. There is Sir Paul Stephenson, something inappropriate about the use of the word inappropriate in this case. And that is that using inappropriate suggests that somehow it was injudicious not because it was inherently wrong to use the word, but because given the sensitivities it would needlessly rile people. One uses, ‘Shit happens’ to minimize the importance of the event, in this case the fact that the police force may (although contrary to what Hayter implied it has not yet been proven) have murdered Ian Tomlinson. Furthermore the statement equates not just the possible murder of Ian Tomlinson but Ian Tomlinson himself with shit. This statement is far from being inappropriate, it is neither appropriate or inappropriate. To say something is inappropriate is to suggest that in another context in another moment it may be entirely appropriate. What the statement is, is thoroughly degrading, and indicative of the fact that this man does not value human life, which is completely against the values of democracy, at whose core, is that men should be at least equal before the law and equal in relation to the election of one’s political representatives. For Sir Paul Stephenson’s Metropolitan Police to say that the comment is inappropriate is to miss the point that this is not an injudicious comment, a slip of the tongue, but that it is a thoroughly offensive comment, and that it indicates an attitude which is degrading and devaluing of human life and an anathema to a democratic state. Use of the term inappropriate is in itself indicative of the fact that the police are not tuned into what they are here to do, i.e. uphold the democratic values and the valuing of people amongst the people.
Seven hours before the death of Ian Tomlinson, down at Bishopsgate a group of protestors calling themselves Climate Camp set up tents and camping equipment down a mile long stretch of road in the City. There were about one hundred tents.
As one commentator on http://g20police.wordpress.com/ put it, “At 12:30 pm on Wednesday, Climate Camp in the City was set up peacefully and surprisingly easily (that is to say, with little if any resistance from police) when a few thousand people ’swooped’ in from various directions onto Bishopsgate in London, in front of the European Climate Exchange. We were trying to make the link between economic systems and environmental destruction — that the same people and structures that caused the financial collapse had also caused the catastrophic increase in the average global temperature. The idea was to give a glimpse of an alternative sort of world, so between our banners and barricades we set up a small tent city and had a street party in it, complete with bicycle-powered sound system and composting toilets.”
Kriptick writing for Indymedia described the experience of setting up as follows, “The way the climate camp swoop worked was brilliant. There were small groups of people with circular tents on their backs hanging around in the nearby streets and then suddenly at 12:30 - Bishopsgate was chocka with 2-3 thousand people. It was cheering to see that it is possible to overcome the stereotype of vague activist timing as within just a few minutes, it was as if we'd been there for hours as a tent city popped up and bunting and banners flew between the street furniture. Journalists from all over the world were tip-toeing between the crowded tents and doing live interviews. Not much later a kitchen was serving up food and workshops on the evils of carbon trading were in full swing. Bored city workers ventured into our little world and far from feeling alienated, actually enjoyed the experience. I didn't see a single "outsider" scowling so much as once during the day.”
|Another Poo is Possible, Climate Camp, Bishopsgate, London, 2009, MW.|
|Nature Doesn’t Do Bail Outs, Climate Camp, Bishopsgate, London, 2009, MW.|
|Guitar Playing at the Climate Camp, Bishopsgate, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
|Two City Boys Ponder the Climate Camp, Bishopsgate, No Bankers Were Attacked on April 1st, London, 2009, MW.|
I personally managed to see a bit of the climate camp after escaping the Bank of England Ghetto. The atmosphere I experienced was quite different from the one at the Bank of England, with most of the people looking like peaceful hippies. Flags and banners had been put up and most people were sitting down, chewing the fat and chilling out. Some people seemed to be selling home made cakes. The atmosphere seemed incredibly positive, peaceful and familial. There were some children around.
However, judging from tens of apparently first hand accounts, at seven o’clock, by which time I had left, the police started punching and kicking members of the climate camp, throwing them to the floor, and inflicting injuries to their bodies, in an attempt to intimidate and scare them and move them from the area. If it wasn’t the police who had initiated the activity you would have called it the act of thugs, and local London newsreaders would be tut-tutting their way through a list of cowardly and violent acts perpetrated. The Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police Sir Paul Stephenson should be searching through the video material gathered by his own officers, to spot the rogue thug element amongst his staff, to identify which of his managers were responsible for this violence perpetrated by his own officers. Sir Paul Stephenson should condemn the needless violence shown by members of his force, subject his force and employ a force better able to keep its composure under stressful conditions, and show that his force is there to actively facilitate and enable and empower protestors in peaceful protest, rather than using the slightest provocation to justify what is effectively the bullying of a crowd and an unlawful maintenance of a particular version of public order. It is clear that members of his force were prepared and hyped up to act unnecessarily towards the crowd of protestors, and Sir Paul Stephenson needs to explain who within the police force incited this hateful aggression towards the protestors and public. A police force that hates and fears the public is not going to serve London, and a Commissioner who is ineffective in rooting this emotion out from his officers is not fit for the job. Sir Paul Stephenson has a job to do.
On the 15th April, Meikle and Lewis, writing for the Guardian reported that, “The Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, has ordered a review of public order policing amid mounting concerns over the way his force and the City of London police handled the G20 protests this month. He also revealed that he has separately called for video evidence of police actions during the demonstrations in London to be reviewed to identify any conduct by officers that may warrant investigation.” Stephenson was also quoted as making the following valid comment, “"G20 was a complex policing operation managing the movement and protection of many heads of state across the capital while balancing the right to lawful protest and maintaining public order for many thousands of people."” He was also quoted as saying, “"Separately, I have already expressed my concern that the video footage of some police actions is clearly disturbing and should be thoroughly investigated."”
Videos on Youtube show that there were confrontations, with lines of police using severe physical force to remove the campers from Bishopsgate. Several first hand accounts have been provided at the following site http://g20police.wordpress.com/ . According to Duncan Campbell of the Guardian, “At the same time, as many, many witnesses have reported, there were other officers hyped up for a ruckus who behaved, particularly at the Climate Camp in nearby Bishopsgate, after the cameras had departed, with the same sort of random, out of control, violence as that attributed to protesters.”
The Climate Camp organizers themselves provided the following account on their website: “Around 4,000 people set up a Camp for Climate Action in the middle of the Square Mile on Wednesday, closing a major road for 12 hours as an act of direct action in the face of climate crisis. The Camp was located outside the European Climate Exchange on Bishopsgate, to protest against the G20's plans to use deeply flawed carbon trading mechanisms to tackle climate change. As planned, hundreds of protesters "swooped" from all over the City at 12.30pm and set up tents, bunting and bicycles in order to reclaim a large portion of the financial district… Throughout the day there was a programme of street workshops on themes such as the absurdity of carbon trading, the history of social movements and alternative economic models. Pedal-powered sound systems and live bands provided entertainment, a kitchen provided hundreds of meals and a farmers market gave away organic vegetables. The atmosphere was creative and joyful. The City of London is usually a major part of the climate problem, through the funding of fossil fuels and disastrous carbon trading schemes. For 12 hours we turned it into part of the climate solution. …At 7pm riot police violently attacked the camp, injuring many peaceful campers and bystanders who were not allowed to leave the area. Despite this incursion, the atmosphere at the Camp remained calm and happy until around midnight, when riot police again moved in and aggressively dispersed the Camp.”
Indymedia also reported that, “A photographer was taken to one side by police and threatened under anti-terror legislation that he was not allowed to take pictures of police "engaged in their duty." It is actions, rationalizations and justifications like these, that are scary. Protests are not terrorist activity. Taking photographs of police officers going about their duty, whether that be lawfully or unlawfully removing demonstrators from an area, has nothing to do with terrorism. According to Indymedia, “Police confiscated his camera and attempted to delete all the photographs he'd taken. The photographer pulled out another camera to film them doing this, and was threatened again, but police then returned the first camera.”
Kriptick provided the following account, “How things changed at 7pm though. By then the mainstream media had returned to base to file their reports or rushed to capture the more sexy rioting elsewhere and the light was becoming too low for good filming. With no provocation, riot cops with battering shields and flailing batons came storming into climate protesters who offered only upstretched palms as resistance. The lunacy of their tactics continued as although they presumably wanted to clear us from the street, they imprisoned us in that same street for 5 hours, not letting anyone out until the small hours. Conditions became pretty squalid by then with rivers of piss running along the pavements and gutters. If you transform a living space into a prison, the occupants will hardly maintain and respect it in the same way. It was a shattering end to what had been a joyful and empowering day.”
|Climate Camp, Bishopsgate, April 1st Protests, London, 2009, MW.|
On April 1st the anti war movement organized a separate march entitled, “Jobs not Bombs”, marching from the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, Mayfair to Trafalgar Square. According to Politics.co.uk, “The Stop the War campaign marched through central London today as part of a mass of coordinated protests around the capital. Activists called on state leaders to "give peace a chance" as they headed from the American embassy in Grosvenor Square to Trafalgar Square in central London. The demonstration brought together protestors from the Stop the War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, The British Muslim Initiative, and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.”
|The Stop the War March, London, 2009, Natalie Green .|
It is interesting to note that Ian Luder, the Lord Mayor of the City of London, writing in City AM on 30th March 2009 commented that “The Met Police, the City Police, Britigh Transport Police, the City of London Corporation and others will quite rightly be carrying out their duty to ensure legitimate protests do not disrupt the working life of the City. They will take measures that match the response to the threat to good order.” It would be interesting to hear the Lord Mayor’s opinion on whether the use of kettling, and the denial of the freedom to move of all the four to five thousand people who had gathered in the Bank of England, was a measure that matched the response to threat to good order, i.e. was a measured approach to the handful of people who had broken the good order by vandalizing the Royal Bank of Scotland. If I got a reply from Luder, I wouldn’t want any passing the buck bullshit, i.e. “well its up to the police to decide”, just a plain yes or no. It seems that kettling was used more as a pre-emptive measure, i.e. it was used to justify saving the city from damage which had not yet happened. Ian Luder did not make any promise that he and the police would use pre-emptive measures, Ian Luder did not make it clear to Londoners that kettling was an option if a small amount of vandalism had taken place. The Lord Mayor of the City of London did not say that the police were going to use kettling to pre-empt violent or disruptive behaviour. Were the Metropolitan Police properly communicating with the Lord Mayor of London, had the Metropolitan Police told Ian Luder the truth about what they were going to do? If Ian Luder knew why didn’t he tell people so the people of London could take an informed decision about whether they wanted to attend the event and be subject to kettling?
On April 15th it had become apparent that a second act of unprovoked police violence had been inflicted on protestors, this time on a woman who had attended a vigil in honour of Ian Tomlinson. Paul Lewis, writing for the Guardian, reported that, “The footage and series of photographs were taken at the Bank of England the day after Tomlinson's death. The latest footage appears to show the officer hitting a woman across the face with the back of his hand, and saying: "Go away." The woman, clutching a carton of orange juice and digital camera, remonstrates with the officer. He is then seen drawing a baton from his pocket and striking the woman on her legs. The officer's badge number was concealed.”
Lewis and Quinn, writing in another article for the Guardian reported that, “A woman left covered in bruises after apparently being slapped in the face by a police sergeant at the vigil of Ian Tomlinson says she is shocked by the incident.”
On the 15th April 2009 the Guardian published a series of videos, ‘that appear to show police using excessive force against G20 protestors.” The Guardian provide the following textual commentary for each video:
|The Stern Look of the Police most of whom lacked any compassion or respect for the protestors throughout the day, G20 Protests, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
On April 16th 2009, London Lite reported that a lawyer and student had also accused G20 riot officers over brutality at the protests. According to the paper, “Islington councilor Greg Foxsmith is among the complainants, alleging he was struck in the chest and thrown to the ground during the protests in the City on 1st April. The 47 year old claimed he was attacked by a balaclava clad officer after he witnessed him assaulting an elderly man.” London Lite went on to add, “Another protestor, Maya Oppenheim, claimed she was attacked by a riot policeman. The A-Level student, 17, was in Bishopsgate when she says she was hit with a baton and kicked while sitting. She is taking her case to the IPCC. Miss Oppenheim, of Hackney, said: “It was ferocious. It was completely out of the blue and absolutely horrific.” Finally the paper noted, “Student Tom Hibbins, 21, from Brockley, who claims he was repeatedly struck over the head with a police baton, outside the Bank of England, has already complained to the IPCC.”
Almost three weeks after the event, on April 20th, Bo Wilson, writing for London Lite, wrote that David Gilbert, a former Scotland Yard commanded, who had served for35 years in the Metropolitan Police, had said that a crisis of leadership within the Met had led to a safety first approach, which to quote Bo Wilson, ‘meant every encounter with the public was treated as a potential threat.’ Wilson went on, ‘He also claimed this had caused rank and file officers to adopt an overly aggressive attitude – such as that witnessed at the G20 protests.2 Gilbert was quoted by Bo Wilson as saying, “The lesson is that the public are your enemy. That mindset appeared to dominate the G20 protests…There is also a case for a programme to change the mindset of today’s young officers. They must recognize that the right of lawful protest is inalienable.”
Bo Wilson reported on April 20th 2009, “MPs of two parliamentary committees are to scrutinize policing tactics and the handling of the G20 protests. The first probe will take place tomorrow , when the Commons home affairs select committee questions both Mr O’Connor and Nick Hardwick, the chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, about alleged police brutality and the “kettling” tactic deployed at the demonstrations.
|Police piling into people at G20 Climate Camp, London, 2009, Woo-War.|
Boris Johnson, Mayor of London and Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, hosted a public meeting on 30th April 2009, during which senior figures from the Metropolitan Police Authority discussed the policing of the G20 demonstrations. According to Helene Mullholland writing for the Guardian, “Tim Godwin, the acting deputy commissioner of the Met police service gave evidence alongside Allison in the absence of the Met police commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, who is recuperating after an operation to have his appendix removed. They said the conduct of a tiny minority of officers should not deflect from the performance on the day of the majority of the force – a view echoed by Johnson. The police account of operations on the day of the protests said that, despite the "exaggeration of the potential violent disorder in the media coverage", officers had been briefed to remain "calm and restrained".
It is interesting to see that the senior officers seemed to imply that the response of the police during the G20 protests was not something that had been reflective of a culture of animosity fostered within the Metropolitan Police and targeted at the public and demonstrators. Instead the Metropolitan Police seemed to be implying that the acts of violence carried out against members of the public, who had decided to attend the event, were in fact the individual choice of the officers concerned, chosen through ill judgement or bad intent. The Metropolitan Police should be asked to explain what Commander Simon O’Brien, who was in charge of the policing operation, meant to convey to his troops by saying that in the event of any trouble, "we are up to it and up for it". Of course, we all hope the police force is up to it, but up for it? Up for trouble? One can easily escape through the ambiguities of language in interpreting meaning but what we know is that in this day and age to be ‘up for’ something, means to want to do something, i.e. to take pleasure in entertaining the prospect of something, why would the police take pleasure in entertaining the prospect of trouble? If one reads Simon O’Brien’s comment with a commonly shared understanding of what it means to be ‘up for something’ then irrespective of what O’Brien had intended it could well be that this comment functioned to legitimize a feeling within the police officers that it was reasonable for them to feel excited and be looking forward to the challenge of violence before the protests had taken place. When O’Brien says ‘we are up for it’ and another police officer, who is later dismissed for writing on his facebook site words to the effect that he is looking forward to bashing a few hippies it is very difficult to see what the difference in attitude is, even if one has chosen his words carefully and the other, as Simon O’Brien or any other officer of the Metropolitan Police might say, in a most inappropriate way. As Hugh Muir says, if Simon O’Brien was saying to the press, ‘we are up to it and up for it’ ‘one does wonder what sort of briefings were given to the officers.’
There was an impressive and intimidating array of police surveillance technologies on display. Several policeman were taking photographs of the protestors with very powerful camera equipment throughout the protests. Several officers, usually female officers, were taking copious notes throughout the day. Furthermore around the Bank of England a team of police officers and security men occupied the roofs of the highest buildings, supported by at least two helicopters. The men on the roofs of the Bank of England looked particularly hard and invulnerable. They have the kind of faces that you imagine the chief executor or torturer of some kingdom in the middle ages might have. The sort of expression that on the face of it seems emotionless, but which is in actual fact holding back an extreme sense of satisfaction and smugness at being in control, and with the huge resources of the powers that be, feeling that the hunt for a few wretched miscreants will inevitably result in a victory worthy of yet another cigar smoked through the lips of a smug smile.
When attending a protest, and on encountering such a heavy and pervasive surveillance system, your first reaction is to balk at your decision to attend the protest. You ask yourself what will happen if the police have me on film, will I be blacklisted, will my employer get to find out about this. You feel that by being photographed by the police you are already guilty of having committed a crime, or for at least having been a naughty boy, who it might reasonably be expected might have committed a crime. By being subject to the police surveillance technologies you experience what its like to be belittled, to no longer have control of your environment, you feel like they’re trying to impose shame on you for having been part of a protest, you feel like they’re trying to teach you a lesson. You think like a crying child, I don’t want to be part of the protests, I don’t want the police to do this to me.
But then a part of you thinks ‘fuck that’, and outraged you say, ‘fuck the police’ they can have as many photographs as they want of me, they can defile me with their surveillance techniques, and their attempts at intimidation and embarrassment, let them have a photo of every side of me, from every angle, from above and below.
|Men Who Look Hard Looking Down at the G20 Protests from the Bank of England, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
|Helicopters Patrol the G20 Protests, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
|Man in Suit staring at you from top of the Bank of England, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
|Policeman films the G20 Protests at the Bank of England, London, 2009, No Onion Please.|
Generating a Shared Consciousness Amongst Protestors
By 11th April 2009, the hive of activity that had built up between protestors who had both born witness to and had documentary photographic and film evidence, had resulted in a shared awareness raising, which the mainstream media had started to tap into.
It is interesting that prior to the attacks, the mainstream media were looking for media stories which reinforced and realized the prophesy made by the Metropolitan Police and uncritically accepted by the media, that the protestors would cause damage to the City of London, and would represent a danger to bankers and the police. The image of the handful of protestors vandalizing the Royal Bank of Scotland were shown all over the world. And yet that was the only incident of its kind – and lasted for not much longer than half and hour, in a protest that started at 11am and ended at half past one at night (when the last of the Climate Camp organizers had been evicted from Bishopsgate).
Across the media, there was general acceptance that the protests had generally been peaceful, but more significance was given to the confrontations between the police and protestors during the kettling exercises and the vandalism as the Royal Bank of Scotland. Probably the most balanced account within the mainstream media was that produced by the Economist.
What was noticeable in almost all the accounts, was a reluctance amongst most of the media, especially the London media such as London Lite, Metro and London Paper to question the police tactics and behavior during the day. It is clear that these questions were not raised, because to question the role of the police is to compromise the intimate and ‘I’ll scratch your back you scratch mine’ that the media have with the police.
However, what happened was that people started sharing first hand accounts of what had happened during the day. One of the first stories to emerge was a refutation of the story promulgated by London Lite amongst others that the police had been hit by a barrage of bottles whilst attending to Ian Tomlinson. Two protestors posted a youtube video. More was to come of course. With no-one sure quite how or why Ian Tomlinson, a man who had died of a heart attack during the protests, an American Fund Manager released a video he had taken, showing Tomlinson being beaten on the leg and shoved to the ground by a police officer.
The Ian Tomlinson revelation, first publicized on the Guardian, then led to a number of other people coming out revealing stories about how they had been beaten without reason by the police. The Tomlinson story produced a moment around which people could start developing a shared conciousness and understanding of what had actually happened.
The mass media have traditionally had the role of constructing stories around which we develop a shared history, conciousness, experience and understanding. The media told the story from the police perspective, it told the story from the perspective of those who were concerned that the City of London was not going to be reduced to rubble – fair enough. But it failed in telling the story from the protestors – and from those who were subject to indiscriminate violence. First the media was not interested in questioning the police role. Second the media operated on the assumptions that where there was conflict this was the natural consequence of a demonstration, and at times the response of provocative protestors. The media is failing the interests of people who suffer at the hands of the police, because the media is not independent of the police.
Take for example ‘Firms prepare for anarchy in the Square Mile’ an article written by David Crow for City AM a free London paper focused on the city’s business community. The article, written in anticipation of the protests on 30th March 2009, starts by saying that part of the city will be boarded up (business owners’ interests); then different groups ‘threaten to paralyse the City’ (business owners’ and commuters’ interests); then Scotland Yard is hoping the protests will be peaceful but that ‘there are fears that hardline anarchists could resort to violence’ (police and business owners interests). It goes on to state, “The Metropolitan Police has planned its biggest security operation in a decade, and one that will be the first big test of the recently appointed commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson. All police leave has been cancelled….” (police interests). It then mentions how several firms have told their employees to work from home or dress down (business and employees interests). Finally it passes on a message from the police about disruptions to transport and an odd mention of how “restaurants such as The Don on St Swithins Lane are warning customers to expect a phone call on Wednesday morning, informing them that the bookings have been cancelled due to the protest.” (business interests). There is within this article as there is within many articles information presented from the perspective of the interests of a policeman, businesses and commuters working for the businesses. There is nothing about whether the protestors will be safe, or a critical assessment of what they are protesting for or about. The interests of the protestors are absent. This is just an example to illustrate the larger point. The result of a lack of focus of facts and information as they pertain to the interests of the protestors is that the media are blind to the collective experience of the protestors. When the protests happen they look at it from the interests of the businesses and the police. This inhibits protestors from developing a shared experience of the protests. Even the protestors have to view the day’s events through the eyes of the police or the businesses.
It took a death, and then a flurry of citizen level internet activity for the development of a shared consciousness, understanding and experience amongst those who were subject to the violence. So by April 11th 2009 it had become apparent that a number of people had been subject to physical and violent acts of aggression by the police; that these actions had not been provoked, were not like for like, and were often used to move people, i.e. they were not ‘measures that match the response to the threat to good order’ as identified by Ian Luder the Lord Mayor of the City of London. FIT watch (FIT stands for Forward Intelligence Officers) concluded that, “The violence and brutality shown by the police last week was commonplace, with masked up riot cops wading into peaceful climate camp protesters with batons and boots.”
At the news of the death of Tomlinson, and with the police being reluctant to step forward to explain how and why Tomlinson had apparently been pushed over without provocation, individuals with internet capabilities started to network and launch their own attempts to identify the police officers involved. By April 11th 2009 websites had started issuing requests for the identification of the police officer who had pushed Tomlinson, as well as the identification of officers who had been in the group of which the officer was a member. For example, bristlekrs who posted a video of the police making incursions into the Climate Camp asked, “"Can you help identify the cops who witnessed the assault of Ian Tomlinson, who died after he was assaulted by police during the G20 protest in London on the 1st of April?” He went on, “"If enough people - ordinary people, people like us - take the time and trouble to hold those responsible (through their action or their inaction) for the death of Ian Tomlinson, force them to come forward and be held accountable, then we might - just might - help prevent this happening again, only next time to your father, my mother, our friends, our loved ones. Dont leave it to the IPCC. “
Another website dedicated to monitoring the activity of the Forward Intelligence Team, a branch of the police who are at the vanguard of police activity during protests, collating evidence. http://fitwatch.blogspot.com . Bristleblog on 11th April claimed to have worked through all the photographs and video of the attack on Ian Tomlinson that was witnessed shortly before his death. He said, “I have taken as many screengrabs as possible, and attempted to identify what officers were in the shot at any one time. So far, we are told, just four officers in total have come forward. As these pictures show, there are at least eighteen police officers close enough to see what happened last Wednesday on Royal Exchange Buildings by Cornhill.” Bristle then provided a set of snapshots from videos and photos that he found on the web. There were a number of messages left on his blog page from a couple of other people who seemed to be keen to also track the identity of the officers.
On the back of the death of Ian Tomlinson, and a modest amount of evidence of overly aggressive police action, the mainstream press have started to become interested in the experience of the protestors. FIT watch observed on 9th April 2009, “The media, which last week showed continual footage of protesters confronting the police, has this week miraculously found their footage of people being attacked by baton wielding riot cops in side streets.”
What this experience has shown us is that when a bunch of young anarchists, in black hooded tops, bohemians and a few drunkards can be bullied; they lack any importance, wealth or status, and so no-one including people in the media are interested in representing their opinion. Their experiences, their perspectives are not discussed, no-one is interested, instead their actions and motives are constructed by the police or by ironic media types writing in the interests of their upper middle class and capitalistic owners. Its only when people within the mainstream, people who represent a large group of people, i.e. politicians, mainstream journalists and lawyers start to make the same complaints as the kids that people start to stand up and think there maybe something in these claims, that what started off as incredulous claims of people without much power, who would say that kind of thing, all of a sudden become credible.
2nd April 2009 Protests
According to Sam Jones of the Guardian there were further protests outside the Bank of England on the 2nd April: “Trouble between police and G20 protesters flared again in the City this afternoon as more than a thousand demonstrators descended on the Bank of England to pay tribute to a man who died last night and to criticise what they said was a deliberate police strategy of "enormous repression".”
On 20th April 2009, London Lite reported, “The Met today admitted carrying Tasers while clearing a squat near Liverpool Street Station after the G20 protests. New video evidence appears to show an officer painting a 50,000 volt Taser at protestors in earl’s Street on 2nd April. The group is already on the floor and they do not seem to be posing a threat.” The article goes on, “Lawyers for the Climate Camp protestsors will hand over a dossier to the Independent Police Complaints Commission alleging use of excessive force by riot officers. Up to 400 witness statements alleging police brutality were drawn up by law firm Bindmans on behalf of the organizers of the Climate Camp demonstration. Among complaints is one from a woman who claims police refused to let her out of the cordon for medical treatment after she collapsed. Louise Broadbent, 27, who suffered an asthma attack during the “kettling” incidents, said she was told by officers that “they were under orders not to let anyone out under any circumstances, even for medical reasons”.
The Woman Who Capitalised on G20 Beating
On 16th April 2009, Georgina Littlejohn, writing for London Lite, wrote about how Nicky Fisher, a woman who was hit by a police sergeant outside the Bank of England, ‘cashed in by selling her story for an estimated’ fifty thousand pounds. It is kind of ironic, that a demonstration, which is in part populated by people who are opposed to capitalism, led to one such protestor, using that very system, in this case the services of Max Clifford, who understands the value of exclusivity, and capitalism, i.e. getting the maximum gain from private ownership of a resource, in this case a public interest story, to capitalize and make a significant personal gain. Not that this is in anyway a criticism, only the most puritanical of us wouldn’t have done that, if we knew it meant foregoing fifty grand. As one of my friends said, no-one is pure.
The policeman who had hit the woman had ‘apparently concealed his identity number’. Said Georgina Littlejohn, “Photographers show the 35-year old shouting and swearing at the sergeant before he appears to strike her across the face with his hand hit her legs with his baton. Ms Fisher..said, ‘I was trying to get through and couldn’t. The policeman pushed me and I pushed him back. Then he hit me in the face. He hit me with the back of his hand.’”
The Alternative G20 SummitRichard Rogers reported that the Alternative G20 Summit went ahead at the University of East London’s premises close to the Excel Centre. However the university had, “closed its campus down and cancelled all lectures for Wednesday and Thursday out of fear that demonstrators would use the university buildings as a base for protest at the ExCel centre Thursday. Despite this, a crowd of 200-300 people gathered from 5pm onward on the university's lawn, sitting in the sun and clearly enjoying the relative calm after the riots in London.”
Protests Outside ExCel
According to Raphael Satter of Associated Press, “At the ExCel Center in the Docklands area, where leaders of the Group of 20 financial powers held Thursday's talks on the global economy, police manned barriers and checkpoints around the security perimeter, turning away anyone without accreditation within a half-mile (800-meter) radius. Police boats patrolled the River Thames.”
On April 2nd, the Guardian reported in at 11am a blog that their environment editor John Vidal, “tells us that there is now an exclusion zone of about 1km around the ExCel. Buses and tubes to the area have been stopped, meaning that protesters are having to travel some considerable distance. So, instead of anarchists being "late-risers" as one police officer suggested to the BBC, perhaps they have just been thwarted by London's public transport: we've all been there. Police, who are at the moment outnumbering protesters, are being über-thorough, he says, stopping anything that moves and performing full-body searches.” By the afternoon Vidal had reported, “that around 1,000 demonstrators have finally made it to the ExCel centre.”
Satter commented, “Outside the summit venue, dozens demonstrated with signs that read "Stop Ethiopia from Starving." Other protesters sat and played a giant Monopoly game near the London Stock Exchange.”… and, “About 100 demonstrated in the financial district, where French daredevil Alain Robert scaled Lloyds of London's high-rise headquarters as office workers gathered below to snap photos. Robert, dubbed the French spider-man, has scaled dozens of tall structures around the world without ropes or harnesses as part of a campaign to draw attention to global warming. He was later led away from the building by police.”
Sam Jones of the Guardian reported, “G20 delegates leaving the summit in convoys today were met with whistles, jeers and drumming, but protests in Docklands were generally good-natured.”
For a month before the build up to the G20 protest and during and after the protestors many members of the media were willing a story, and the public themselves were looking to witness a huge violent confrontation between protestors and police. It never really happened. Joohny, writing on the Guardian website, said, “On the march to the Bank of England I was stood next to a journalist who was filing a report over the phone. As he was speaking an empty, plastic lucazade bottle was thrown to the front of the march, he reported this as 'hardliners are now throwing missiles at the police'.”
The Rammifications of the Financial Fools Day in London
On the 2nd April 2009 a squat in London was invaded by police, who according to Super Intendent Roger Evans of the Metropolitan Police, ‘we’ve gone into the premises today to find out if there are any people involved in disorder’. According to Made in England, “More than 80 squatters have been rounded up and handcuffed by police after two properties were raided in east London following protests at the Bank of England. Officers were searching for suspects wanted in connection with 'violent disorder' during the April Fools day riot. The buildings, in Rampart Street, Aldgate, and Earl Street near Liverpool Street station, were raided at 12.20pm. Police said the individuals would be released if they were not "of interest" to officers.”
And How Did the G20 Summit End?
Whilst the police were beating merry shit out of a few violent protestors and a majority of peaceful ones, the G20 Summit ended with Gordon Brown announcing that the nations had agreed to provide over one trillion dollars of additional resources. It wasn’t really what anyone with a radical agenda at the protests had wanted to hear, although it did please middle of the line trade unionists.
According to Patrick Wintour and Larry Elliot (2009) of the Guardian, “World leaders […] agreed on a $1.1 trillion injection of financial aid into the global economy, with Gordon Brown claiming that the grand bargain he had brokered represented "a coming together of the world" which would speed recovery from the worst recession since 1945. The sprawling deal set out in a nine-page communique hammered out over two days of talks in London also contains tougher-than-expected measures to tighten financial regulation, including a clampdown on tax havens, the final part of the deal to be struck, after an impassioned call for compromise by Barack Obama.”
According to the BBC the money will be divided as follows:
It sounds impressive doesn’t it? Who’s ever heard of anyone ever doing something with one trillion anything?
However this rather simplistic and media friendly gesture, means that governments will be borrowing more money and printing more money to try and solve the problem.
At the best this fiscal stimulus will provide enough liquidity so that banks can help effective businesses continue operating. At worse it will do nothing. What it will not do, which many politicians seem to be implying it will, is return economic development to the ‘apparent’ level it was before the crisis. Previously economic activity was being directed and fueled on consumers armed with borrowed money that they couldn’t pay back, ammunition supplied by banks who had created debt based finance (i.e. money that didn’t exist). Banks will not be loaning money like this for a long time, the things that consumers who use borrowed money to buy are no longer in demand, i.e. houses, shares and cars. Economic activity simply will not return to the level it was a year ago, not now, and not for a long time. We can expect more and long-term unemployment no matter what all the Emperors say.
Nevertheless, at the centre of the deal was a six-point plan:
I am never sure once the governments have borrowed this money what they do with it? Do they loan it to banks? Or do they give it to banks? If it’s the latter that’s an outrage.
According to Nick Watt, writing for the Guardian China were throwing their weight around in a way they hadn’t done before. Most noticeably the Chinese refused the publication of a blacklist of unco-operative tax havens “to ensure that the former British and Portuguese colonies – important sources of foreign reserves for China – do not fall foul of OECD rules.”
Patrick Wintour and Larry Elliot (2009) noted that, “British government officials lost their battle to include a commitment to spend a substantial share of the economic stimulus on low-carbon recovery projects.” And that, “Some critics also pointed out that the summit failed to produce a co-ordinated plan to purge the global banking system of billions of dollars of toxic assets, and suggested that regulation of the financial industry should have gone further.” They added, “The summit's biggest loser may have been the fight against climate change. Diplomatic sources said China led the opposition to green language in the final communique. David Norman, the WWF campaigns director, claimed that the summit had been "a huge missed opportunity".” China represents an interesting challenge to environmentalists – a country that does not allow opposition or protest – which is fast becoming the world’s biggest polluter and soon will be the most powerful nation on earth – what are Greenpease going to do about China?
|Cloudy Weather Ahead at the G20 Protests, Big Ben, London, 2009, MW.|
A week after the summit, Simon Jenkins, writing for the Guardian provided a sobering conclusion. Of Gordon Brown and Barack Obama he said, “He and Barack Obama did not achieve a new global fiscal stimulus. They did not reopen world trade or truly close tax havens. The summit yielded no agreement on demand stimulus or on measures to cut unemployment. It yielded old-style G8 promises of more loans to poor countries through the IMF, which may never be used.”
To anyone really wanting revolution bear in mind these words from Stephen Moss, “Changing society is hard, and usually starts with a split in the elite. The English civil war and the French revolution both began with a fissure in the governing classes; their falling-out created the space for populist movements to develop. For a grassroots movement to effect change is enormously difficult. It was only possible in Russia in 1917 because of the devastation wrought by war.”
The reality of the March 2009 demo was perhaps best summer up by ‘one789’ who said, “My experience of the demo, in talking to people and observing, is that no one had any real clue of why they were there. They recognise 'blame the bankers' to be futile and a distraction, think capitalism 'is rubbish' and 'want change', but say nothing beyond that.I at least expected a high degree of frustration and anger, but more than anything what came across was disillusionment and confusion. But then, that's what you get I suppose from such a middle-class yummy-mummy bleeding-heart rally.”
Jokajeff wrote about protests that took place on 10th October 2008 something which could be asked of the April 1st protests, “Why dont u guys just attempt to overthrow the fuckin government already. lol if i was a wealthy banker id be watching this sippin on some champaign laughing my ass off. u guys are throwing keyboards and breaking windows wow big fuckin deal. now if u stormed Buckingham Palace and started killin off important figures in the government im sure they would take u very seriously or u would just be able to make the changes urself.......but i guess u guys are just to pussy for that.” Provocative but he’s got a point. You start killing people, even though its wrong and unlawful, people start sitting up and dialogue rather than ignorance becomes an option. Still violence is illegal and uncomfortable.
The G20 Meltdown website asked, “Homeless? Been homeless? Home repossessed? Can’t afford to buy or rent a home? Worried about food security? Wish your council would open up more land for allotments? Ever been hungry cos you can’t afford to eat?” Truth is there probably weren’t very many people at the protests whose lives have genuinely been blighted by the economic downturn – they’re too busy looking after their kids or trying to find a new job, some are probably just depressed thinking about topping themselves. The people at the protest were young, angry, educated, idealistic, dreamers and squatters.
Brighton Mayday writing for FIT watch commented, “Protest policing has changed. Boundaries have blurred, and there is no distinction in the way the police treat different groups of demonstrators. Unauthorised protest is not tolerated, and is broken up, often with extreme force. People are made to feel like criminals simply for attending a protest, whether it be by FIT’s constant flash photography, arbitrary stop and searches , or by being pushed and beaten. Rightly or wrongly, if the climate camp seriously wanted to keep their space for twenty four hours, they would have needed burning barricades and a large supply of molotovs alongside their cake and bunting. Everyone who resisted the police, whether violently or not, are brave compassionate people who were prepared to risk a hell of a lot just to have a presence on the streets of London.” I agree with Brighton, the protestors were made to go through a lot, we were deprived of what we thought was a right to associate freely and move freely through public spaces. The experience of being kettled is essentially one of humiliation as the police use their physical strength and authority to take away our freedom – no matter what the police’s justification – this experience cannot help but strengthen at a subconscious level the thought of protesting with the experience of being deprived of one’s freedom to move. It feels like a chastisement even if it wasn’t meant as one. But the thought resonating through the back of every protestor’s mind, was ‘was it meant as a chastisement’?
|For many people the protests were an irrelevance, London, 2009, Carlos Mayoral.|
Jingo Gogo speculated (I guess) that, “after the protests all the protesters went home and proceeded to eat food that was processed by companies, who, at some point got their money from a band then they wipe their smug butts with toilet paper which is an invention of profit and capitalism. Then the go to their lonely bedroom light up that hash that was transported with machines that ran on oil to fulfill their highs, after getting blitz they fall asleep wake up and take a warm shower using technology that comes by means of profiteering and slop down their breakfast that cost millions in carbon footprints then grab their bandanas that are made in a factory for profit and grab their protest signs grab public transportation or drive themselves to the G20 convention of hypocrites gathered out side biting the had that feeds them.”
Jack Broadnax leaving a comment on the Economist website wrote, “Protest is usually just theater, especially among our European friends. They have such cool props and costumes. Usually it is the rich kids who do the most protesting. They have time on their hands and a misplaced dislike of the system that feeds them. I used to protest at college because it was a good way to meet women. Learn a few chants and you had it made. Protesters used to be noble and in some places they still are. It took courage to protest against the communists and it still take courage to protest in places like Iran or China, but the protest-fest in London is like a holiday camp for world's malcontents.”
Parting comment to rabbit95 said, “Be glad we live in a society free enough to protest and where, apart from the police possibly taping your presence at such a demo, there will be no comeback.”
Political protests really do take democratic societies out to their limits. I personally found the G20 Protests traumatizing, but I’m glad I did it, and I’ll be going back for more, if for no other reason than to learn about democracy and why I love it.
Credits to the following Photographers
Why do we have a crisis and what can we do about it?
Activist and G20 Sites
Police Activity on G20
Opinion and Build Up to G20
Protest Reviews and Commentary
Central London March
Alternative G20 Summit
The Death of Ian Tomlinson
Identifying the Police who pushed Ian Tomlinson to the ground
The Woman Who Was Smacked in the Face by a Policeman at the Ian Tomlinson Memorial
April 2nd Protests 2000
Police Violence at g20
G20 Summit News