Remember, Remember the 5th of November
“Ordinarily, a person leaving a courtroom with a conviction behind him would wear a somber face. But I left with a smile. I knew that I was a convicted criminal, but I was proud of my crime.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr., March 22, 1956
I am Kerry-anne Mendoza. I am 30 years old. I have my own management consultancy business. I have never been arrested. Well, not until Saturday 5th November that is. In this article, I share my experience of the march to parliament square, the madness that ensued when we got there and the need for us to rediscover the true meaning of peaceful protest.
Saturday started with great speeches at St Pauls. Josie Long, Bruce Kent, Seamus Milne, Peter Tatchell, an NHS nurse….and so on. One after another, they came to the microphone and shared their personal support for the Occupy movement, their anger, upset and disillusionment with a system of such staggering inequality and injustice. The crowd was moved, ebullient and attentive. There was applause, whopping and cheering. All week I had been looking forward to this. I thought that a march on Parliament square on 5th November was an awesome idea. The perfect symmetry with the guy Fawkes story seemed serendipitous at least. So, with the final speeches done, it was announced we should assemble ready to march. I found myself at the front of the march. Looking back over the sea of people behind me, I figured at least 5,000 protesters started the march.
We meandered our way down towards Trafalgar, waving our banners and singing as we went. Whose streets? OUR STREETS! We are the 99%! Also, a very cute Spanish tune which went – anti-anti-anti-capitlalistaaaa-aa! There was a lot of media in front of us, tripping over their own feet as they walked backwards, taking photos and video. People stood in doorways of pubs, newsagents, offices, watching as we went. Some blank faced with confusion, some cheering. Every now and again, a sympathy protest would appear at the junctions of adjoining streets. There was a great band playing at one junction with banners hung from lamppost to lamp post saying ‘Free Zimbabwe! Go Mugabe!’ At another, there was a samba band…at another, a group of around 50 people entirely silent, wearing blue jumpsuits stood in a triangle. I don’t know what they were on about, but give them credit for a jaw dropping visual.
The police lead the protest. They were ahead of us. We passed Trafalgar Square and the police suddenly sped up, vans came flying in from all sides and blocked off Whitehall. We were waved right by police, ushering us through Trafalgar Square, and along the Cockspur Street. Then we were on our own. No police in front, just a large crowd in the thousands behind all being lead down this street. We spotted a means of going left and entering St James Park, to get us back en route to Parliament Square. The crowd sped up into a run. As we hit the park, the police appeared again. They were thin on the ground, but started to form lines and slice through the crowd, forming micro kettles of about 500-1000 people at a time. But those of us in the front kept going. We got stopped again at the end of the Mall and only allowed to go left, once more heading us toward Parliament square.
After two hours, and a lot of pausing to allow the numbers behind us to catch up, we hit St Margaret Street. The police formed a solid line, with officers and vans at the Parliament Square end. So there we stood, around 1500 of us remaining marchers, looking into the faces of police officers, the edifice of our ‘democracy’ standing to our right – Westminster, the face of Big Ben looking down on us.
Some Anonymous boys, with their little masks, entertained themselves by shouting into the faces of the police officers. One man lay down at the feet of the officers, face down and didn’t move for the next hour or so. Most of us rolled cigarettes, phoned friends, looked around wondering what was going to happen next. After about 5 minutes, a large group started to peel off the back of the protest and head back into the park. There were concerns that either they, or we, would be kettled if we broke into smaller groups. Some stayed, others left.
It was decided to hold a General Assembly back at the parliament square end. The remaining few hundred of us formed an assembly. A young man with a megaphone stood in front of us and raised a proposal – we could put it to the police that we wished to stay until 7pm, as planned, to discuss our country and ways of making it a better place, and to see the start of the fireworks – at which point we would leave peacefully. Humble, meagre and trifling demands, one might think. It was already 5pm at this point. After a few minutes, someone came back to the General Assembly megaphone to announce the local officers had accepted this proposal. Lots of cheering went up and the mood lifted.
The general assembly broke up, some people played music, some formed small groups and talked politics, some sat smoking quietly on their own, and a group of young men played football. The megaphone set up again:
“The police have formed a kettle. They have informed us that we are not permitted to stay until 7pm. They will allow people to leave individually, from the other end of the street. Anyone who stays is liable for arrest. Can we take a temperature check from the assembly on staying or leaving?”
I was sitting in the assembly, and couldn’t help but notice the hypocrisy of spending hours chanting ‘whose streets? Our streets!’…and then not standing up for the right to stand outside my own parliament building. I looked around, the Anonymous boys had scarpered. There was a large crowd queuing at the police line to leave. I took to the megaphone. I told them my name, my age and that I was here for my unborn children. That I refused any longer to be considered collateral, the guarantor for the risky investments of faceless bankers I would never know. I looked to the police, and I told them I wished they would stand with us. It was their jobs, their pension, and their children under threat too. I looked at the faces in front of me and I said ‘I am not moving!’ The moment I declared it, I knew it was true. I was not leaving that street.
In those final minutes, people remonstrated with me to leave. I was going to be on my own, it wasn’t worth it, pick your battles, save it for another day, don’t make us look bad. But I had a flash of images racing through my head.
In 2003, 3 million people in the UK marched through the streets of London in opposition to the Iraq war. It didn’t stop the Iraq war happening. Then I thought about all the marches I have ever been on, and realised that they hadn’t stopped anything. At this moment, it hit me. We have ceased to protest in this country. We have reduced protest to organised street parties, festivals of discontent. We walk in a line, playing our little samba tunes, wearing our outfits and chanting our little ditties. We walk exactly as and where we are instructed; we get to the end where we have some lovely talks that make us all feel better. Then we go home feeling satisfied with ourselves for making a stand.
But what kind of stand is this? Peaceful protest seems to have been confused with unconditional compliance. Unquestioning obedience. Peaceful protest has as its core, if it is a protest at all, non violent civil disobedience. The assertion of free human beings, that they are infact, just that. We have been socialised to follow rules, to be obedient. But if we are to have any impact on this system that constrains us –we must first, stop tolerating it.
The Occupy Movement itself is an act of global non violent civil disobedience. They told us not to; we ignored them and did it anyway. But we must not restrict ourselves to the camps. We should not create peace and love ghettos, where we have a wonderful time, sing songs, and become hermetically sealed from the outside world. In short, let’s not get too comfortable.
I turned to my left to see the police line moving, at pace, towards me. I noted the similarity between this, and a moment I had on a beach in Spain as a child, hit suddenly by an unexpected wave. The line stopped at me. On my own. Behind me, the remonstrators. There were pleas for me to leave. An Irish police officer said ‘Kerry-anne, are you going to leave or not?’ I asked for a moment to roll my cigarette and consider my position. Taking in my first mouthful of smoke, I realised there was no way in hell I was walking away. It was about integrity. I said I was not moving, therefore I was not moving. I turned to the remonstrators and told them I loved them, I respected their opinion but there was no way I was walking away. A young man next to me looked me in the eye and said ‘If you’re staying, I’m staying. ‘
All of a sudden the world was eclipsed by the high visibility jackets of the police as they circled me. There were about 15 of them in a circle, blocking my view of the world and the world’s view of me. I looked around at each of their faces.
“I’m sorry officers, but I am not moving.”
“In which case Kerry-anne, we are going to arrest you now.” The Irish officer reached for my hands and slapped on some cuffs. The circle moved in unison to usher me up the road, further from the crowds and into a quiet space between police vans. Once there, the group peeled off and I was left with the Irish officer, and an eastern European female police officer. She told me she didn’t want to arrest me, but as a police officer, her opinion was irrelevant. Like a soldier, she said, ‘I need to follow orders’. I shook my head and thought ‘That’s what the Nazis said’. I was allowed to continue to smoke my roll up and after some time, popped in a ‘bus’, which I call a police van, uncuffed and whisked off to Belgravia police station.
“Have you been arrested before?”
“What do you do for a living?”
“I’m a management consultant.”
They looked at each other with a mixture of humour and embarrassment. They said they hoped that on arrival the custody sergeant would give me a caution and let me go.
On arrival, true to his word, my arresting officer took out his pack of cigarettes, popped one in his mouth and one in my hand. He lit both and we stood there, chatting about the reasons for the occupation and having a smoke, in the internal square of Belgravia station.
We went down a narrow corridor and stopped at a heavy metal gate. I looked up and right to a CCTV camera and ahead through the bars into what looked to me like the set from The Bill. A sparse room, a counter at one end, with custody sergeants sitting at it, booking in the criminals.
The Irish officer made me a cup of tea to drink while I was waiting. While sitting, another 9 protesters were brought into the alleyway, where they had to wait to be processed. Another protestor was being processed ahead of me. We all looked proudly at each other. We stayed.
After half an hour, I was checked in, searched, had my belongings taken from me. I was told I wasn’t going to be leaving custody any time soon. I asked for my phone call and made it to my wife, who was back at our home with her mum.
“Hi love, I’m sorry but I’ve been arrested”.
I was taken to cell 4. There was the standard Prisoner: Cell Block H slamming of the cell door and I was stood in this freezing cold, white tiled cube with frosted glass cubes leading out onto the street. There was a stainless steel loo to my left, the door behind me, a wooden bench in front of me with a blue blanket on it. There was a blue pad that looked like an old school gym crash pad laid out along the bench, and a small hard blue cushion at one end. I looked around in disbelief. I suddenly realised that it was now well past 7 in the evening, I hadn’t eaten all day and I hadn’t had any water since before the march set off. I rang my bell and asked if there was any food or drinks. The officer was polite and told me there was a whole range of custody food, but it was all disgusting. I opted for the all day breakfast, a cup of coffee and some water. This was all brought and I snaffled the micro waved franks in beans with anaemic ’sautéed’ potatoes in minutes.
I tried to have a sing to cheer my spirits, which were being thoroughly darkened my isolation, cold and anxiety. I tried to remember the words to Tracy Chapman’s ‘Revolution Song’..but I could only remember ‘Talkin ‘bout a revolution…oooh ohhh’. So I went for Hard Day’s Night by the Beatles and a little song of my own I made up.
After several cold hours, the metal grate in the door slid down.
“Who are you?” said a female face
“You were brought in under SOCPA and so you go straight to charge. This means you don’t have an interview to wait for. You go direct to charge. I’ll take you through to the desk where you will be given your possessions, a court date and bail conditions”.
I looked at her blankly. The door opened and she walked me up the corridor and put me on the phone to my solicitor. I had requested Bindmans as per my bust card. I assumed I was speaking to them. It later turned out that this was a duty solicitor.
I was given a court date of 18th November, 10am at Westminster Magistrates Court. I was bailed under the condition that I don’t enter Westminster on 9th November (the date of the student protests). I looked at the clock, it is 10pm. I tell the officers that I have no money, or access to money (they know this from checking in my possessions). They have taken me all the way to Victoria and it is now dark, I have no money, I don’t know London or how to get back to Finsbury Square. The woman officer smiles: Looks like you are going to have a lovely walk through the city then doesn’t it?
Before I know it I’m outside the entrance to the police station, startled. I ring my wife first to let her know what has happened. She says she’s getting in the car right now to come get me. I’m happy. I need a bit of saving at this point. Then, out of nowhere, about 15 people come running up cheering and take me into a big group hug.
“We’re here to welcome you!” says one
“You were amazing! “Says another
“We all sat down after you got arrested and linked arms. I felt like crap when I got to the police line. I felt like a real coward. So they arrested a bunch of us. We managed to get away but we’re here until every last one of you guys is released. You made a stand for us. Thank you.”
I feel like I am going to cry. Instead I just hug them all. They get me a cigarette, water, food and regular cuddles. They also give me money so I can get back to camp on the bus. I suddenly realise I don’t want to leave and I explain to my wife that I’m ok. I’m staying. I was scheduled to stay until Sunday, and I’m staying until Sunday. She’s scared but proud and I am reminded that I do have the wife of my dreams.
The rest of the night is waiting as one after another of us is released. We have all been charged and are all in Westminster Magistrates Court on 18th November, and all banned from Westminster on 9th November. We laugh and we are angry but we all agree on one thing – we are no longer tolerating the status quo.
The guy in the film below clapped when I spoke of the need to stop being obedient and understand the need to stop being afraid and start standing where we damn well please. He said we needed to learn to stand together as a movement. That we are stronger in bigger numbers. We all agreed that the movement and everyone in it, is just still learning. We have a long way to go.
So what was I left with?
I think it is outrageous that I can be charged, without interview, for standing outside my own parliament building. Under the Serious Organised Crime Policing Act (SOCPA), SECTION 132 (4), a person can be charged for illegal protest, even if they are on their own. This means, if I were to stand on parliament square talking to passersby or my friends or simply myself about the price of beans, and a police officer asked me to leave, and I refused….I go to court. No questions asked. If I was left in any doubt that I was living in a police state, I had that all cleared up over those few hours on Saturday 5th November.
I’ve never been arrested before, because I’ve always done what I’ve been told before. But you know what – Martin Luther King Jr, Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Cornell West, Amy Goodman, Michael Moore……these are people who inspire me. They have all been arrested over the years for standing up for me, you and everyone else’s rights, while we were busy doing other things. On Saturday, I got to make a stand myself. I will continue to make that stand. And I did smile all the way home.