Voices from the Occupation – 9th November 2011
The Battle of Trafalgar
Yesterday, Wednesday 9th November, there was a sea of protest across London. Electricians, cabbies and students, in their thousands, took to the streets to raise their voices against the egregious actions of the UK government. Due to bail conditions (please see earlier post) banning me from Westminster, I thought I would support at Finsbury Square for the day. But thanks to the police….the protest came to us! This article tells of the harrowing day for a varied group of protesters, and just what it takes to stand up for your beliefs in the UK today.
All Aboard OccupyLFS!
At about 4pm, riot vans started arriving at Finsbury Square. Finsbury has a constructive working relationship with Islington Council, and police presence is minimal and unobtrusive; so as the eighth riot van parked up, a concerned mumble started to trickle around the camp. Next was a helicopter overhead and three large coaches appeared at the rear of the square. A cyclist rode into the square and came to the media tent where I was sitting:
“I just want you to know that there are police in every street around the square. Please be careful”
The general concern was the police were going to use the 9th November student march as a reason to clear the camp.
Looking up Moorgate (towards Moorgate tube), we realised police had formed a cordon and closed the road. Tensions raised. A General Assembly was called where people agreed to stay on camp in significant numbers to hold the camp.
After an hour of increasing police presence until the camp was encircled by police vans, TSG, officers and cars, a small and growing silhouette of people and placards came drifting through the police line on Moorgate. It was the students!
There was a moment of joy as we waved in the students, laughed at their banners and applauded their spirit. Then people started to worry – ‘why are they emptying the kettle INTO Finsbury Square?’ The camp population went from 50 to 3-400 in about twenty minutes as the students were kettled into the camp.
“It’s a set up. They’re going to use this as an excuse to clear us out.”
The atmosphere remained tense for some time as confused student protesters milled around the tents in the square. Then, the drummers kicked in and the atmosphere lifted all at once. The general consensus was – bring it on! We are going to enjoy ourselves right now.
After some more time, the police filled their own coaches and took off. The camp started to empty of protesters, the occupy campers heaved a sigh of relief, and I left the camp for St Pauls.
Meanwhile at Trafalgar
During the day we were aware of the setting up of a new camp at Trafalgar Square. Several members of St Paul’s and LFS packed a bunch of tents, set off for Trafalgar and started a new camp. Around 25 tents were pitched. This was parallel to, but not as part of the student protest. This was a unilateral action to further spread the Occupation of London.
The guy in the video below is Leon. He was part of the rescue party for those of us arrested at Parliament on the 5th November. He arrived with a great crew of people with food, cigarettes, water (the protest essentials). His big warm smile and cuddles were an absolute delight to come out to. Leon had been disappointed at the time that he had not made his stand that night.
Well, Leon. You more than made up for that yesterday my friend. Within hours, the police encircled the camp in vast numbers, and proceeded to break it up forcibly. The videos below give you some idea of the scenes that took place.
There you see Leon pinned to the floor by several officers, face down.
A bunch of us declared at General Assembly that the arrested needed support, as they had given us just a few days before. We took a cab to Kilburn station first, where a group of 5 stayed to wait for one of the arrested. A couple of us went on to Catford Police Station where 12 were held, including Leon. We took sandwiches, tobacco, water, and were ready to cuddle.
After being arrested at 3pm, the first of the arrested was released on bail at 11.45pm. He had his possessions, including his shoes and clothes, removed for evidence and was released in thin jogging bottoms, a jumper and daps, with no money into unfamiliar streets just before midnight in November.
We ran over and gave him a big hug, a sandwich and a much needed smoke. He told us all about being dragged, watching Leon being harassed and treated in a heavy handed way by the police, of being kept in the police vans driving around for hours.
I left shortly after midnight for the last train home, with a group of six more people from Finsbury Square en route for the night shift. By 3am, only 4 had been released and the custody sergeant informed them that no one else would be released until 8am.
At time of writing, we are still awaiting the release of further arrested members of the short lived Occupy Trafalgar Square. Updates to follow…
This is yet another example of peaceful protest being criminalised. The Trafalgar Occupation campers were arrested under Public Order Act Section 12, deviating from the authorised protest route. But they weren’t on the student protest, the cabbie protest or the electricians protest. They came to Occupy Trafalgar Square.
So, on 9th November, the electrician protesters were kettled at Blackfriars for hours while on an authorised protest. The student protest was kettled along several points of its authorised progress, depleting the numbers from circa 10,000 at the start until the few hundred that trickled, exhausted into Finsbury Square. The attempt to Occupy Trafalgar square was met with violence that saw 12 arrests, one hand injury and one protester dislocated his shoulder whilst being removed.
It is sickening that almost every mainstream political voice trots out the phrase ‘we protect the right to protest’, but yet never seems to support or protect any single actual protest. Our social freedoms seem to be notional rights which decorum requires us never to actually use.
We support the right to strike. But don’t.
We support the right to protest. But don’t.
All in all, twenty members of our society were arrested yesterday, charged and put under bail conditions for having the nerve to exercise the most basic of democratic freedoms. The right to protest. The right to say, without trashing the place, ‘I have had enough’.
It is not enough to give lip service to these freedoms.
When you arrest peaceful protesters for inconveniencing your highways - you break the spirit of democracy.
When you drag grown men and women through the streets, cause them physical harm, in the full glare of media spotlight and get away with it - you break the spirit of democracy.
When you mercilessly intervene and physically trap peaceful protesters, breaking their numbers and their spirits - you break with the spirit of democracy.
When you issue letters to children warning them not to exercise their right to protest, lest they be arrested - you break the spirit of democracy.
When you pre-authorise the use of rubber bullets, on a peaceful march of students - you break the spirit of democracy.
People fought and died to wrestle these rights into our hands once. Now it’s our turn. Pitch a tent, move your bank account to a credit union, join a march, raise holy hell with Catford Police station to release these people. Do what you can. In years, we will look back on this moment and our children and grandchildren will ask ‘Where were you?’
Where are you?