As I write, I’m nursing injuries from the demonstrations at the G20 Summit in London, England. No, I wasn’t hurt by protesters, but by the police.
The G20 Summit was organized in quick response to the global financial crisis caused by deregulated free markets and greedy bankers. Basically, with George W Bush and Tony Blair gone – their jobs done, their pockets full – this latest clique of the elite got together to discuss how these problems can now be solved. We, the people, were kind of hoping that they’d radically change their entire way of thinking, their way of doing things, and maybe cut back on the billions for their military budgets in favor of cultural investment, public services, and “green collar” jobs. But we weren’t even consulted. No, these people in sharp suits talked amongst themselves and ignored us, kind of like when you go to a party but don’t really know many people there. You feel left out. So, a lot of us felt it was necessary to go and pay them a visit at their little summit, to make our voices heard.
Upon arriving in my country’s capital, the corporate media had already suggested that whatever protesters show up might merely be a bunch of anarchists hell-bent on rioting. Ha! Whilst it might be understandable for working class people to come to ol’ London town to pillage and plunder the banks and take something back for themselves, it wasn’t the case at all.
On the first day, the “Financial Fools Day” taking place on April 1st, the vibe was a peaceful one in front of the Bank of England – until riot police showed up and, representing the privileged and powerful, and determined to create a self-fulfilling prophecy of chaos, penned in a group of protesters against the Royal Bank of Scotland (one of the major culprits in the crisis). With most of the media conveniently looking away at this point – perhaps busy thinking up stories on Jade Goody or something – the journalists who remained were trapped with the demonstrators and screaming for help along with them as police pushed hard to press them against the concrete walls of the notorious financial institution. So, a minority of the protesters played their part in accordance with the script, picked up a few conveniently handy objects, and started smashing their way into the bank itself – and the media’s cameras, of course, suddenly had their lenses re-focused on the fracas.
Afterwards, my friends and I met up with an acquaintance who happened to be a banker. That’s right: a banker (hey, they’re human beings too, people, come on!) I won’t name him, as I’d hate to endanger him by raising the ire of certain people – namely, his colleagues, as opposed to us protesters, who, after all, were enjoying a pint in the pub with him! Bankers have feelings, too, and in these tough times, I’m waiting for Tory leader David Cameron to abandon his “hug a hoodie” strategy and go back to his original ways of embracing bankers.
Our banker himself told us that he’d passed by the “Climate Camp” on his way to meet us and that the vibe was a peaceful one full of songs and dances and cakes – so peaceful, in fact, that he wanted to go back! So, after finishing our drinks, we accompanied him, failing to fulfill our role as freedom-hating terrorists thirsting for the blood of bankers. One of my friends had a suitcase with her, with the intention of joining the camp herself.
However, when we got there, those darned riot police had showed up again and created a blockade at both ends of the street where the camp was set up, meaning no one got in, or got out. Frustration followed for those inside, who couldn’t leave to go use a 30p London public toilet or get some overpriced snacks, and that frustration followed for us on the outside too, but we remained, in solidarity. Then, word around the campfire was that one man, Ian Tomlinson, had been assaulted by the police, and later died. We got antsy, as more riot police arrived and squared up to us. Acting as a voice of reason for perhaps the first and last time in my life, I called for many of the protesters to “sit down,” believing myself to be a bright spark who remembered what worked as a tried-and-tested form of peaceful protest throughout history – and sure enough, a sit-in followed.
You can imagine my shock, then, when the riot police simply started punching, kicking, and swinging the edges of their shields at the seated demonstrators before my very eyes – women and the elderly included. So much for my voice of reason, which soon began to crack as I joined others in chanting “shame on you” at the police. My friend received a shield to the face and held her suitcase as a shield of her own, only to have it snatched and tossed behind the line of armored cops. We ran for our lives as they pursued us 1.6 miles up the street, pulling barriers into the road behind us in hope of salvaging some survival from police brutality – which, I expect, the media chose to catch on camera in time to show us committing “criminal damage.”
Afterwards, I had the chance to shout at one of the cops about how shameful it was to commit unprovoked assault on any protesters, never mind women and older people, to which he proudly replied, with a smirk, “Oh, we don’t discriminate.” There was no point in dignifying such a comment with a response.
The following day, most of us were sort of subdued, and tired – there was no shift-change for us people protesting, let alone any body armour. We wearily exchanged stories of being forced to flee from police like criminals when we’d done nothing wrong, and heard that, beyond sending us away from the camp and then attacking the camp itself, the police had also raided a convergence space for protesters using tazers; protesters were being treated like terrorists. We gathered at the Bank of England for a memorial to the deceased Ian Tomlinson, leaving notes of remembrance. A seated vigil was held complete with a minute’s silence – a continued silence, soon broken by the barking dogs of more riot police, who, I suppose, took exception to the audacity of these protesters to hold yet another peaceful sit-in after the beatings of the night before. Hadn’t we learnt our lesson?
Again, their tactic was to use a “kettle” on us, which would be more appropriately named a pressure cooker in my opinion, as each and every time they penned in people in this way, it caused frustration and panic, and provoked some sort of explosive response, again in accordance with the script for television cameras demonizing any attempt to challenge the G20 and their status quo. Eventually, in an attempt at reverse psychology, the police formed an opening in the kettle, allowing an out-option for protesters on the condition they didn’t come back in, and as they left were searched under Section 60 of the much-criticized and controversial Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994. We were the criminals? Given the actions of the police by that point, speaking of kettles, it seemed like there was a pot calling this kettle black.
Well sure enough, hundreds left this way, but in the end it came down to myself and nineteen others who all refused to again be treated like criminals, and continued a sit-in, surrounded by hundreds of riot police – a ridiculous sight for sure, as twenty people sitting to remember the dead talked and ate from packets of fruit thrown to us from ordinary passing people from outside this circle of heavily armored police. Eventually, though, with the attention of the general public on us on this sunny afternoon, the police decided to just leave us be, and we – the “Bank 20” – considered it a moral victory, celebrating by going to the pub and figuring out brand-new ways of successfully protesting in future. Maybe all twenty of us should’ve also taken it upon ourselves to decide what’s best for the world economy – after all, if the G20 taught us one thing, it’s that it all comes down to the decisions made by twenty people. But I guess we were the wrong kind of people.
I couldn’t help but wonder just how much advertising slots sold for during news stories of “rioting anarchists.” I also considered how, now I’d both ran from and defied the police force in separate incidents in the space of just over twelve hours, I might be making my long-pursued television debut not with my own dream time-slot on prime-time, but as a troublemaker who even previously flouted anti-terrorism laws by making a “post-production” protest for his film Escape from Doncatraz right there in Westminster’s Parliament Square – slogans digitally inserted onto supposedly innocent blank placards I’d held in full view of police and surveillance cameras.
It’s no surprise that, days after the events of the G20 – in which, unsurprisingly, the International Monetary Fund was looked to for help – people planned to go to the European Court for Human Rights to challenge the Police Policy of Containment called “kettling.” The kettle is simply a circle of police that can expand and contract; the more it widens, the more room it offers those trapped inside, and the more it closes, the less room and more chance people will be crushed. The kettle, then, is a symbol of the way the government has treated ordinary people in its disdain for civil liberties the last several years – the more the restriction, the more you find yourself needing to cross that line, for a sense of your own survival and that of your fellow citizens. When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty, because we’re all being forced to cross that line if we wish to hold onto life as we know it.
“It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.” So goes Spock’s famous line from Star Trek. And a 1990s episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation was banned by the BBC for its claim that in the future, Ireland would be united by negotiation, not by force. Of course, that prospect is no longer unrealistic in these years on from Britain’s brutal takeover of Ireland and grip on its northern territory that prompted natives to form the Irish Republican Army. But there are other examples to show that, sometimes, the bad guys turn out to be the good guys.
Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi engaged in civil disobedience in his fight for Indian independence from the British empire, but is still considered to be an icon of peaceful protest today. Jomo Kenyatta was convicted by a British court in the 1950s, but later, as Kenya’s leader, lauded as a great African figure. The face of Ernesto “Che” Guevara is now seen on T-shirts worldwide for being a freedom fighter who joined Fidel Castro in taking up arms and overthrowing the corrupt Cuban regime of Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s. In the 1960s, Nelson Mandela fought against apartheid in South Africa, and after the CIA assisted the secret police there, he was imprisoned for his actions, spending decades inside a cell until his release and subsequent rise to the position of President of South Africa in 1994. And all over the world, while armies sanctioned by governments commit mass murder of civilians, when those same civilians rise up in defense, they are called terrorists because they do not share the same endorsement of politicians sat behind desks in corridors of power. Look at the photograph of Saddam Hussein being hanged, surrounded by men in black masks – who were the real terrorists over there? What is a terrorist? Could it be the politicians, despite their laws legalizing their foul deeds? Or am I a terrorist for opposing them?
It might be said, looking back at history, that one generation’s terrorist becomes the next generation’s statesman. And while I don’t think I’m either – nor the voice of reason – I do believe that we must use rationality and reason when judging what is right and wrong and not, necessarily, the laws that increasingly restrict those things themselves, and instead support psychopathic policies. All freedoms are, after all, fought for.