Monday, 28 March 2011

Standing up to be miscounted

We went on the TUC-organised March for the Alternative in London on Saturday. Got on a bus organised by Unison which left Norwich at 7.30 and were dropped at something called Gallions(sic) Reach, which is on the DLR in a docklands post-industrial wasteland near part of University of East London. Nothing like a ticket office in sight, and as we queued to tackle the ticket machines (which refused our money and insisted on debit cards only) we felt somewhat country-bumpkin-ish - in the big city and not quite sure how things work. From there to the Jubilee line at Canning Town where the platforms were crammed with protesters. We hopped off at Southwark, and instead of crossing Blackfriars bridge, nipped into the south bank in search of much needed coffee and loos. We could see a massive party going on on the embankment, and talked to a guy playing a one-stringed African guitar/harp who said 'There's not much difference between a protest and a festival'. People were gathering on the South Bank - there were some UK Uncut folk and posters saying "What the Foucault?" and "What Would Gramsci Do?". Crossed the river at Waterloo Bridge - people were thick on the ground, covering the road and pavement, and the bridge was closed to traffic coming from the North. It was impossible to get onto the Embankment there, and some polite police directed up up into the Strand and round... the crowds got thicker and thicker, a solid mass of persons from one side of the road to the other, though everyone seemed polite, cheerful and patient. Rather annoyingly there were also touts selling whistles, which was deafening, and there were the usual dullards with loudspeakers and tedious slogans - but there were also some splendid drummers. It took us two hours to get from the Strand down to the "start point" on Victoria Embankment, by which time the head of the procession had already reached Hyde Park. There was a Welsh women's choir, which I remember from Greenham Common days, a greyhound with a jacket that said on one side "Cameron, I'm no poodle" and on the other, "fight against the cats" with the a crossed out and a u written in. Lots of intelligent posters. We were glad to see a Father Ted tribute reading "Down With This Sort of Thing". Near us were the Fire Brigade union, Nurses, a sign saying "Pissed Off Social Worker", kids in pushchairs, a couple of wheelchair users and lots of other folk. We reached Westminster Bridge at 3 pm and decided we'd have to peel off to get back to the coach, which had to leave at 4.30. On the South Bank we looked across and saw the tail end of the procession passing under Waterloo Bridge - this was at 3.30, a good four hours after the head had got to Hyde Park. I suspect the estimates of 250000 - 300000 is rather below the real figure on the march - and it also doesn't count the students, who marched a different route, the people occupying Trafalgar square (including one of B's sons, and his small daughters) and the UK Uncut people who were revelling along Oxford Street, as well as those who went straight to Hyde Park. I had signed up to text message updates from the Metropolitan police, which was interesting. At one point, things obviously going too well, they informed us that "no containment - ie kettling - is in process at the moment. Later, a text came which said "light bulbs full of ammonia have been thrown at police" (I'm not sure how you would go about filling a light bulb with ammonia, even if you wanted to, but that's another matter). Shortly afterwards, no doubt after some legal consultations with the TUC's lawyers, a message came through saying "ignore last message: it was nothing to do with the march". This retraction was at about 2.30, yet when we were listening to the 6 o'clock news on the BBC in the coach on the way back, the first message about ammonia filled lightbulbs was still being repeated. Ho hum. I also got a text saying the Fortnum and Mason's "is now a crime scene" - this was about 6. 30. Apparently, the UK Uncut protesters accidentally knocked over some chocolate bunnies, the fiends. There was no mention of the baton charge against the person who put a sticker on the Olympic - doesn't bloody work - clock. Much has been made of the black-clad protesters who broke some windows at the Ritz. I didn't see any of this, though when we were walking towards Blackfriars Bridge that morning we had seen 4 or 5 young men getting out of a van accoutred in face scarfs - a bad idea, obviously. According to a Tax Justice Network, the Men in Black stated that they are against all taxation, which puts them rather a long way from the fair tax campaigners in UK Uncut. Interesting, though: I have lived in a zero-tax country (the UAE) and it is not exactly a bastion of liberation... This morning someone on the Beeb said "Anarchists - what do we know about them? How can we get in touch with them?" He almost said "can anyone put me in touch with their general secretary", but not quite.

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