Sunday, 27 March 2011

After The March: Complaints and Complicity

All this complaining about “spoiling the march” and “mindless violence”. As if the black bloc were the enemy. They are not the enemy. Let me repeat that: THEY ARE NOT THE ENEMY. The enemy are the men with the suits in Westminster and their pals in the City and what should be being complained about – over and over, again and again – is the vile things they are doing in order to keep themselves in money and power. The black bloc are not closing libraries. The kids in balaclavas are not cutting disability benefits. The ones who threw paint bombs and flares are not the ones closing youth centres and privatising higher education and dismantling the NHS. They are not giving tax breaks to huge corporations or happily waving multinationals through neonlit tax loopholes or spending public money on bail-outs only for the guilty parties to reward themselves with bonuses that would pay for the nurses and teachers and midwives needed for society to function in a humane way. They are not the bad guys here.

Add to this the fact that these same interests, these same politicians, are continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have brutalised the populations of those countries in ways that we over here, protesting righteously about our library closures, can scarcely understand. Every day that we allow our elected representatives to get away with making monsters out of young British men in uniform, turning them with ruthless efficiency into haters and murderers and rapists and torturers, every single day that we allow ‘our’ forces to bomb and terrify and oppress countries that are not threatening us, we are complicit in that horror. It is utterly disgusting. Of course I am angry. Of course I loathe the people in power who are doing these things. Of course I loathe the people who enable them to continue to hold that power, and that includes the wilfully dim BBC as well as the boys in blue and yellow.

So here are some facts about yesterday’s protests to balance out the bias:

1.  UKUncut are not the same people who chucked paintballs and smashed windows. Anyone with half a brain and Facebook can work that out. So any newspaper or television station that muddles the two is either terminally stupid or has an agenda. They are complicit in a misrepresentation of the march that suits the status quo down to the ground. I am not particularly impressed with the target that UKUncut chose – occupying a tea shop, however posh, is hardly going to shake the foundations of capitalism – but I can see that they had good intentions and were careful not to compromise themselves. Good for them and their disobedience; disobedience is the only way that anything will ever change or ever has changed. As much as I wanted to stand up and be counted by being on the march, direct action is so much more effective than trudging.

2. The people who DID throw paintballs and smash windows are not “mindless yobs” as some high-up copper claimed. And as countless people have been repeating, from UKUncutters, to MPS, bloggers, comedians, journalists and anyone else who fancies disassociating themselves from the taint of ‘violence’ and ‘criminal damage’. Firstly, violence against property is not the same as violence against people, and it was pretty clear that there was no indiscriminate bashing of bystanders by the black bloc (the same cannot be said for the police). Secondly, it is not mindless to target the banks, when it is the government’s inhumane solution to the banking crises that the wider march was protesting. They also smashed a Starbuck’s windowpane and chucked paint at the Ritz. Pfft. So what? Good on them. Those paintballs are joining the dots: they’re making it a class war, rather than the subtle re-shuffling of resources and closing of loopholes that most people are meekly asking for. This is the way that capitalism works: it works for profit not for people. It is a bad, unfair and destructive way of organising resources. People suffer. Many die. A few, a very few relatively speaking, gain immense wealth. And horrible, violent, prolonged war is part of the deal at the moment. I don’t want it. I don’t want to have anything to do with it. But I am complicit in it because I am not stopping it. I am not going to apologise for the thrill I felt on seeing the broken window at the Ritz or the splattered paint running down the front of RBS and Santander: I wasn’t alone in feeling it either, judging by the number of people laughing and snapping pics on their phones. I’m glad that there are kids who are also so angry about it that they have the guts to express their rage like that. They are not demonstrating stupidity or yobbishness by protesting in the way they do, however much spin is put on it. May they continue to rage.

3. The police aren’t neutral bystanders in the events. They may well be working class men and women next in-line for job cuts, but they are also the people who allow the state to continue to exist. They allow it to work in the crap way that it does. Of course those kids in their hoodies were spoiling for a fight: I saw them hopping about with pent-up frustration, aching to go chuck something at those tooled-up riot cops, just as I saw the police twitching to go after the kids. I saw them throw placards and firecrackers after the riot police got heavy-handed, but they weren’t the ones with the batons and the armour. The police were there on the streets of London yesterday to curb disobedience and dissent; they were there as the physical manifestation of State repression and I make no apology for sounding like a polytechnic Marxist: it's true. The ones with machine guns I saw in front of Downing Street more obviously so than the genial PCs who gave us directions to the loos in Hyde Park, but I also clocked the heavily-armoured police protecting De Beers and the Ritz and the riot cops kicking their heels in huge numbers behind Burlington Arcade. Their complicity in the system is noted. I’d have loved a full-on defection to the cause, as happened in Wisconsin, when the police sent to turf out the occupiers of the Capitol joined the protesters, saying that they knew who the worked for and it was the people, not the politicians. But it didn’t happen yesterday. Shame.

4. The violence in Trafalgar Square wasn’t anything to do with UKUncut or the class warriors, although there may have been some overlap in the people who attached themselves to both and then were in the square later. It was the riot police being inappropriate and twitchy and wanting to teach a few lessons to uppity kids. People were hanging about having a party, enjoying the feeling of being in possession of the city. It’s a wild feeling, being able to stroll across Hyde Park Corner and down the Strand in crowds of thousands; watching the limos getting turned around; stopping the traffic: I remember it from the anti-Poll Tax demo. Of course people wanted to occupy Trafalgar Square for the night: if I’d have been their age I’d have stuck around too. We stopped there during the afternoon and chatted and listened to London Calling booming out over the big black lions; it was as if worlds had temporarily flipped over and all that city stuff, all that pomp and marble and space, was ours. All your base are belong to us. So, come nightfall, the police wanted to clear the square, nip that proprietorial delirium in the bud, make all the kids, partied-up and high on righteousness, go home and be good. THAT’S why there was violence. Watch the videos, read Laurie Penny’s tweets from inside the kettle: if you get hundreds of riot police charging at unarmed people and start battering them, you are going to get some fighting back. Wouldn’t you resist? The fact that some bins were turned over and set on fire is really neither here nor there compared to the fact that there is a video on Youtube showing several huge great men with shields and helmets bundle up and arrest a girl with tears running down her face, who is trying, ever polite, ever hopeful that logic and decency will work on them, to tell them that she hadn’t done anything wrong.

I watched John Pilger’s film about the media’s part in the Gulf War not long ago; it was illuminating and heartbreaking in equal measure. What struck me most were the chuckled denials from the heads of news at the ITN and the BBC that they could have been expected to know that what the government was feeding them was lies. Never mind any tradition of incisive investigative journalism, how could they possibly have known that there were no weapons of mass destruction? That the dossier was false? That war was going to be a mistake of epic proportions and that it needed to be stopped, not justified? And I remember marching for hours on a similar spring day to yesterday, I remember my feet aching then as they do today, I remember the same jubilation in being part of such a colossal show of feeling, the buzz of the mass, the shouting, the singing, the placards – witty and articulate or brutally plain – that were waved by the same colourful variety of people as I saw yesterday… Then I am forced to recall also that despite all the marching and chanting, despite the million voices raised against war, the government went ahead anyway and bombed a relatively peaceful and prosperous country to bits, then compounded the bombing with sanctions that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of children. We all fucking knew what was coming, in essence if not the mindboggling severity of the reality. We knew. We protested. We were ignored.

So don’t be telling me than a few hundred kids in balaclavas have spoiled anything for anyone. If the media and the government chose to use firecrackers and burning bins as an excuse to smear the entire movement against cuts, refuse to be any part of it. Ask yourself: who are the bullies? Who are the criminals? Who are the destructive thugs? There is so very much to be truly, deeply, burningly angry about at the moment; if a march of half a million doesn’t force the radical change that is needed to fix the situation (and reports now suggest very strongly that it won’t) then something else will have to be done instead. It’s up to us. It’s up to you.


  1. Couldn't have said it better myself!

  2. Relative peaceful country?

    The Iraqi Kurds may differ with your somewhat warped view of what a relatively peaceful country is.

  3. YES. Excellent, many thanks - am so sick of people claiming that breaking a window and breaking a head are morally equivalent, and that the second is a justifiable response to the first.

  4. @Anonymous: fair enough comment about "relatively peaceful", I'd write that differently a second time (although of course at the time of the Halabja massacre (1988) the British government was buddying up to Saddam and had no more thought of bombing Iraq as they would have Iceland). Relative, I meant, to the many other countries in the world which the US/UK alliance chose not to invade in 2003.

  5. How are people who throw paint bombs and flares not bad guys, exactly?

  6. @tajasel: because they are not the people who caused the crises, who are bailing out the banks, who are cutting services and benefits and closing libraries and taking the health service apart bit by bit. Neither are they the ones who cracked heads open last night or thumped teenagers with batons. I saw the damage done with paintballs: it's hardly destruction on a vast scale. It's some paint. There were firecrackers and flares on the street. Some cracked window panes. That doesn't make the throwers "the bad guys", not in my book, not when compared to the great huge pile of BAD done by those they were protesting against. They were reckless and they could have hurt someone, but it seems that the vast majority of the people yesterday were protesters injured by police. Let's keep a sane sense of perspective on this.

  7. Very well said, I couldn't agree more.

  8. "they are not the people who caused the crises, who are bailing out the banks, who are cutting services and benefits and closing libraries and taking the health service apart bit by bit"

    True enough but do paint bombs and flares actually do anything to stop the cuts? Or are they generally about a bit of excitement for people who want to *feel* they are changing the world?

    I'm not saying I have the answers. I've spent much of my life taking part in polite demonstrations that get ignored. But I haven't lobbed a brick and risked catching someone on the head (even an agent of the state) because I don't want to. I don't want to meet the violence of state aggression with my own.

  9. Personally I find the Black Bloc to be elitist and I belive that they are almost certainly riddled with police infiltrators.

    With all the high profile police infiltration that's come out lately is this really a good time to hand over all that power to a few anonymous, unaccountable people?

    That said, I really, really hope I'm wrong and this isn't a scam to give the state an excuse to crack down.

  10. Allie is right: decent people don't throw bricks and bottles around because they don't want to hurt other people.

    The so-called 'black block' are a tool of the very people they claim they're against. Pointless, mindless idiots and definitely infiltrated, they give the police an excuse to crack down. If they're so tough, why don't they hold their own demonstration, and we'll see how well they do.

  11. I was a volunteer first aider inside the kettle on Saturday. I had to beg the police to let me inside and help the injured protesters.

    Once I'd got in, I was on the upper tier of the Square, in front of the National Gallery, dealing with head injuries and people with serious bleeds who needed urgent medical attention. I was 50 feet away from the nearest police on either side, having told them to stay away from me whilst I and my colleagues dealt with the casualties.

    I eventually had to stop treating patients and get myself to a space safely out of throwing distance of the protesters, as I was having glass bottles and fireworks at me.

    Quite frankly, I don't give a fuck if the people in Trafalgar Square on Saturday are closing local libraries or not. They threw lit fireworks and glass bottles at me and that kind of behaviour is dangerous and stupid.

    This post says the people throwing missiles are not mindless yobs; well, actually, I think throwing glass bottles, fireworks and flares at people is pretty mindless, yobbish behaviour. They may not be the only bad guys, but they're not the good guys the OP wants us to believe either.

    Stop excusing this kind of behaviour before they kill someone.

  12. Well said tajasel. I find this diatribe offensive to everyone. The hatred shown by the author to the public, the police and anyone but her fellow lunatics is scary.

  13. Hi "Anonymous"! Not sure how you can find my piece hateful towards "everyone", since it is clearly - very clearly, I would have thought - written in support of the protesters who marched on Saturday in response to the government's appalling treatment of the majority of people in this country (and their worse treatment of hundreds of thousands of others abroad). I am quite obviously pointing my hate directly at the people responsible for the cuts and the wars. Not at the general public, of which you and I and half a million marchers are part. And I am asking for some perspective: I wouldn't chuck bricks or bottles at another human being at a demo, not even heavily-armoured policemen, and I already said that I thought the kids in black were spoiling for a fight as much as the riot police were, BUT the damage done on the Strand was minimal compared to that done at the Poll Tax riots and the violence against the police (and by the police against protesters) was apparently minimal compared to that at the Countryside Alliance march. Perspective. I am not condoning hurting anyone else, but the crimes that a few furious and charged-up kids committed on Saturday pale into insignificance compared to the crimes this government (and the previous one) has committed against ordinary people here and abroad. That's not an excuse for chucking stuff about recklessly (although I really don't give a shit about paintballed banks), Tajasel, it's meant to be an analysis of a complex situation. There's little point in saying that no "decent" person would commit criminal damage or fight riot police: plenty have done throughout history. Look at the Suffragettes, whom people see now as brave pioneers, but were treated as violent anarchist lunatics at the time. There are "decent" people amongst those who smash windows, just as there are decent people amongst those who wield batons: it's nonsensical to divide the world up in that way. Condemning behaviour is one thing, but wholesale condemnation of a group of people without any understanding of their motivations is another. As for "before they kill someone": the police are far more likely to kill a protester than a protester kill anyone else at the moment. Some would say that with the death of Ian Tomlinson the Met already have a death on their conscience. As I said, it's all about perspective.

  14. I understand the anger. I have recently won my tribunal after being assessed fit for work in June of last year, which I wasn't, it actually exacerbated my conditions to the extent it could have killed me and felt abused to the point of feeling suicidal. Lies told by the Atos assessor in the report didn't help. I had been close to suicide in the November the year before when I realised I wasn't even fit enough to do one day a week training to give myself a better chance of working in the field of mental health. I was trying to build myself up to ease myself back into a routine after years of being ill and not able to effectively self care. All this without appropriate care and fighting all the way when at my most vulnerable to try and get the benefits and help I need.

    The cost of these assessments are far higher than the costs of supporting the people who genuinely need it and could be assessed by their care workers far more cheaply, avoiding the costs of tribunal procedures and excess distress to ill and disabled people. So our lovely governments (last one and the one before it are as much to blame this one are just pushing it through faster and deeper than any dared before) are somehow getting away with spending more on harassing the ill, making their lives close to unbearable on top of the horror of being too ill to support themselves.

    I can't understand anyone supporting the cuts as all the things they are doing will cost us dearly. The only conclusion I can come to is that they keep assessing people using a method knowing it is not fit for purpose, costing more than they could save even if every single person who is on any form of benefit specifically for those who are not well enough to work to be moved to jobseekers, is it is psychological warfare designed to make ill people less likely to survive.

  15. You have to question the logic of a society which is super critical of a few windows being smashed and some paint being chucked whilst remaining pretty much silent about the heavy bombing of Libya. Just the stress, trauma and fear alone, which that level of military bombardment must be inflicting on the civilians in Libya makes me shudder.
    Come on people, let's get some perspective.
    Respect to Lucy for speaking out.