Protest and what actually happened on Saturday
What is difficult in such a large event as Saturday's is to work out what really happened. I attended the march and like most people who did saw nothing but an entierly peaceful if slow and noisy march. Protestors of all ages most of whom the Daily Mail would even describe as "normal" joined together to protest against the scale and speed of cuts taking place by the coalition government. There were quite a few children some quite young, younger than I would have brought along but more due to the speed and numbers of people than any other concerns.
True they were mainly public sector workers but that is not (as yet) a crime. Teachers, doctors, nurses, firefighters, postal workers, lecturers and students.
The police looked on mainly bored, occasionally helping out protestors with directions. I saw a few with riot helmets but they weren't wearing them.
Meanwhile the press talk as if central London was some kind of war zone. Admittedly I left before the events at Fortnum and Masons and Trafalgar Square but all I could see was a few smashed windows and some paint splattered. The worst damage was at The Ritz.
As I travelled home I heard about trouble at Fortnum and Masons and Trafalgar Square and was astonished to see the TV news coverage when I got home and the press the next day.
Except of course I wasn't astonished. The distorted coverage was sadly predictable from a media owned and controlled by the right wing paymasters of this government.
But even away from the mainstream right wing press there seemed to be a complete mis-understanding about what happened and some confusion between different kinds of protesters. Some commentators on the left seem to have jumped on the bandwagon and are blaming UK Uncut for taking attention away from the main march.
As well as the main march which as I have already described there were in evidence two other groups of protesters both of whom use more "direct" forms of action but between whom there is a distinct and important difference.
Black Bloc or "Anarchists"
If you look at the wikipedia definition:
A black bloc is a tactic for protests and marches, whereby individuals wear black clothing, scarfs, ski masks, motorcycle helmets with padding or other face-concealing items and often carry some sort of shields and truncheons. The clothing is used to avoid being identified, and to, theoretically, appear as one large mass, promoting solidarity.
"The Black Bloc" is sometimes incorrectly reported as being the name of a specific anarchist group. It is, rather, a tactic that may be adopted by groups of various motivations and methods.Black bloc appear to be responsible for the paint bomb and window smashing at banks and The Ritz in the West End and certainly people within black bloc feel violence against property is justified.
Interestingly for the "debate" taking place Black Bloc is in many ways a response to increased police force as it is clearly a tactic that makes detection less likely. Combined with an ability to run faster than the police such groups in quite small numbers were effective in causing a disproportionate amount of chaos on Saturday.
I don't personally think their use of violence was justified under the circumstances but the way this debate is carried out tends to get somewhat ridiculous. Pretty much all of us think violence can be morally justifiable under certain circumstances so it is just a mater of where the line is drawn.
UK Uncut is a relatively new direct action protest movement that has effectively used social media to draw attention to organisations it believes have not paid the tax they should. High profile targets have been the banks, Top Shop and Vodafone. Their tactics involve occupying the buildings of such organisations and sometimes turning them into functions that are being cut like libraries to make the point that if such businesses paid their taxes then cuts would not be needed.
UK Uncut occupy buildings but they do this in a peaceful and non-violent manner and do not engage in or advocate violence.
What appears to have happened at Fortman and Mason is that some 200 or so UK Uncut activists occupied the store, left peacefully and were then corralled by and arrested by Met Police from CO11 (better known as "riot police"). There is a video on The Guardian website showing what the police in the store said to them and it is clear from that that they lied to the protesters and made them think they were free to leave.
They were all then arrested for "aggravated trespass" and illiberal offence that criminalises something that is a civil matter - trespass.
When they challenged the police outside saying they had been told they were free to leave they were told somewhat chillingly:
'Yes, you're free to leave – to the police station. You're going to be arrested.'"A protester Sean O'Halloran who was in Trafalgar Square and witnessed violence there and who said "my opinion on smashing up banks and fucking up The Ritz is fairly relaxed actually" talks about UK Uncut on his blog:
UK Uncut is possibly the politest and most well-behaved activist collective this country has seen in a while. They're the sort who clean up as they leave, who have civil conversations with the police, who turn banks into comedy gigs. They are not the sort of people who smash up £15 easter eggs and smoke inside. They are in fact the sort of people who would trust a police officer if she told them that they would not be arrested upon leaving the store, and whose main protest to actually being arrested is chanting "you promised us you wouldn't do this. You promised".I am personally at a loss to understand how people can conflate the behaviour of a group that advocates and engages in violence with one that clearly does not. Walking into a building, sitting down and refusing to leave might be annoying but it isn't "violence". In fact it is a deliberately non-violent form of protest.
A new crackdown?
Tonight the Evening Standard report Dame Judith Mayhew Jonas, Chair of the "New West End Company" representing businesses in the West End calling on Boris Johnson (who has already made some unhelpful comments about the march) to prevent any future inconvenience to business from marches even suggesting organisers pay to clean up mess and damage.
A commentary piece by Chris Blackhurst states:
Whatever the argument about tax avoidance - it is worth remembering that avoidance is entirely legal, evasion is not - the proper forum for the debate is not in Oxford Street or Picadilly...Women were denied the vote by law once too but it didn't make right and it took direct action in the streets for it to change.
Tonight the Independent are reporting that Theresa May is considering yet more police powers:
I have asked the police whether they need further powers to prevent violence before it occurs. I am willing to consider powers which would ban known hooligans from rallies and marches and I will look into the powers the police already have to force the removal of face-coverings and balaclavasThere are also reports of planned disruption to the Royal Wedding leading to Boris to make a statement sounding like he will single-handedly deal with such matters!
Public disorder is a symptom of a broken society. The more unequal, and unfair society becomes the more public disorder we will see.
If people feel they have a say through democracy and peaceful protest violence becomes less likely.
People like me that support non-violent protest will find it hard to advance such views if such protests are ignored or worse still if peaceful protest becomes criminalised. Such actions are likely to further increase disorder as previously peaceful protesters change to more violent yet possibly less risky protest.
To be honest an intelligent risk assessment shows the Black Bloc seemed to make the highest impact for the least risk whilst UK Uncut's civilised protest got them all arrested...Is this really what we want?