Saturday, 16 April 2011

G-20 Demonstrations: Two Years On

On Thursday the Guardian reported on a High Court ruling, holding that the Metropolitan Police were unlawful in ‘kettling’ protesters during the G-20 demonstrations in April 2009.

Two years ago, I took this photo. It was some three hours after the police line came like a running of the riot bulls down Bishopsgate, randomly trampling flower-children in a startling display of the arbitrary powers of the state. The bulldozing was sanctioned for some official reason not quite understood by anyone present, especially considering they’d chosen to target the hippies rather than the anarchists, but apparently it was necessary, for some reason, unknown to anyone present. Note the Financial Times in the foreground. There was an article in it by Martin Wolf entitled ‘The urgency of now: Why tomorrow’s G-20 summit will fail to deal with the big challenges.” It made for interesting reading while the police deployed their state-of-the-art kettling strategy.

This guy in the photo was employed as a wall of silence, but I chatted to him, and he made thoughtful comments like “I am not authorised to answer questions on the situation.” I took a piss under a big metal door, kind of an attempt to have my say in the face of this deprivation of voice. A high-spirited dude with overalls came over with his hand in the air. “Hey man,” he shouted, “high five, you came disguised as a banker!” We slapped hands, and I said, “Actually I’m a derivatives broker”. He froze on the spot. “Oh right, I’ve got a friend who’s an accountant.” I had to laugh at the suggestion that there was some similarity between an accountant and a broker. “Really, accountants are not nearly as bad as derivatives brokers man. Accountants can only really distort numbers, whereas we can distort entire markets.” He stood there uncomfortably, but I suppose it’s not usual to have this kind of conversation at a rally united by an apparent stand against the excesses of financial capitalism.

I guess the whole kettling strategy was a massive success. By inciting anger that didn’t originally exist, the police forces justified their presence in a self-fulfilling feedback loop. It was a loop that got unstable though, and one that jeopardised their ability to extricate themselves from the situation. They were on the verge of losing the psychological edge and spontaneous forms of coherent rebellion were starting to emerge. Nothing brings out the ‘fuck you’ in people like arbitrary power, and sooner or later, people get together and override it. At that point, bringing in the snapping dogs only makes people angrier.

So, after six hours, they let us out. Some of the cops looked as if they were about to cry. I walked past one of the guys and said, “Thanks man, you did a good job tonight.” He almost choked. “Thank you, that’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me all day.”

He did do a good job, but it was a job in the service of an utterly pointless attempt to stifle a necessary part of the workings of a democratic society. Good to see that the high court has recognised that.

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