Friday, December 10, 2010

The demonisation of 'No'

In 1990, I went with Jane B to Trafalgar Square to protest against the poll tax. We were people watching from the National Gallery steps, making our statement quietly and enjoying the carnival. In an instant, it turned. Mounted police charged, people scattered and we managed to get into a pub before they locked the doors. It was later reported as a riot, with demonstrators painted as aggressors. That was not what we saw. We saw a wall of police on horses coming for us without warning, provoking panic and with it justifying almost any tactic the police cared to use.

In 1986, I was working for INS News Agency in Reading and was sent to Stoney Cross in the New Forest with a photographer because the agency was tipped off about a massive police operation to evict new age travellers. At dawn a line of police moved into this peaceful, problem-free settlement,  forced whole families out of their vans which they then towed away. Thatcher's response to 'no' was bring in a Public Order Act and prepare the ground for her successor John Major to outlaw a whole way of life with the Criminal Justice Act. 

So when a friend rang me last night in a state of shock after the student protest in London, the demonisation of 'No' was one of the things we talked about. Let's face it, when thousands of students walk out of college and school to demonstrate about their right to education, it's embarrassing, isn't it? Better not to have them on the streets. 

I believe what I've been told by people in the protests about police being provocative, heavy-handed, offensive and aggressive because I've experienced it on countless demonstrations and in most other dealings with police. Hostility and rudeness is too often the first response to the most innocent question. 

I believe the friend who tells me she was almost impaled on a spiked fence when police charged down Victoria Street with utter disregard for people's safety, because she has no reason to lie. 

I believe my daughter when she tells me about teenage friends who were beaten up by police on two separate demos because I've been on picket lines and seen what happens when adrenalin runs.

You can write the script and apply it to almost any demo: David Meynell, deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, in charge of the operation, said a peaceful march had been "completely overshadowed by the actions of about 3,000 to 3,500 people in minority groups"....The Home Secretary David Waddington is expected to make a statement to the House of Commons on the rioting tomorrow. That was how the BBC reported the poll tax 'riot' in 1990. Sound familiar?

So, without wanting to join the conspiracy theorists, but bearing in mind all that we know about dirty tricks, unregulated activity in the name of national security and what the last Tory government did to the unions, the rights of assembly and trespass laws.....shouldn't we be concerned about kettling, allowing mounted police to charge children, keeping the streets clear for Christmas shoppers? If kids can't protest, we can wave goodbye to demonstrating about wars, national security, corporate culture, free speech, tax evasion, bankers and corruption.

Found in Marseille by my daughter

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