Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Remember Gaza - Smash EDO

Right, I've done the washing up, removed the cornucopia of rotten bits of food from the fridge and various plastic containers around my house, ordered a compost bin, rung the council about the rats (erk), slotted my cobwebby TV neatly into a cupboard in the corner of the living room, got the dinner on, and eaten the last cupcake (oops). So now I can relax for a minute and write my more comprehensive account of yesterday's march. (Edit: it's now been a week since I started this... apologies for my tardiness.)

I arrived at the meet point (the cafe in the park behind the factory) at about 12.30, expecting to join the crowd, only to find about four other people looking vaguely like they might be hanging around for a demo. After 15 minutes or so I was beginning to feel slightly bemused and concerned - not to mention chilly! - no one else had arrived, and the time advertised was 1pm. Maybe I was just uncharacteristically early, or maybe it was some kind of decoy plan and us mugs were the only few not in on it. The police has certainly got the same memo - they were all over, in cars, on horseback and on foot. An Australian woman I spoke to asked if it was normal! Sadly, yes. What was not normal was the lack of protesters!

Eventually, other people arrived, sneaking out of the woods with props and trickling in from the main road. By 1.30 about 100 people, all dressed in black, had gathered, and we set off towards Home Farm Road. The road was predictably blockaded by several police vans and a double row of coppers. I had no idea of the plan, but as we came to a halt at the bottom of the road, most of the crowd started to move up onto the verge by the side of the road. Someone with a loudspeaker gave the go ahead, and about two-thirds of out number legged it up the hill (no mean feat considering how steep it is) to get around the back of the factory. The cops didn't seem especially interested and we supposed they must have known it was covered. Later someone who went up there told me that they had mounted police and dogs all around the perimeter!

The rest of us stood in the road for about an hour waiting for them to come back, and I felt a bit disheartened at the whole tedious exercise. It was cold and we didn't seem to be achieving much, except providing entertainment for passers-by. Eventually we regrouped and headed off down the road towards town (actually, one of my favourite things about demos is being able to walk down the middle of the road! somehow familiar surroundings seem to appear differently). All along Lewes Rd we were stop-started by the police. They'd start a line, we'd try and dash past them, then they'd move a bit further back and try it again... It's all so pointless. Then they started to get a but more pushy as we reached Brighton uni. On a loudspeaker they announced that there'd been an accident and there was an injured person in the road, which was the only reason they were stopped us. We were totally blocked in at this point, despite several attempts to find a way through the campus. Quite a few people got bored and wandered off here I think - the crowd had swelled quite a lot on the walk, but seemed to thin out considerably once we got moving again. Now, I'm not accusing anyone of anything - but there was not a single ambulance in sight, no sirens were heard, no injured people spotted, no damaged vehicles parked up at the side of the road with drivers being questioned. I'm just saying. I did, however, count 20 - 20! - police vans following the march, on top of the lines of police both mounted and on foot, some in riot gear, and several other cop cars. As one protester on a loudspeaker said - 'ladies and gentlemen of the public, do not panic - we are being kept under control by the people in the yellow jackets'!

Ar the bottom of Elm Grove we were temporarily kettled again, and given an ultimatum - we could go as far as the Level and continue the protest there, or we would be in violation of the Section 14 notice they had failed to issue whilst we were in the park earlier. There was a very amosing moment when the police line was ordered into formation - each one of the officers in the line shouted out the order, and they all fell in step one by one like some little dance routine, closing together with one shoulder back and one forward. I expect they'd been practising that all week. They looked very pleased with themselves. So we were allowed to continue, but naturally ignored the instructions to stay at the Level.

The problem, once we had run off towards town as per the plan, was that there was no plan. We couldn't decide which road to run down next, and as a result became split into several small groups. I was lucky enough to be in the one that decided to squeeze, inexplicably, down Kensington Gardens, where surely enough we were immediately and resolutely kettled for several hours. Lucky I brought snacks. What is baffling about this scenario is their reasoning: 'we are stopping you because you are causing a public disturbance'; and, 'we will let you out providing you agree to disperse'. Now, call me crazy, but isn't this a bit like walking up to someone, standing in front of them and telling them that they're in your way? I'm fairly sure that blocking off one of the main roads in the North Laine with cars, horses and various double-strength police lines is more of a disturbance than a group of 50 or so people walking through town. Of course we all know what it's really about isn't 'protecting' the public (because we are not members of the public, of course), but making sure that anyone foolish enough to protest is criminalised in the eyes of the general populace. Nevertheless, the ridiculousness of it still doesn't fail to astound me. Some of the police seem to actively enjoy it, too - I saw a couple of them in the line giggling at our predicament. The mind boggles.

Two arrests were made while we were standing there - neither with any apparent reason. One man who was directly up against the line of coppers was pulled out after a bit of argy-bargy (I didn't see what happened as there were too many people in front of me) and bodily wrestled to the ground by about 5 police, then had both his ankles and wrists cuffed. I believe he was later de-arrested, but the whole unsavoury proceeding was caught on camera by a sympathetic onlooker from an upstairs window, who announced this to the offending officers once the incident was over. The next one was more unnerving - with no warning suddenly 10 or so police marched into the kettle, shoving us out of the way (and causing injury to at least one person that I know of) and seizing one of the medics.

Eventually we were allowed to leave 'in groups of 5'. Just like a school trip.

In which I achieve something most people learn when they're about 10...

Walking home this evening I had the feeling that it was very late - like walking home after a party. The sky wasn't quite dark and a few lone birds were singing in the trees. But, of course, the reason for this was that it was only 9pm. The late-night feeling was caused by my tiredness and wiredness - that post-action feeling where you're exhausted but somehow hyper-aware.

I'd been on the Smash Edo demo. It was a funeral march to remember the people killed in Gaza a year ago, during a siege in which bombs, whose components were manufactured in Brighton, were used to murder 1417 Palestinians. It's unfortunate to admit that as demos go it was pretty unspectacular, and little seemed to be achieved (thanks, as usual, to the over zealous efforts of out boys in blue - or fluorescent yellow, as it seems to be these days - but we'll get to that in a minute). But by the end of the day I felt like I'd had some personal kind of revelation; or at least joined up a few more dots. I attended the demo alone - though I briefly saw one or two acquaintances on the march - a first for me, and something I'd never have considered before. And despite my semi-isolation faced with a huge police presence, I didn't have the same tremulous fear as on previous demos. Perhaps it was just because I felt a bit more prepared, knowing what to expect now.

After being released from a ridiculous kettle on North Street (about 30 of us, stuck in an area not much bigger than a pedestrian crossing), I headed to the Cowley Club for food, warmth and, most importantly, a toilet. Having fed and relaxed for half an hour I went to help my... non-boyfriend, for want of a better word, in the kitchen, washing up and bringing out the orders. It's not a great leap or anything and I've waitressed (albeit badly) in many a pub, but somehow I've always been a little timid about working at the Cowley. Maybe it's the volunteer aspect, maybe it's the anarcho aspect, either way there has always been a sense that I don't really belong there and I'll get it all wrong - but in the light of my dashing about playing cat and mouse with riot police, perhaps it was put into perspective! And made me feel a bit more hardcore... Whatever it was, by the time I made that walk home, I had a sense of being strong and able, in a way I haven't really before. I hope this experience bodes well for my imminent steps off the cliff into self-unemployment.

I'll write some more about the demo itself - but now it really is extraordinarily late, and I might finally be unwired enough to sleep. (This, no doubt, will prove untrue - I'll turn the light out and spend the next hour composing my follow-up blog post in my head.)