Ten Scenes from a Protest

Politics, Rambles

I

There’s a group of benefits claimants and activists protesting outside the A4e office, holding a banner in front of the doors.

A young policewoman pops out. “Would you mind moving a bit to the side so that people can get through?”
“That,” I say, “would be missing the point a bit, wouldn’t it?”

II

The protest is a little unsure and dispirited. There’s a rumble in the distance. A huge crowd of students is coming down the hill to join us. Far more than we’d expected. Shall we address them? Maybe we could occupy these offices together?

They stop in front of our picket, and everyone cheers. They chant:

“Students! and Workers! Unite and Fight!”

One of our number attempts to talk through the megaphone, tell them while we’re here. But someone starts moving and the crowd falls forwards, marches onwards.

We shrug, and get into line behind them.

III

We reach the target, and everyone … sits down.

All the anarchists, together and individually, let out a peculiar noise, somewhere between a disgusted groan and a resigned sigh.

They lurk at the back of the crowd, standing, cynically commenting, being watched by the FIT, laughing, pretending to plot.

Now a sequence of indistinguishable white men are making unintelligible speeches through the megaphone.

IV

“Typical. I don’t go to London, and they have a riot and smash up the Tory headquarters. In Edinburgh I come along and they just sit down in a protest cage.”

That speaker shambled off to the pub later, disgruntled. Then the students occupied their university and another team superglue-blockaded the LibDem headquarters.

Typical.

V

I’m bored. I put on my balaclava of evil and my bulky army jacket, and decide to have some fun.

I climb over the protest cage and force the cops to satirise themselves: four tough police officers manhandle me back over the fence. They’re pushing and shouting at a protestor clearly labelled EVIL. I deliberately trip over my own feet, pretend to get stuck on the fence, kick my feet in the air, fall on the ground, jump up like a cat and pretend nothing has happened, mime a whistle. Then I do it all again.

VI

Later, marching again, I walk like a mock guerilla/gorilla behind a crowd-chaperone policeman. I’ve been doing this for a while. He turns around and bits in my face:

“Did you get bullied at school or something?”

Well, yes. And so, probably, did he.

VII

The occupation happened by accident. They’d attempted to sit in the Registry office, but the police quickly got in the way. Keeping the peace. As uncertain about what’s happening and what to do as we are. An authoritative male turned up and the stand-off and suggested we all get together to talk about what to do next.

Some with anger and frustration, some with tiredness and resignation, we assemble in the lecture theatre to talk about our plans. And then understand that, without the cops realising what we’ve done, and without us realising what we’ve done, 200 people have just successfully occupied the building. I don’t think that’s what the people who suggested this assembly meant to happen. But it happened anyway.

VIII

I go outside to check how many police are out there, recce the area, while the assembly takes place. But they’ve figured out I’m not a student. As I try to get back in, five yellow-jackets block my way. I’m shut out.

I wasn’t going to stay at this occupation until they tried to keep me out of it.

I spent forty minutes ignoring the two cops minding me, refusing to negotiate, refusing to give up on my determination to get back inside. Never negotiate with the cops: you always lose something. I stop everyone who enters or leaves the building, say:

“Scuse me? Hey, I’m not arrested or in trouble or anything. They just won’t let me in the building, so I wondered if I could ask you a favour. Or if you could just talk to me for a while? I’m a bit cold and lonely.”

About half the passers-by ignore me, or stop for a moment and then shrug guiltily before leaving. But the other half at least hear me out, though I can’t get any to get someone from inside to come and help me get back in.

Eventually, two friendly Germans tell me that there’s a back entrance to the building. I can’t believe it. And yes, there are no cops there. I re-enter.

My one regret of the whole occupation was that I wasn’t able to show the cops who’d locked me out that I’d just gone round the back. They must have left thinking I’d given up, thinking they’d won.

IX

I accidentally became the social media ninja for the protest. Within an hour I’d set up a website, started tweeting every few minutes, e-mailing across the world. Throughout the long meetings I’d work on communications. I spent nine hours a day glued to TweetDeck and WordPress, blogging the revolution. Soon, blogs and Twitters started sprouting for the 20 occupations across the country. Everyone started following suit. This is the most tweeted revolt in British history. Our hashtag is #solidarity.

X

There’s an occupation of activists downstairs, while upstairs the geeks are working the night-shift: it’s the Informatics building, and they’ve been locked in there all semester. They set up a parody blog and Twitter; the occupation is the best procrastination tool they’ve had all year. Our photos are of snow, curry, and naive revolutionaries; their photos are drab grey shots of window-blinds and a 16k resistor. Solidarity forever.

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