Civil disobedience and degrees of protest

Please note: The news media and others use the word violence to mean both attacks on people, and attacks on property. I believe this is misleading, and attacks on property should be referred to as vandalism, however when I am talking about what other people have said, I will use the word violence if that is what they used.

On the 26th of March the TUC held the March For The Alternative in protest against government cuts to services. UK Uncut were also active that day, first joining the march, and later as the TUC marchers listened to speeches in Hyde Park they occupied shops in other parts of London. While all this was going on a group of people dressed in black and with covered faces, a tactic known as Black Bloc, broke windows and threw paint bombs at shops and banks, and sprayed anarchy symbols wherever they could. The news coverage has been all about this vandalism and later fights with the police. For more information from people who were there, please read these accounts.

It is important to understand that there were distinct groups at these protests. The TUC and all the associated unions, UK Uncut, and anarcho-syndicalists. There were also various other groups and events such as Turn Trafalgar Square into Tahrir Square and Stay for One Day. (In Hyde Park.) Members of UK Uncut are rightly annoyed that the news media and government ministers have repeatedly confused the groups and referred to UK Uncut as violent, blaming the vandalism on them. UK Uncut held an entirely peaceful protest inside Fortnum & Mason, (who are accused of avoiding tax) not damaging anything and even tidying up after themselves. A police officer was recorded on video stating that UK Uncut protesters were “non-violent, sensible.” (02:15 in the video below.)

Diverting slightly for a moment, let me say that the charge of Aggravated Trespass for the Fortnum & Mason occupiers seems very odd. Fortnum & Mason is a privately owned shop, open for business. This gives the public an implied license to enter private property, so on entering, UK Uncut were not trespassing. In this situation a person can only be considered to be trespassing if they are asked to leave. They were not asked to leave, and in fact as the video above shows they were actually prevented from leaving by the police for a while. The charge of aggravated trespass also requires that a person enters the land with the intention of disrupting the normal activity there. In this case, customers were able to continue browsing the shop and even drinking tea. The arrest of 138 peaceful protesters while ignoring most of the people smashing windows is baffling, the lying to them before hand, and their treatment afterwards even more so.

After the march many people including the TUC condemned the vandalism and violence, and seemingly, all groups that protested separately from the main march. Arguments broke out between different groups that otherwise would be united in opposition to the cuts. People were accused of hijacking the march. Richard Murphy at Tax Research UK said on his blog UK Uncut are right in protesting – but it would have been better not to do so on Saturday, which seems to be the opinion of many union members.  Some members of UK Uncut distanced themselves from black bloc protesters, while others did not. On the 28th of March Lucy Annson, a UK Uncut protester, appeared on Newsnight and refused to condemn the violence at the march. This video is the Newsnight interview.

Following the march MP John McDonnell started Early day motion 1146 stating “That this House congratulates UK Uncut for the role it has played in drawing attention by peaceful demonstrations to tax evasion and avoidance and to the need for firm action to secure tax justice.” It was signed by 27 MPs. During Prime Ministers Questions on the 30th of March David Cameron was asked to comment on UK Uncut. Here is what he said.

The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for her question. First of all, we should be absolutely clear that the scenes in central London of property, shops, banks and livelihoods being destroyed were completely and utterly unacceptable. The police should have our full support for the way they policed the march and the action they took. I think that it is important for people to understand that UK Uncut refused to condemn this violence and Opposition Members should remove their names from the early-day motion.

After this statement five MPs withdrew their support for the motion.

A growing number of people are expressing the idea that the anti-cuts movement should have solidarity across all forms of protest. The idea being that you don’t have to support a groups tactics, but if you support their aims then you should not condemn the group either. Early on in this argument the Brighton Solidarity Federation wrote A letter to UK Uncutters from the ‘violent minority’ In it they stated “We think the whole idea of dividing ‘good’ and ‘bad’ protest serves only to legitimise police violence and repression. As we saw on Saturday, repression is not provoked by violent actions, but by effective actions – there is a long history of peaceful pickets and occupations being violently broken up by police, from the Chartists to the Miners Strike.” Vince Cable stated that he would not change policy as a result of protest. He said “No government – coalition, Labour or other – would change its fundamental economic policy simply in response to a demonstration of that kind.” Given this statement many will argue that more drastic tactics are necessary anyway.

This Comment by Kate Belgrave on an article at Liberal Conspiracy gives some insight into this solidarity.

Some of us are aligned to no particular groups and are simply pleased to see protest against cuts breaking out in all shapes and forms. Want to kick in a window? Fine. Join Black Bloc. Want to sit-in and close a bank down? Good – sign up with UKUncut. Want to march with a big group of union members? Excellent. Head out with the TUC. It’s all part of the same thing – an angry reaction to Conservatism. Nobody owns any of it. Nobody has the right to say how protest should look, or what does and doesn’t work, or to try and define the tone. Some of us see the thing as a whole, not as a bunch of competing bits.

Tim Hardy wrote a very interesting article at Beyond Clicktivism: Solidarity Forever. In it he wrote about the Saint Paul Principles. In his words: “These are a set of principles of unity for resisting the 2008 Republican National Convention (RNC) agreed in February 2008 by those planning to confront the RNC.” These principle are set out below. I agree that these represent an excellent model that all anti-cuts groups would do well to follow.

The principles are:
1. Our solidarity will be based on respect for a diversity of tactics and the plans of other groups.
2. The actions and tactics used will be organized to maintain a separation of time or space.
3. Any debates or criticisms will stay internal to the movement, avoiding any public or media denunciations of fellow activists and events.
4. We oppose any state repression of dissent, including surveillance, infiltration, disruption and violence. We agree not to assist law enforcement actions against activists and others.

 

Peaceful occupation and arrest – An account of #ukuncut on #march26 by @magiczebras

@magiczebrasThis guest post is an account of UK Uncut’s actions on March the 26th by @magiczebras

 

Only a handful of people knew where we were heading on Saturday, I personally had no clue where we were going. Just before 3.30pm I was simply handed a card with a red dot on, a sign that I should follow the red umbrellas several people were holding. Once we arrived in Fortnum & Mason we spread out across the shop, and the vibe was pretty jubilant – I’d had doubts we’d make it and I suspect I wasn’t the only one, if you were in London you’ll know the day was quite crazy.

After about half an hour people started to settle, the majority of us on the ground floor. I talked to people I knew on twitter and sat around talking with my friend, who left at around 5 to get her train. People did drift out but the majority stayed. The police hadn’t asked us to leave and we were peaceful. A few people may have wanted to cause damage but were quickly talked out of it by members of UKuncut, we didn’t want to harm our reputation for being a peaceful protest group. I’m so proud of all my fellow members, we were all exceedingly careful not to break things and received thanks from police officers for tidying around before we left.

At around 6pm it was democratically decided we leave, so we all linked arms tight after being told we could leave peacefully together. We were kettled immediately. There was a lot of confusion, at first we thought they’d let us go in dribs and drabs, then we were told we’d be arrested. I was put onto a coach with 17 others and we drove around London until it was discovered Islington had 15 free cells and Camden had 2. I was first out, requiring medical attention because I had low salts. Everything was taken from me, I was stripped to my underwear, given clothes, put on constant watch because, due to anxiety, I kept absent mindedly clawing my arms and I slept when I got to my cell, still being watched. I was woken at 2am to see my appropriate adult, get my DNA taken and see a doctor (5 hours after I’d started requiring one). He gave me a sleeping pill and got them to feed me.

I slept more, was woken with breakfast which I threw up on my clothes – I didn’t have time to get to the toilet. They couldn’t give me clothes or a blanket so I lay in my underwear and slept more. My mother arrived sometime later, her nerves fraught and I waited to be charged. I convinced myself it wouldn’t happen, they’d let us go, but obviously they didn’t. I was charged with aggravated trespass, made to promise I wouldn’t kill myself, or hold them accountable if I attempted, given my bag back (they retained my mobile, iPod and clothes as evidence) and we left. I’m in court on Monday, 12th April at 9.30am, where I will be tried. Looks like I’ll be joining to Armchair Army for the forseeable future.

A day in the life… of an armchair protester

I am exhausted. I’m so tired that I can’t get out of bed right now. This is because I spent yesterday supporting the March For The Alternative and UK Uncut in any way I could from home.

My living room became a media hub. Along with my sister (@apricotmuffins on twitter) I watched multiple TV news sources, twitter, blogs, emails and news websites. To do the job we had four computers, six screens (including the 32″ TV) and phones, laptops etc. Both of us had Tweetdeck running with six columns of tweets and hashtag searches.

Late on Friday I was drafted in to help out with the virtual protest map from Disabled People Against Cuts. This is a map of many people that could not protest because of illness or disability. After a chat on Skype with the organiser I got to work adding emails of support to the map, eventually getting to sleep after 3am.

Saturday morning, I had promised to spend an hour with my wife over breakfast. I stuffed myself full of painkillers around 9am, and drank coffee. I sent my wife to take coffee to my sister (who lives next door) and wake her up ready for our day of virtual protesting.

A quick check of twitter showed that my automated scheduled tweets about the protest map were being retweeted at a good pace, drawing attention to it. I replied to a couple of tweets to clear up some confusion that my scheduled tweets had caused – people had assumed that I was awake!

Then at 10am I staggered out to the Lantern eating house for breakfast with my wife. To resist temptation, I handed my phone ever to her to keep it away from me! We enjoyed a nice breakfast and I managed to talk about things other than the protest.

Back in the house at 11, my sister and I set up for our protesting. She moved her computer into my house while I frantically tried to fit an extra hard disk into my PC to handle all the TV recording that I would be doing. Unfortunately my new gigantic heatsink was making this difficult! Finally at a little past 11 we were up and running. I sat at my desk with my PC, my old iMac on a table behind me. I set my PC to recording Sky News, and my iMac recording BBC news. My sister was watching on the main TV, switching between channels as they showed anything relevant.

Our biggest task of the day turned out to be keeping the DPAC map up to date. Logging in to the email account showed 54 messages waiting to go online, with more pouring in. I set my sister up with the email and map and showed her how to add people, and we attacked that task. I did the ones with pictures myself as it was a little more involved. Some where frustrating, since they didn’t include their location which made it difficult to add them to a map! Others had misunderstood and sent us long messages, promotions for events and other things which were not suitable for our map of solidarity.

All the while we were carrying out this task we were also watching twitter and the TV for updates about the march. Any time an interesting comment, update or insight came up on twitter I retweeted it to my followers. When the TV showed us anything interesting I reported that on twitter as well. As the day developed, I started to grab screenshots from the TV news and put them up on twitter. Although I was recording everything, the only clip that I managed to get online was a part of Ed Millibands speech. I’ve got hours of footage that I hope to publish a bit more of later.

This whole process was very intensive. I have to admit it was very difficult for anyone else to speak with me since I was completely immersed in what I was doing. Our atmosphere, much like the march, was one of excitement. Unfortunately this was all very draining for me. I eventually had to stop for a rest, in spite of the constant supply of caffeine and codeine. My first rest was 10 minutes on the sofa but still watching the TV. It wasn’t really a rest for me, but it was enough to keep me going a bit longer. My second rest was rather forced on me since I had completely run out of my ability to stand or walk, was scrambling up bits of what I was writing, and forgetting what I was doing. Lots of drugs, tea, and half an hour flat on my back in pain, and then I forced myself back to the computer for the final stint.

For the final part of the day we were retweeting as much of UK Uncut as we could, although there wasn’t a lot available. I put together a blog post with some text and a lot of screenshots from the TV news. I wanted to produce a report on UK Uncut but I just didn’t have enough information, and the photo sharing site that they were using seemd to have crashed under the load.

Finally, I was just too tired to continue. I stayed at my computer a little longer, watching twitter but mostly zoning out. I eventually went to my bed around 8pm, and spent a lot of the eveing drifing in an out of consciousness.

This was my day of protest. I can only hope it made a difference somewhere.

March for the alternative: events and TV images

You may have noticed that today is the day when the unions are marching against the cuts. News media coverage seems good, with BBC News and Sky News both giving fairly constant coverage to the march. Although organised by the TUC, there are many organisations on the march. A great number of people are in Hyde Park listening to speeches, but there are so many people that the march was still arriving at 4pm! Estimates of total numbers soared to 400 – 500 thousand people in attendance. Read Why I’m marching tomorrow by @kaygeeuk, Why I’m marching tomorrow by @stavvers or New Statesman – Why I’m marching today for an overview. The march has been widely reported as a carnival atmosphere. Music, bands, vuvuzelas and other fun things. Such as a Trojan Horse!

Trojan Horse
Trojan Horse. Picture by Lucy Peel

Crowds in Hyde Park at 14:33

The marchThe march

The march

The march

The march

Ed Milliband spoke to the crowds in Hyde Park around about 2pm. Well, the ones that had arrived, anyway. March organisers have been criticised for having Milliband speak since he does not completely oppose the cuts, and many are disappointed that Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green party, was not invited to speak.

Also at 2pm, UK Uncut broke away from the march and went to Oxford Street to occupy shops. Unfortunately this was overshadowed by a group of approximately 150 people dressed in black and wearing masks, who threw paint and fireworks outside Topshop and Topman and then went on to vandalise the inside of HSBC at Cambridge Square. Metropolitan Police claimed that lightbulbs filled with ammonia were thrown at them, although we have seen no evidence of this.

Attacks on TopshopAttacks on Topshop Attacks on Topshop Attacks on Topshop

Around 4pm about 5,000 UKUncut protesters occupied Fortnum & Mason and surrounding area. See Press release: UK Uncut Occupy Tax Dodgers Fortnum and Mason. BBC News covered this including a phone call to BBC producer Almeena Ahmed who was inside with UK Uncut.

Later a fire was lit at Oxford Circus as a trojan horse was apparently burnt.

Oxford Circus at 16:30

While UK Uncut where inside Fortnum & Mason, some of the black-clad protesters who had earlier thrown paint and fireworks and sprayed graffiti, climbed onto the roof to hang banners and spray more graffiti. The BBC alleged that they were from the Socialist Worker Party among other groups.

People on roof of Fortnum & MasonPeople on roof of Fortnum & Mason

 

Front row of the rally in Hyde Park
Front row of the rally in Hyde Park. Picture by @March26March

Many people that could not make it to the march for reasons of illness or disability took part in a virtual protest. Their names, messages and occasionally photos were listed on a map set up by Disabled People Against Cuts. (Disclaimer, I helped out with putting the names up.)

 

DPAC Map
DPAC Map of virtual protesters. (Click for DPAC page)

DPAC has also launched Disabled People Make History.