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The Real Reason Why Police Cage Peaceful Protestors

With Occupy Wall Street protesters kettled on the Brooklyn Bridge this weekend, we look at how kettling was used on protesters during the London riots earlier this year.

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Those kids on the front-lines looked variously scared, angry, cold, laughing, fighting, hurting; but they were all there: awake, and alive -- bashing into riot shields just to check it was real. It was. Walking into the main quad at UCL during the month-long winter occupation, among countless banners, signs, and messages of support, I was confronted by one especially memorable slogan: 'THIS IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING'.

The kettle is neoliberalism's most apt strategic deployment -- and as a public order policing tactic, it is as risky as its philosophical underpinning. The intent is to suffocate protest with 'containment', to stifle the swarming dissemination of dissent, territorialising with hard lines; but in fact it agitates and intensifies: it pushes the dilettante protester into becoming a hard-liner, a kind of unwitting agent provocateur.

The smashing of the glass in Millbank tower marked the first shattering of capitalist realism, and the forging of a new mind-phase for a generation of protesters. Its physicality saw it dismissed as wanton vandalism -- made easier for the media by the dropping of a fire extinguisher from the Millbank roof by one 18-year-old now serving 32 months in jail -- but it represented the much-needed re-emergence of young people into the public sphere. The month that followed 10 November -- culminating in the Westminster Bridge kettle described above -- saw a totally unexpected surge of political energy. With no warning, there were three more major student protests, attended by hundreds of thousands of young people: and in between, a non-stop flurry of debates, public meetings, rallies, marches, occupations, and headline-grabbing viral actions against tax-avoiders by the likes of UK Uncut and the University for Strategic Optimism. Scores of university buildings have been occupied, as well as Conservative Party HQ, several local town halls, government departments, schools, banks and shops.

'THIS IS AN IDEOLOGY' said one placard I saw on the Trade Union Congress-organised March for the Alternative on 26 March 2011. It was just those four words - the 'ideology' in question is not a written bullet-point manifesto, not yet, and the danger is it will never become one: but for now, it's a vital affirmation of a world beyond the end of history, and beyond capitalist realism. Until it calcifies into a propositional political agenda, protest and dissent is the ideology. 'Don't call ME post-ideological, like it's an insult, like we don't stand for anything' is the message emerging from a generation far too young to even remember the Cold War.

This energy went on tactical sabbatical for the Royal Wedding in May, the vast majority of protesters choosing to sit it out for pragmatic reasons. Yet the wedding still saw horrendous new levels of political policing, even with barely anything planned by way of protest: including the arrest of a crying child for holding a pen, the raiding of squats and vegetable co-ops ('BEWARE THE ANARCHO-SYNDICALIST COURGETTE!') and the de facto internment of over 100 other innocent citizens on the astonishing charge of 'conspiracy to cause a breach of the peace'. As the royal family sang 'Jerusalem' in Westminster Abbey, it was observed that were he alive today, its author, the anarchist William Blake, would be in a prison cell for this same kind of 'pre-crime'. But that 'return to normality' that the Athens protesters feared -- it's not happened yet, because the cuts have barely even begun to be felt yet, and those people that took to the streets have been changed, in both their heads, and their actions: returning from central London's causeways to local actions, occupations, and campaigns, looking for new methods and opportunities to fight back - this is still, just the beginning.

 
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