The Real Reason Why Police Cage Peaceful Protestors
Continued from previous page
I saw my colleague, journalist Laurie Penny, speaking on an Education Activist Network panel in March, comparing the internet's emancipatory potential to the seismic changes that followed the creation of the printing press: 'It didn't just change power, it changed people... the English vernacular Bible was a heretical decryption of power.' There was, she went on, a link between the first newspapers, produced in the English Civil War, and its culmination in the execution of Charles I -- the liberating spread of information catalysing spectacle into the most absolute, insurrectionary kind of engagement. 'The audacity of the idea that you can take a square and topple a dictator does amazing things to people's heads,' she went on, with the kind of excitement I can recognise as someone who has had that same transformation of the imagination '... the same way Wikileaks did. Things are going to change in the next 20 to 40 years in a way we can't predict - all we can do is be ready'.
It's appropriate that by far the best art-work and propaganda to come out of the movement so far is by a collective called the Deterritorial Support Group -- it's a pun on the Territorial Support Group, the Metropolitan Police's thuggish public order cops: in December's protests the TSG left one demure, peaceful student needing three hours of emergency surgery for bleeding to the brain. The divide is clear, and both physical and psychological. You are territorial about public order disputes, and mark your lines with these toy soldiers -- we, on the other hand, challenge this by being everywhere, all the time. 'WE ARE EVERYWHERE' was one of the most potent slogans of the November and December uprisings, as occupations skittled one on to another, town council meetings were stormed by old ladies and sixth formers, and high street shops up and down the country were shut down.
Turning a kettle into a rebellious 'occupied space' is one thing, but an even better way of subverting the tactic emerged on 30 November's student demonstration, in the exemplary chaos of the cat-and-mouse protest. An unusually thick winter snowfall in London gave the day a special feel from the outset, and, wary of more kettling in response to the official, pre-announced route, tens of thousands of school children and undergraduates alike made merry fools of the Metropolitan Police, constantly darting down side streets in their hundreds, making sharp U-turns to avoid looming police lines, splitting off like tributaries before rejoining the main currents at iconic spots across the capital; from Oxford Street to St Paul's Cathedral, from Liverpool Street to Buckingham Palace, we spanned the entire centre of the city
It was a protest widely known by its Twitter hashtag, #dayx2, and protesters were regularly on Twitter and SMS, checking in with friends, new acquaintances, and the #solidarity and #demo2010 tags, to find out where the police were. My abiding memory of the day is standing on the Strand, and Hyde Park Corner, and Charing Cross Road, checking my phone and saying 'Nope, not that way, there's a kettle forming by Bank, let's go and join that other march heading west.' The police kept trying to kettle us, but each time failed to enclose more than a hundred or so protesters, meaning there were others elsewhere they had to worry about -- it was as if we turned them into the world's worst cadres of sheepdogs.
The whole day felt like dissent as directed by Molière: you'd peek down narrow side streets and see groups of protesters running the opposite way down a parallel street; or lose the group you were with, stand there furrowing your brow over Twitter for a minute, only to look up and see several thousand chanting youngsters marching towards you. How'd that line go, about first time as tragedy, second time as farce? Well let's not be too dismissive of farce, not least because it's more effective than tragedy: we caused ten times as much disruption, and made ten times as many people aware of our cause than if we'd marched straight into a kettle. 'I just saw you march past my office window!' a friend texted me at one point -- it was that kind of day.