An interesting and depressing wee chapter of history. The police response - massively redundant numbers of officers, vans and horses, the decision to leave McDonald's unguarded when people were obviously going to want to smash it, the trapping of thousands of people without food, water or explanation for hours on end - all seemed completely insane from the point of view of maintaining public order and at best dubious from a human rights perspective.
On the other hand, from the point of view of making the protestors look bad and putting people off turning up for future demos, the response was pure, ruthless genius.
Here is a song I wrote about the day. A more journalistic sort of account, with photos, can be found at http://oolong.co.uk/may2000.htm
The Ballad of May Day 2000
On the first of May Two Thousand
We Reclaimed Parliament Square,
Planted blooms and used our trowels and
Redeveloped Churchill's hair.
Then some guys smashed McDonald's
And the little shop next door
And the police in their riot gear
Decided this meant war
So they drove us out of Whitehall
Trapped us in Trafalgar Square
As if our society might fall
If they didn't keep us there.
So we sat round Nelson's Column
Smoking spliffs and drinking beer
While police stood looking solemn,
Immune to all the cheer.
Their line got slowly nearer
As we chilled out in the sun
And they made it ever-clearer
They didn't want us having fun.
They blocked off all the corners
So we had nowhere to pee
And they tried hard to ignore us
When we asked why we weren't free.
Then they drove off the ice-cream vans
So we had nothing to drink
Except whatever beer cans
We had - clever, don't you think?
Then they drove us from the platform
So we had nowhere to sit
What did they do that for?
Just to piss us off a bit.
So we stood around for hours,
Wondering when they'd set us free
While policemen gave us glowers
Let us out in twos and threes.
When I finally left the Square
I was longing for my home
For the food and toilets there
And a bath-tub of my own.
But it wasn't yet to be
They had closed off all the stations
No bath-tub, then, for me
And no food or relaxation.
So I crossed the nearest bridge
Passed a drunkard smashing cars
He was causing lots of breakage
But he can't have got too far
The police were waiting for us
When I reached the other side
For three more hours they would bore us
As the air grew cold outside.
They marched us through the dark streets
At a slow and halting pace
Still no drink and no thing to eat
Shuffling from place to place.
Eventually we reached a stop
In Kennington somewhere
Opposite a grocer's shop
No food for us from there.
Then we sat there for an hour
With policemen all around:
In some strange game of power
We got lost and we were found.
The tragedy of Mayday:
For the hypocrites who say they
Are defenders of the free.
Well well... I do believe I've just been hit by first response writeup (Noung
's, below). Let me see if I can clear some of this up quickly...
In the 2002 year, Reclaim the Streets was well publicized. Every major news outlet was broadcasting the point of the riots, and discussions even took place on the merits of the protestors' views.
...in sharp contradistinction to 2000
, when none of the arguments of the protestors were presented at all - also in sharp contrast to practically every other major demonstration which has happened in the last few years. Presumably, the media actually bothered to report the protestors' side of things this time round because they realised the portrayal of the demonstrators as mindless thugs bent on the destruction of our nation didn't wash with a lot of their audience - and they knew their usual tactic, of ignoring the demonstrations entirely or giving them a paragraph or two on page six - wouldn't work given so much publicity.
If you get nutcases like that at an event, people who think that destroying private property - a morally and legally repellent act - is alright, then of course the police want to be there.
Well, there's accepting that they should be there, and then there's accepting that it was a good idea, and proportional
, to have more police at the event than at any other in recent British history
. I, for one, do not stretch to the second of these.
It's all too easy after-the-fact to say "Those fucking fascist pigs were provoking us, we had no choice but to attack them!", but that's just logical bullshit. If you get the sort of people at these events who are going to harm property, and who see officers of the law as a "tool of oppression", then things are going to get broken. People might even be killed. The police presence helps minimise this.
That depends very much on what the police do, my friend.
As for "human rights abuses" - I'm sorry, but if you go around smashing property and rioting, you lose the right to total comfort for a few hours.
Did you mean to write you and all those who happen to be standing anywhere near you
, or is this just a red herring
Why should the taxpayer pay for food and water to be provided to these fringe elements of society, whose stated goal is to bring down that society?
Who's asking the taxpayer to pay? They didn't have to drive off that ice cream van; and water is hardly an expensive resource. 'Fringe elements of society
'? Does the fact that they got up to protest at an event which was also attended by shop-smashing drunkards mean it is right to deprive them of basic human needs without explanation for hours on end?
This is not an abuse of your right to free speech.
I don't say it was. What I do say is that the British media's systematic non-reporting or under-reporting of peaceful demonstrations amounts to a deliberate disenfranchisement of those who are not happy with the status quo or the options provided by mainstream political parties
This is not an abuse of your right to assemble peacefully.
Uh... you'll have to go over that one again. I assembled peacefully, which directly resulted in my being detained without charge, without my basic human needs seen to, without any word of explanation despite asking with some persistence why we were being held. And my right to assemble peacefully was not infringed
by any of this?
This is a protection to stop you abusing the rights of other citizens. And I'm sorry, but whatever you think, you're not speaking the consensus, and most people do not agree with you. And they don't need you telling them they're wrong
There is no consensus. But many, many people are deeply unhappy with the way Britain
and the world at large
are going, and our country's political machinery does shamefully little to represent our voices.
Why won't it wash if everyone's being indoctrinated into thinking it by the lack of coverage before? Surely if the media have to change their coverage to show the protestors' point of view because people realise it may be valid, then you have nothing to complain about.
Well... except the grotesque distortions in the original coverage (which, after all, is
what I was complaining about). Oh... and of course the ongoing policy in the mainstream media
of ignoring, playing down and/or massively misrepresenting any protest when they reckon they can get away with it.
You'd have preferred them to be understrength, so some of them got injured or killed as they were overwhelmed by protestors? You've yet to explain what the problem of a large police force at the event is, and the benefits are so incredibly plain I don't think I have to state them.
They didn't need anything like that number of police to deal safely with the protestors. The problem is, when you get thousands of police together in one place on a hot day with nothing much to do, especially when many of them would otherwise have been on leave (this being a bank holiday
), some of them get... restless
The police are there to intimidate potential trouble-makers and deal with trouble when it starts. It started. They sorted it.
Oh, is that
what happened? Here was me thinking that when the trouble started, they completely failed to stop further damage being done, and then hemmed in thousands of overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrators for hours on end, then blocked off almost all public transport that could have got them out of there when they finally set them free. At this point some of the protestors - whose mood, oddly enough, had not been improved by being hemmed into a small area for hours on end without food or water or toilets or explanation - started smashing things again.
Or is that what you meant by them 'sorting' the trouble?
What do you want the police to do, go around asking everyone "Excuse me sir, are you here to smash some shit today?" and then seperating them into two groups? The only way to sort it out is to herd everyone into one place and wait for it to calm down.
Except that herding everyone into one place is a really, really lousy way of getting them to calm down. Think about it. You don't defuse, let alone disperse a rowdy crowd by trapping them in one tight place. Why would anyone imagine for even a moment that that was a good way to calm people down?
If you go to this sort of event, were smashing is going to be taking place, you lose the right to whine about things like this afterwards. You weren't beaten, you weren't tied up, you were kept in one place for a short amount of time. Sure, it's good political capital for you to moan about, but it's barely a "human rights abuse".
So we lose our right to freedom of movement
by attending any demonstration which is also attended by troublemakers? You don't feel that there should be a presumption against arbitrary imprisonment and the denial of basic human needs for those who have not been convicted of any crime? Do I really need to say anything here about slippery slopes and the danger of assigning guilt by association
? The demonstration could easily have gone off without any property damage. I still believe that if the police had done the obvious thing and guarded that McDonald's it is very likely that it would have done.
Who else is going to pay if not the taxpayer? As for the ice cream van, that was hardly going to provide food for you all, was it? As for water hardly being an expensive resource... it still has a cost, as does the logistics of getting it in there.
So do the logistics of keeping that many officers on the beat. So do the problems caused by pissed off protestors who have just been made a good deal more pissed off by not having anything to eat or drink for several hours. We pay for water and food for those in prison. We have a responsibility to provide water, at the very least, to those whose liberty to get it themselves has been taken away. Get a frigging hose and a few plastic bottles in there if you need to. It's really not that difficult to keep a crowd from dehydration.
You were assembling with violent people. These violent people had to be stopped. The police could not differentiate easily between peaceful demonstrators and ones who might soon commit violent acts, therefore their only choice was to detain everyone. I'm sorry, but whatever your intentions, you were not part of a "peaceful assembly", you were part of a violent one. This was not your fault, but the measures taken by the police were entirely correct. It's not like they attacked you, or took you in and charged you with anything.
A tiny minority of the crowd was violent - somewhat less tiny after hours of being penned in, as one might expect, but even then still tiny compared to the numbers present. With such an overwhelming police presence, why were they unable to just arrest the known trouble makers without bringing several thousand other people into it?
What would you like it to do? If you and your people want to set up a political party, you can do it. Someone else would have done it by now. The truth is that it hasn't been done because there isn't enough support for it. They may as well set up an Objectivist party - there are just aren't enough people who agree with these "anti-capitalist" demonstrators.
Um... if you remember, the Labour Party
was set up as an anti-capitalist party. The Left is still reeling from having its flagship political party taken over by tories. And if you ask people who are informed about the sort of thing we've been protesting about - the policies of the World Bank
, the IMF
, the WTO
, the priority given to the car over every other form of transport, and so on - I think you will find that a large proportion actually do broadly agree with the protestors.
In any case, it is not really as if we have a shortage of truly anti-capitalist political parties - the Green Party, the Socialist Alliance, the Socialist Labour Party, the Socialist Workers Party, even the Scottish National Party all more or less agree with the aims of these demonstrations. That they don't meet with greater electoral success has as much to do with the failure of British 'democracy' to represent public opinion as it has to do with public opinion itself.
It's ironic that you expect the media - that symbol of capitalism - to raise awareness and support of your cause, when you could do it yourself. Start offering people alternatives and options and maybe you'll get somewhere.
? Like rain on your wedding day, you mean? What I expect - or rather, what I demand but don't expect to see at all - is even-handed coverage of demonstrations, with perhaps some mention of the many alternatives and options which are already being offered, if you actually look for them. And I want demonstrations to be reported on the grounds that they were attended by tens of thousands of people, even when they don't turn violent.
If these protests aren't working, stop moaning and do something else. A published good, factual summary of your aims and goals does a lot more than a bunch of people carry placards ever will.
As long as we're being slandered, I reserve the right to moan about it; in fact, I'd go so far as to say I have a duty to complain. I will continue to moan, too, when the voices of tens of thousands of protestors are simply ignored by the mainstream media for political reasons, as if they were too busy reporting on important stuff. There are plenty of good, published, factual summaries of the aims and goals of the anti-corporate-globalisation movement. I can point you towards some, if you like. But as long as the mainstream media grossly misrepresents the demonstrations themselves, I and others will continue to post our own accounts by way of counterpoint
, and I would ask you kindly not to complain when we do so, and when we defend ourselves against misrepresentation and oppressive, manifestly counterproductive policing.