Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Why only direct action can get the message through in London

From Saturday's edition of The Independent, we learn that "anarchist[s] and hardcore anti-capitalists" heading to London for the G20 summit have "promised to "storm" banks and target many of the luxury hotels where world leaders will stay." The Telegraph on Monday further elucidated that these same "hard-core anti-capitalist protesters" is planning "guerrilla-style" raids, "at some of London's most iconic buildings, including Canary Wharf and the BT Tower." The same articles, we hear the expected rhetoric from the police of how the protesters "will try to fight police in pitched battles," of "violent scenes" by "direct action blocs" and of the need to counter those "determined to evade traditional security arrangements."

BBC News further reported the claim, also with established precedent, from Met Commander Bob Broadhurst that the police's aim is to "facilitate lawful protest" which typically degenerates in confining protesters to a "special demonstration pen." The fact that protesters are herded into pens, and that police have previously used anti-terror legislation to "tackle" them tells us exactly how far their commitment to "facilitating lawful protest" really goes.

Further evidence of law enforcement attitudes towards the democratic right to protest can be seen in the aftermath of previous G20 summits. Melbourne Indymedia reported that "a group of 50 demonstrators were beaten and trampled by police during a peaceful anti-G20 protest inside the foyer of the Melbourne museum" during the Melbourne summit in 2006. The Australian socialist group Solidarity further tells us that there were "thirteen people arrested and charged with riot" as well as "another four people facing riot charges in the Children's Court" because "police are desperate to obtain convictions to justify their demonisation of the protest and their extraordinary use of police powers following the protest."

Similar scenes can be found across the globe - whether the source of the protest is the G20, the G8, Gaza, the murder of a teenager by police, or any other cause that draws mass anger and empathy. It is always reported that "protesters clash with police," but the simple fact is that more often than not it is the police who strike the first blow. Moving in on people who refuse to have their basic right to free assembly restricted to a specific area, who are too boisterous, or whom they simply don't like the look of, is all a part of the police commitment to "facilitating lawful protest."

But we should really be asking why, exactly, "lawful" protest needs to be "facilitated" in the first place. Is it, perhaps, because "lawful" protest allows itself to be confined to a "demonstration" pen, and invisible placard waving ultimately achieves nothing?

Given that the great mass movements for change have used "unlawful" methods - direct action, occupation, of buildings civil disobedience - and in doing so have succesfully brought about leaps forward in freedom and equality, I would guess the answer is yes. The state has a long history of opposing such movements, from the Suffragettes and the labour movement to Civil Rights, and it is only when forced by popular action that they relent the slightest concession of liberty.

The G20 summit is only happening in the first place because of the grave financial crisis we are facing. They are gathering not to find the best way to safeguard ordinary people from its worst effects, whatever their on-record rhetoric, but to prop up and revive the very capitalist institutions that wrought this mess in the first place.

Given the mass unrest that the situation has already caused, and the resultant rise in populist nationalism, it is long past time for rebellion and direct action against those who would repeat the cycle yet again.

UPDATE - 30/03/09

It seems that the police's commitment to "facilitate" protests is now beyond doubt. The Times today reveals that, in order to "deal with violent demonstrators" who are "likely to stir up trouble" by refusing to remain silent, hidden, and ineffectual, the Metropolitan police territorial support group who are "routinely armed with speedcuffs, extended batons and CS gas spray" will form the "centrepiece" of security arrangements. There will also be tasers available "should trouble break out."

That trouble should break out seems likely, in fact guaranteed, by police security arrangements, particularly their hostile and aggressive "centrepiece." But, of course, we must remember police assertions that their role is to keep the peace. That protest groups have reported on how "police had contacted them to warn that a day of protest in the City on Wednesday would be “very violent”" demonstrates exactly how detatched rhetoric is from reality.