Cracked Heads on Threadneedle Street
Chelsea seemed quiet as I come of the Albert Bridge on my usual cycle to work on Wednesday April 1st. A little strange I thought, and somewhat unlikely to be connected to what was set to unfold in the east of the city in the square mile of corporation headquarters, insurance brokers and of course, banks. Maybe though, the rich folks (many of whom live here and undoubtedly draw their living from the City) were cautious; deciding to park their Range Rovers and Porsches elsewhere than the crowded network of backstreets on a day such as today. Maybe they wanted to stay right out of it? Maybe I should have too.
These days I am more of the opinion that protesting, although necessary as a display of sentiment, achieves little in terms of tangible results; the mainstream media are hyper quick to pick up and focus on the slightest negative element, bystanders, or those too lethargic to see the need for change condemn those that actually do stand up, and all too often the point of the event gets dismissed as 'actions of the misguided'. I've come to believe that using creativity and the desire for change at the community level is the best material with which to mould a vision of the future; that's why I'm part of a transition town initiative ongoing in the south of the city.
Nevertheless, I felt that I really did need to witness the G20 protests seeing as I was already on the ground a mere 6 miles from the epicentre -- even if I didn't want to take part (I was directly involved in every single anti-war march in 2002 and 2003 in London and was severely disillusioned after our failure then). I left the office at 11.00am and made my way to the Underground.
The District Line was void of protesters but instead full of the most evident group of individuals I have ever seen. Red cords and moccasins abounded under fixedly read copies of the pink FT. These young city folk fool no one.
Coming up at Moorgate, it seems I was just in time to see the beginning of an anti-war march arriving at the Bank of England. A gentleman in a bowler (Derby) was marching intently towards them but I honestly think it must have been an attempt at goading, no matter what Sky news (who seemed to be getting pretty excited by the prospect of conflict) might think; besides no one wears hats like those around here anymore. Seems some are taking the opportunity to achieve their 15 minutes of fame.
Moving on down London Wall I got to the back of the climate change march near Liverpool Street station, behind a large banner emblazoned 'consumers suck' (should have been 'consumerism' but I appreciate the thought). While we were moving it was all smiles and fun, waving to the office workers high up behind steel and glass who were having an easy day because of the protests (I have to count myself in that bracket too), at least Starbucks was empty, although the doors were open, which made the other stores boarded up in the street look a little melodramatic. The streets were lined with a surreal amount of photographers and journalists so walking past them was a little like being present at the Leicester Square premiere of the latest. Tom Cruise flick.
The crowd was made up of Salvation Army, black clad Anarchists, some of which are known as the Space Hijackers, old ladies, dreadlocked activists, young families, skinheads (chanting racists torments), business men (that's right), environmentalists, spectators with mobile phones and other elements; I got the impression that the Metropolitan police were manipulating the crowd and directing the media in ways that suited them. In my experience you get the same demographic within the security services and you get with the activists: some are polite and good natured, other dark, brooding and given to violent outbursts.
On Threadneedle Street (where the ‘Old Lady' -- Bank of England -- sits) many people were met by a large contingent of police officers seemingly intent on preventing them from getting to the climate camp that had spontaneously blossomed in the main City artery of Bishopsgate, "It's our street, it's our street," the crowd chanted as it was forced forward on to the line.
Regardless of what the media blare out, the climate camp event was a marvelously good natured, peaceful affair. Within minutes of the protestors' arrival the street was blocked off, banners hung, stalls erected and performances commenced -- a political rave right there in the middle of the cathedral to Capitalism, with dancing, speeches and celebrities arriving to wish demonstrators good luck and expound their views, artists doing their best to portray their vision of the world, and people simply wanting to get involved.
The surreal scene was contrasted with streams of injured demonstrators passing by with cracked heads and bleeding hands, scrapes and cuts, whilst people handed out plastic containers of milk and bottles of water to wash away the peppers spray and sooth the scars. At times it seems as if for every genuine protester, there were 5 times as many police and an audience bloggers, tweeters and photographers.
The crowd whispered, the crowd strained and yawed within its confines down on Queen Victoria street to the west of the Old Lady. People yelled into mobile phone, stories were exchanged, victories bragged, torments voiced, slogans ranted at the yellow bright jacketed Met. Rumours of trouble abounded. Vandalism unfolded, but even if they managed to smash every window in the city, the cost would only be a fraction of what we're billed every day of our lives.
The crowd mentality though, is a fickle instrument always ready to turn on any perceived menace (real or otherwise), and I wondered how much more cajoling it could take from the horse-backed charges of the police and their attempts to disperse us. I never saw such anger on an anti-war march. A girl is dragged away, her face a bloody mask.
I left. On the tube on the way back I reflected on the 6 hours I had just spent in crazy madness. London is a jewel of a city, an amphitheatre where a thousand years of human drama have been given voice, and I was proud that the spirit was still there -- years of media disinformation had done nothing to diminish it yet. Of course, in any such event there are inevitably a thousand voices with a thousand agendas, and you could argue that this diminishes the effect. However, as a collective outpouring it was obviously necessary; denied any meaningful representation by politicians and deprived of media with any semblance of veracity, what else could we do? Stand by whilst the coffers continued to be drained in for a dead-end destructive cause? Continue to participate and perpetuate a game only a few believe in now?
No, I'll throw my money in with the Wat Tylers of this land. I'm not sure if all our of collective crimes add up to these islands ever deserving the epithet 'Great', but I do know that the ever-burgeoning desire for change, that has always characterized the best of us in these lands, will surely one day make us so.