Crash, Bang, Wallop, Wot A Picture
Eyewitnesses at the N30 anti-capitalist demonstration at Euston Station report that one individual in particular sparked violence before rapidly leaving the scene. Anthony Fielding saw first hand how the trouble started and his testimony makes for a sobering read.
It was a good turn out, for a cold winter's evening. The Carnival Against Capitalism part 2. On the same day as the World Trade Organisation held its big meeting in Seattle, a large public meeting outside Euston station voiced dissent against global corporate control. People from all walks of life were there.
At 5 pm, there was the initial influx of protesters, drumming and dancing, good vibes, a party atmosphere. Sometime around 6 pm, the speakers started. The positive vibes continued, but some hecklers were shouting various remarks. Most of the crowd ignored this. After the speakers had finished, we were treated to a song, and then back to the drumming. Some of the crowd dispersed.
I took a walk around to soak up some positive vibes, and noticed a man wearing a hood and scarf round his face, kicking and shouting at three regular policemen. They shrugged it off, and were not provoked. As his violence increased, so the policemen defended themselves, but without force. I have seen police brutality many times, but this was the model of restraint. It was obvious that his actions were to provoke a response, and in turn, an excuse for a ruck. I shouted at him to stop, getting in the middle of it; either one of us could have walked away, without police interference. I thought that the majority of people in the area would have agreed with me; that this was just one guy, with a problem, and nothing more. But within 60 seconds, the police were moving away, and a charge of protesters were coming at them, spurred on by this guy's cries of "come on then".
The masked man who started the whole thing off, dipped out of the crowd, before reaching the police at the other end and left the scene. The riot had started, and took its usual course. A van was left in the area of the protest and the bait was taken. Some people tried to persuade the "mob" to leave it alone. Most people stood silent. There were cameras everywhere. Only the rioters and the curious remained. The van was smashed up and set alight and as the fumes overtook the area, I noticed a group of riot police appearing on the left. It looked like a good time to leave. I headed into the small park-like area and got out on the far side. I heard from a friend who didn't get out, that the riot police did "snatch and grab" missions into the crowd later for specific people caught on camera.
If the rioters thought they could achieve anything positive by fighting the police, their energy was misplaced. All that was achieved by starting a riot was to create a story, with pictures, discrediting the protesters, their efforts, and the issues. There is a lot of good footage to discredit the protest, when a van is set alight by a group of "anarchists" or "hardcore trouble makers", to give them their media friendly titles. It was no surprise that the burning van was front page news.
Multi-national companies, the target of the protest, try to discredit activists who take direct action against them, as "thugs" or "terrorists". These same companies influence the majority of people in this country every day, through the newspapers and television stations they control. Many people base their opinions and decisions upon information received from these sources. If there is a riot at a protest, all that is reported and remembered is the riot. As it is obvious that violence at a protest, redirects attention away from the protest itself, then could we not conclude, that the people responsible for starting this and other riots, are doing so to lessen the impact of the direct action itself? It's possible that these people who start and maintain riots, are not sympathetic to the efforts of the particular pressure groups who are involved in the protest.
I was there at the very start of the trouble. I saw one lone man kicking and shouting at passive police officers who were not being threatening in any way. They were unarmed, and not fighting back after having been attacked by this one lone man. Due to the crowd's automatic association of "them" and "us", the police were rushed by the crowd. The imagery of violence against the police force, coupled with the cries of "come on then", led an otherwise peaceful gathering into an unprovoked attack on the police. Let's not forget that there were more than enough riot police, with full body armour, shields, batons and a strategic advantage. With the area of the protest surrounded, they too were just waiting for the excuse to fight. In a combustible atmosphere such as this all you need is the spark, to set off the flames. But who would want to turn a party into a riot? The police in Seattle were seen to be out of hand, because they were fighting a predominanltly peaceful gathering. The police in Euston, on the other hand, were seen to be "dealing with a situation". The rioters handed them the excuse they needed, to legally beat the shit out of anyone in the area. During the worst of the fighting, I stood under a tree a good distance from the action, where I remained still and silent. This was, it seemed, too much provocation for some of the riot police, who came and battered me around the body, whilst insisting that I "fuck off". I wondered to myself, "where do they want me to fuck off to?", as people were being attacked by the police for trying to leave the area!
If the people at the protests spoke out more, to defend their right to protest and to be heard, without interference from destructive elements, then the pressure would be in favour of peaceful protest. It is interesting to note that everytime the rioters stopped, the drummers started, and everytime the rioters started again, the drummers stopped. There is a difference between civil disobedience and violence directed against symbols of authority. Fighting police and burning vehicles directs attention away from the objective of the protest. It also helps the Government to pass new laws to deal with "public order".
There are going to be more laws passed to constrict our already limited "freedom", justified to the media attentive public with film footage of June 18 and November 30 showing only the fighting and the burning vehicles. The more violence there is the stronger support there will be for extra police powers and more public order laws. The most effective weapon, is information. At present, it looks like the majority of people are still waiting for the "truth" (whatever that may be), to be delivered to their homes, in easy to digest forms, through newspapers and television. Whilst this is far from ideal, it is the way it is; and when protests turn into riots, it turns peoples attention away from the issues at hand and alienates the very people we need to support us! The corporate interests have no worries in the propaganda war, as long as the so called "hardcore", keep feeding the media mind control machine with enough ammunition to effectively neutralise our voice. The most important people to reach, are those who don't protest, those who are unaware of the issues, and those who are part of the corporate political system, including the police.
TRADE OFFISH - the build-up to WTO Summit in Seattle - Nov-1999