Let me set the scene. I got home from work, aerobics (yes, really), the walk home and the supermarket just after seven. I checked the BBC's Live Text reports of the City thing and as it seemed largely OK, I decided to walk over. I left all my stuff except my keys and my phone at home and moseyed on over. I was honestly surprised to see that everything was business as usual in most places: wankers cluttering the pavements outside the pubs on Liverpool Street, forcing me to walk in the road. I could see that there were police vans on Bishopsgate from Wormwood Street so I chose to continue in the direction I'd walked from Liverpool Street, that is down Old Broad Street. For the uninitiated, this street leads to Threadneedle Street... which is where the Bank of England is.
I got momentarily distracted by two guys walking in front of me, because one looked a lot like Dean Winchester from behind and the guy with him was relatively as tall to him as Sam Winchester... and they both had big ol' holdalls which could've just as easily had Demon Fighting Kit inside as gym stuff (my guess as to the real answer). What made this more distracting was the fact that, as I noticed this, I passed by Great Winchester Street. Trufax, as the ONTD kids say.
There was a police cordon on Old Broad Street well away from the ruckus and consequently was very calm and collected. Some poor bastard from a food company had received an order from one of the offices within the cordon and was trying to get past to deliver - those idiot office people should've got food in earlier in the day. Anyway, the police then moved us (a gathering of maybe 20 bystanders) further away, and I watched as they took a few people off in police vans - including one who was yelling very loudly that he was being hurt by them when he you know, wasn't. At that point I thought to myself "well, the sight of a dozen police officers marching forwards like that is pretty spooky', but they moved off well away and we were not moved off any further. Nothing else was going on. At this point, I might have been sensible to turn around, go back down Old Broad Street and walk home the way I came.
Instead, I walked to the east, and without entirely realising, crossed between cordons. I found myself in the upper part of Lombard Street, which I found bizarre - to be that close to the 'action' and not bothered. I got distracted trying to get through one of those infamous City alleys - Change Alley, which took me back to where I'd just been except that the police were preventing us (I was not the only one wandering the streets) moving north/west-ish again, which is where I needed to be to go home.
I assume more than definitely remember that I ended up in Bell Inn Yard, because I don't think I walked all the way up Lombard Street to Gracechurch Street, which I did get to.
Pause to think 'Hmm, wonder what Mr Gardiner would think' because I've, you know, read Pride and Prejudice.
Then I saw that something was happening at an intersection and I walked up past Leadenhall Market, along with people with cameras and video cameras. It was a darker vibe than at Old Broad Street - these were largely protesters, not observers. I didn't realise until I reached the intersection of Cornhill, Bishopsgate and Leadenhall Street that all roads but the one I'd just come up were blocked by the riot police. I paused longer than I should've to look around and then tried to ascertain if Leadenhall Street was definitely blocked - it was not clear with the people around. Drums or something were being bashed, people were shouting. Some people were in masks. Some were drinking. I thought 'worst case, I'll duck up Leadenhall Market'. Someone had set some paper alight in front of the riot police, too.
Unfortunately, the three streets were blocked and as I tried to remove myself back up Gracechurch Street, something happened and the hardcore there took off that way. Riot police moved in - clumsily, I thought, which panicked people, and was messy. I ended up in the space between an office door and the street with a handful of other people (mostly well behaved but lairy) and unable to move because there were riot police behind and in front. These chaps sorted themselves out enough to let us pass through back to Gracechurch Street and, it not being my fight, I resolved to extricate myself from the situation. My thought was not of fear (i never felt truly unsafe, partly because I was firm in the knowledge that I hadn't done anything wrong myself) but 'this is not my fight'.
Police were now blocking off Leadenhall Market too, so I thought to just walk back the way I came. Lots of people around, I used my well-honed commuter dodging skills. Something set some of them off again so I took off in a run to the end of the street. Then I walked up Fenchurch Street (quiet but not deserted) to Aldgate, where I then ducked back down Duke's Place in order to not walk the really long way home. Ducked around a little more and found myself on the corner of Houndsditch and Bishopsgate right near Liverpool Street.
At this point, I could've again just gone directly home but I could see that the north point of the protest was nearby (I'd skirted by it at the start of this 'adventure') and I wanted to see. All the way through this, I wanted to see, whether for curiosity or just the plain truth of my own sight, I couldn't tell you straight off.
From there, although the police cordon was wicked tight (vans and people), it felt much more peaceable, more like Glastonbury - but I could only see the top of the hippie banners from where I was. And then in the end, I went back down Wormwood Street, went through Finsbury Circus and saw the thing that made me angriest of all:
Two City types, leaning against the wall of the Circus, pissing. How dare they? Finsbury Circus is such a nice, pretty place and they were just pissing against the wall. Not crusty protesters, guys in suits. Total merchant bankers, I bet.
At this point, I'd like to say that I don't necessarily agree with protests like this anyway. I was firmly on the fence, firmly neutral the whole time. I don't believe direct action is particularly effective and as was seen today, conflicts often with my true and deep belief that only peaceful and nonviolent protest truly works in the short and long term. More than that, as Rachel pointed out, it's rather anti the whole damn point of democracy.
More than that, the constant helicopter drone in the sky is starting to irritate me. Don't they know I'm trying to watch Supernatural?
- If you want to protest something, if you want to stand up and be counted, don't wear a fucking mask. Have the courage of your convictions.
- If you want to protest something, you surrender the moral high ground when you are violent or allow other protesters to be violent.
- If you want to protest something, make damn sure that you exhausted all the possible democratic avenues before resorting to such protesting because remember: although you think you're right, other people might not and they have a democratic right to not support you. You don't represent everyone unless everyone has lent you their support.
- Did I mention the 'don't resort to violence' thing?
That it was on my doorstep mattered to me. I think I needed to see for myself that it wasn't hell on earth or total anarchy or a complete violation of human rights because it was my own doorstep. The north end of the protest, that's a five minute walk from here. This is my home and despite my lack of tidying and regular cleaning, I am fiercely proud and protective of it. You don't get to come and threaten it without me at least finding out how much of a danger you are to me.
Wandering through all that stuff? Not the wisest thing I ever did, but I think I had to. Partly to understand how these things really work for my comic, partly to satisfy myself that my home was safe. What I would've done if my home wasn't safe? Not sure.
I've been reading Che Guevara's works lately - I read Reminiscences last month, pored over Guerilla Warfare and am starting the Bolivian Diaries... and for all I agree in some ways, the methodology just isn't... right. Not for a country that is essentially democratic like this one, although our Prime Minister was only voted for by the people of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, and then only 24,278 of them. But I do have ways and means of objecting to this without putting chairs through windows.
I just can't bring myself to agree with the way in which the protest is being conducted. I think it may be worse tomorrow at ExCel, but that's not my home.
I now return you to your regularly scheduled dead-musicians-blather.