Tomorrow, when tonight’s BBC London news is up on iPlayer, I’ll do a post on Camden School for Girls and our high profile walk-out campaign – a triumph of peaceful protest. In the meantime, you can see the letter we wrote to teachers explaining why we walked out. I may have even had a hand in it myself….
But there are a couple of things I’d like to reflect on first about the protests generally.
The protest was my first experience of this tactic, and a most unpleasant one it was. Protest is about people congregating of their own will, and sometimes giving others no choice in having to confront the arguments against them. This was why we marched down Whitehall earlier. Kettling is generally considered to be about containment, and stopping the spread of a crowd when it – or more frequently, some of its members – get(s) out of hand.
But authorities can take advantage of its deep psychological, and political impacts. First, it stops protest being voluntary and in the control of those protesting, in some ways destroying the message of the movement. Second, and perhaps more importantly, as I found out today, it is a horrible feeling. A feeling of entrapment and imprisonment, one which arguably can dissuade protestors from taking to the streets again. Really, while of course the police must deal with individual incidents of violence, they should be more socially responsible and think about the impact of their actions.
But third, and most important of all, kettling makes protestors want to get out of the area of protest. Natural if you’re being trapped there. But the point of the protest today was for us all to congregate and show our anger at what the government – based on Whitehall – are doing. In short, the point was to be in Whitehall, and not to want to escape it. So the tactic is worryingly effective – rather than forcing people to disperse, it actually makes them want to. Reminds me Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, where Winston is sceptical of O’Brien being able to make him love Big Brother, although the Party does in fact eventually succeed.
2. The Van
If you saw the news coverage of the protests, it’s impossible you didn’t see or hear about The Van. The Van was a white Ford Transit-style object that somehow found its way into the middle of Whitehall, and got smashed to pieces by a small number of protestors. From the view of vandalism, not one which I subscribe to, today’s protest was perhaps pathetic compared to Millbank – rather than smashing up the lobby of the party of government, protestors destroyed a bus stop and a van. A bus stop and a van. Impressed?
But, as many asked today, why was The Van left right in the middle of Whitehall? Any fool could have predicted what happened. And many I spoke to today felt that perhaps they did, and that The Van was in fact:
(a) a sacrifice;
(b) a distraction; or
(c) a provocation so that police would have an excuse for kettling and the ability to dismiss the protests as mindless violence
I have to say, I did have to think about this after realising that The Van was the only van of its kind around Whitehall. All the others – positioned behind the kettle lines rather than in the middle of the action – seemed to be the very latest variant of silver “Black Maria”, in contrast to the van’s modest white and fairly flimsy nature. So if The Van was a sacrifice, it was one akin to a political party sacrificing an elder statesman on the basis that they don’t have much longer to live, and therefore their reputation doesn’t matter.
3. ‘Provisions’ within the kettle
When the media referred to the police’s kettling techniques, they stressed that they were bringing portaloos and bottled water to the rescue to avoid violation of human rights.
However, this was far from my experience.
- One person told me of being refused access by police to the portaloos
- Another was offered a solution to needing the loo I won’t repeat in writing, it was that disgraceful
- I heard of bottled water making its way around the very front lines, but back where I was, there seemed to be no sign of it at all
Not really acceptable when you’re holding people in near-freezing temperatures for 7 hours when they have committed no crime at all – my experience. I sympathise wholeheartedly with individual police officers, themselves facing huge cutbacks, but as far as the force as a whole is concerned, I expected better.