Sunday, 14 November 2010


Much brouhaha surrounding the latest student protest, needless to say. As a Twitter follower of the Climate Camp group, with their tweets scheduled to be sent to my phone (alas, I am not yet among the iPhoners or Androiders) I do get to hear fairly quickly about any crusty related activity which might be kicking off. I also subscribe to the Westminster area Community Safe updates (wherein I receive simultaneous emails and SMSs relating to any 'activity' of interest to Plod, other public bodies and local businesses) so was getting it from all angles as the saga unfolded at Millbank Tower.

Climate Camp recently posted a nostalgia piece about Reclaim the Streets, referring to it as something along the lines of all-time great direct action movements. It would be hard to disagree, based on the testimony of a, shall we say, close friend who attended two of the actions back in the 90s. One (links here to Wikipedia and the organisation's own website) on the M41 in Shepherd's Bush in 1996 and one (annoyingly not listed on Wikipedia) at Tottenham High Road in 1998 (for the sharp eyed among you, there may be some repeated information coming up).

The second one ended up getting very nasty, though my 'friend' lived in the area at the time, and was in bed sleeping off the Special Brew by the time the riot police moved in to clear the hardcore elements out.

Prior to that, he says, the action was a truly marvellous thing, beginning with a Critical Mass ride at Euston and spiralling on to the closure of the main road north through Tottenham by dint of two trashed cars and thousands upon thousands of cyclists and pedestrians. In his memory, it was a gloriously hot day, and the usual sound systems, drum banging and alcohol consumption carried on through the afternoon. However, the locals (despite the shopkeepers doubtless selling out of beer and ice cream) grumbled about the noise a little (this was Tottenham, remember - not the kind of place that usually minds about a bit of loud music and rioting)  and when the agents of Mordor did move in with their happy sticks, there was some tutting about the whole thing.

The A41 action was quite a different story. This was not taking place in any sort of community, but had suddenly burst into life on the elevated section of a motorway. Some people had managed to get sofas on the road, and had set up a living room, where they sat and decorously sipped at their cans. The Old Bill were happy enough on a (once again sunny - what good luck my firend has had on his anarchistic days out) Saturday afternoon to stand back and allow things to fizzle out. The distance to a source of booze was proving to be something of a dampener, and as dusk began to fall, my friend felt that he would rather have gone home, but his acquaintance - a little more of a committed class warrior - felt that it was important to stay, in case there was an opportunity to throw bricks at a policeman.

Well, as evening fell, my friend began to feel a little uncomfortable, and this was not a result of the large police presence, which was by now ramping itself up and preparing for a big push. No, this feeling was caused by the sight of some shadowy figures creeping across the waste ground from the huge blocks of flats that loomed over the M41. These were the locals. And they seemed to have it in mind that those cavorting around with dreadlocks and rainbow flags were not welcome in their part of London. It was fear of these feral gangs (along with a thirst) which ultimately drove my friend to tiptoe out through the cordons (this was the pre-kettling era) and skulk home. And this, in a way, seems to sum up some of the reaction to the students' little party.

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