A personal account of the G20 protests
After months of speculation, pages and pages worth of hype and the rousing sentiment, it was finally here, April 1st 2009, or ‘Financial Fools Day’ as it had been dubbed. For me, the day began in a park in east London, 10 minutes or so from Bishopsgate, the location of the G20 climate camp, playing the waiting game. News was trickling in from various sources about the other actions engulfing the city, these reports inherently sketchy and often contradicted each other, some said it had started to ‘kick off’ at Bank, others claimed the protesters at London Bridge, a demonstration I very nearly joined, had been ‘kettled in’ by police. One thing was clear, I was itching to be part of the action.
We waited patiently for the minutes, seconds and hours to converge to 12:30, when our group of young anarchists would sweep through the city of London, and join the activities outside the Climate Exchange. For entertainment we had Tina, an archaic boombox, who treated us to some fantastic punk and hip hop tunes, our spirits were high and the time was ticking ever closer.
After what seemed like an eternity, it was time, we were ready and the message was clear: being the elected official of an undemocratic society gives the G20 ‘leaders’ no legitimate right to rule, we were taking to the streets to show them that, despite their best efforts, we would not be spoken for in a large conference centre in the Docklands, we were the issue they needed to address, and we wanted to make them listen in what ever way we could.
We reached Climate Camp to find it in full swing. Tents had been set up, people were passing out food (this involved a bucket full of incredible orange chocolate vegan cake) and the atmosphere was electric. It felt like a ‘reclaim the streets’ party, thousands of people at an unlicensed outdoor event in the middle of London, I hadn’t felt this optimistic about the movement in a long time.
Before long, from a vantage point atop a bus shelter, whilst dancing to Tina’s latest offereing: ‘Pressure Drop’ by Toots & Maytals, we noticed the police were trying to cordon us in at both ends. This was alarming, as I, as well as many others, don’t enjoy containment, we jumped to immediate action.
Breaking one of the two police lines, we instinctively called for climate campers to fill the space in between, figuring that if Climate Camp spilled past its initial confines, it would be much more difficult to police. Few people came. What followed was a horribly demoralising stand off between protesters and the Met police, who outnumbered us quite dramatically.
Engaging in what we believed was a relatively amicable conversation with the police, given the hype and the ’summer of rage’ rhetoric, we pleaded them not to kettle us in, we’d happily retreat we exclaimed, should we be given the chance to come and go as we pleased. What came next hit me like a tonne of bricks, but in retrospect was by no means surprising, a policeman grabbed the guy next to me and yelled aggressively, “I’m arresting for for obstructing a public highway”. It took a split second to sink in before a few of us made a valiant attempt to free our friend, it goes without saying that, given the numbers on each side, we were unsuccessful. The resulting scrape ending in another one of my friends getting arrested. At this point I was pulled aside by a legal observer to give a statement about what I saw. I am eternally grateful this happened, as, in the heat of the moment I don’t trust that I wouldn’t have done something I’d later regret.
On rejoining my friends I learnt that Sky News had broadcast our incident, proclaiming us, six or seven student activists, as the antagonists in all the ensuing trouble. A ridiculous statement, but amusing none the less. We headed for the convergence space, a squatted office building to plan our next move.
The previous day, we had learnt that there would be an attempt to occupy the University of East London in order to hold the ‘Alternative G20 summit’ which was a teach-in by primarily SWP (Socialist Workers Party) speakers, considering my personal politics, the event initially didn’t interest me, but upon hearing that UeL had closed its campus completely to stop it taking place, the thought of occupying the space seemed as if it could have positive reverbarations for the autonomous movement and further raise the profile of direct action to those who may previously been dubious towards its merits.
Unfortunately, after a getting lost looking for the place, we found there was to be no such occupation. Professor Chaos himself, Chris Knight, indicated we were to ‘knock on the door of the library’, which our group took to be a euphemism. It wasn’t. Predictably, they didn’t let us in, so they opted to hold the ’summit’ outside, I, at this point, lost all interest and headed back towards the city.
Upon my return I found the city in lockdown, protesters were kettled in, lots people detained, feeling helpless I scouted the protests looking for an entry, to no avail. Having received word that another friend had been arrested, only to be de-arrested by, what he described as, a ‘group of punks’, I conceded defeat in my attempt to rejoin the action. We elected to head back to the Earl street convergence space, reconvene, exchange stories, and get some all important rest.
April 1st 2009 will go down in history as the day thousands of young people were radicalised. In my opinion it was a successful day, and incredibly fun to be a part of.