Monday, 28 March 2011

Image of the week #9... and then some.

On Saturday, I bravely took my new toy to the demonstration against the spending cuts. It's always tricky to take interesting photographs at demos... they all begin to look the same. But, to me, this is my most successful shot of that day;  a cut out of our prime minister being used as a mask, with the protestors on the awning of Fortnum & Mason's in the background. This is what he has reduced us to doing.

I know this is not photography focused, but I want to take this opportunity to voice my thoughts on the demo on Saturday. I joined the initial TUC march with 250,000 other people - an amazing turnout and there was a great atmosphere. A completely peaceful protest which showed solidarity and showed the discontent of the people.

While on the march, we got a tip-off that ukuncut were planning an occupation at 3.30 at Oxford Circus. I had heard of the group before, as I follow them on twitter; they perform peaceful occupations of stores and banks who evade tax. They are offering the Government an alternative to the spending cuts, saying that if Philip Green from Topshop and BHS, or Barclays Bank etc, paid their tax in full, the spending cuts wouldn't need to occur. I support this sentiment, and so once we arrived in Hyde Park we headed down Oxford Street to see what was going on.

Central London with the streets shut to cars is really quite something. There is an eerie silence (even with the hoots and whistles of the protesters). Oxford St had sort of become an outdoor arena for street performers and impromptu theatre acts. The crowd were much younger, and many groups were dressed up as clowns, and other forms of fancy dress. The atmosphere was quite carnivalesque. However, I noticed an underlying edginess; quite a few groups were all dressed in black, with black face rags and hoods, and seemed quite threatening. I have since learned that these people are instigating what is known as black bloc tactics; vandalism, rioting and street fighting. They do not belong to any particular group, and are not necessarily united with any beliefs, although they are usually out to get capitalist banks and corporations.

Towards Oxford Circus, BHS and Topshop had already been closed (not occupied) and police were standing guard. A group had gathered on the Circus, and soon we were given a little slip of paper with the instruction "you follow blue". Sure enough, there was a blue flag, and we followed it (along with the red and green flags) down Regents St and into Piccadilly. This was the ukuncut protest; to occupy a building which had been evading tax. Little did anyone suspect this was going to be Fortnum & Mason's.

My friend and I got separated at this point; he entered the store and I was left outside. The crowd was cheering and pushing, but it didn't feel threatening. The police soon barricaded the store, so protesters climbed up the pipes to get onto the awning. Fortnum & Mason's had been officially occupied, and it transpired that the owner does owe thousands of pounds in tax to the Govt. I hung around for 2 or 3 hours outside there, with another friend of mine; the scene was compelling... so many photographers, protesters of all ages, policemen... it was fascinating. Once the crowd began to diffuse due to tactics employed by the police Piccadilly felt almost apocalyptic; empty, with just rubbish on the floor and the remnants of smoke bombs in the air.

My friend and I had been in touch regularly throughout his occupation. When I saw the people leaving the store, they were being handcuffed and searched. I called him to warn him and he said the police inside had been told they were not going to be arrested. Well, they were... my friend spent 22 hours in a cell in Lewisham Police Station, and has been charged with trespassing. Communication between police inside the store and outside broke down completely; there is a good article in The Independent about it here. And I think these arrests aren't fair; the occupants of F&M did not damage anything, they didn't steal anything or harm anyone. They are just using their voice, which, last time I checked, was a human right.

The problem I have with the way the media has covered this story is this; they are getting the protestors of ukuncut confused with the black bloc group. Ukuncut is a peaceful protest which doesn't just oppose the Government, as the Unions do, but offers an alternative. And this is really important. The black bloc group, on the other hand, I suspect are just out for a fight, with no real purpose or message.

Being present at the protests on Saturday has made me aware of the power of the people, and it has made me think of the Middle East, especially Egypt, and how exciting it must have been to actually succeed in bringing down a Government. It is my belief that this shouldn't be the end of protests; we need to be a bit more French about the whole thing and really show how we feel. Many of my good friends have children, and, if we want them to be able to grow up in a fair society where they can have a good education and not worry about Health fees, it is now we need to say so.


  1. ., I hope lots of folks will read your text & pics. I note the vast majority of the media described Ukuncut & other groups as thugs and hooligans. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that THE vast majority of these courageous young folk are "thinking" youngsters.., one of the thoughts will be Uni fees of ? £70,000 and the lack of jobs for new graduates. There is the bigger issue of how we & the Yanks etc acquired these massive deficits. The "£/$ cost of war" is cumulative and 'The Banking Brotherhood@ have been making baziliions from them ever since the original Rotschilds made a fortune lending and "speculating" on the Napoleon /Wellington war of 1820... its ALL ther on youtube folks ...It's going to be a proptest summer & Cameron & Sarkozy will not get the same reaction to their warmongering that the Iron Lady Thatcher did in 1982. Make love not war....

  2. Well put you two and nice to see some common sense coming through in the press today...


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