Saturday 26th March 2011 saw up to 500,000 people march through London to send a message to Cameron and his Government that they’re appalled by the way savage cuts due to the worldwide recession, caused by the banking crisis, are seen to be unfair and are targeting the poor, sick, disabled, and the elderly the most. As the bankers are seen to still be getting large bonuses, and as big corporations are seen to be avoiding taxes, the people demand a different way!
Other groups such as UK Uncut, and the anarchist Black Bloc were also present and caused disruption.
The march had been organised by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) made up of many of the unions active here in Britain.
Myself and Gary traveled down to London on one of the coaches provided. Leaving at 7:30am, and arriving at Canary Wharf at 11:30am. We rushed with a couple of others for the train to get into the centre of London. A little after midday we were around Trafalgar Square. The march was well on the way by then so we took some quick photos and started to move on, only to get a call from a colleague and head back to Trafalgar Square.
Before we had chance to join back with the main march we spotted the anarchists gathering. With their red and black flags flying, and many wearing black with masks, we decided to follow the Black Bloc and see what they were up to.
We chose to stay in the crowd rather than hunt for the big “Glory” shot. With many photographers at an event like this just means getting in each others way. Sadly, with cameras at the ready, this can lead to photographers having an effect on the happenings at an event rather than just documenting them. Some people stand back and keep away from the cameras as they don’t want to be identified from the photos, and others have told us they feel pressure to do something once they see a gang of photographers waiting. I don’t mean to denigrate photographers here, as photojournalists have often shown great bravery to bring important stories from around the world.
Regardless of the photographers it soon became clear some were prepared to cause damage, the targets being mainly banks and those accused of tax avoidance, but also symbols of opulence. Most happened in Oxford Street and the surrounding streets. Although much it looked bad, there was never any threats to the public. The anarchists had their targets, and they only attacked them. People stood nearby taking photos and video on phones without any danger to them.
The guy in the photo below was bundled to the ground by the police as he tried to protect a young woman in a wheelchair. Whilst on the ground he got a few good kicks from the police as they ran past.
In the below photo a police van comes under attack, but the driver of the van had driven it backwards into the protesters.
The driver of the stretch limo must have felt a bit nervous as the anarchists walked by, but but mostly they just ignored it.
Though there was a very quick bit of work on the back end of the vehicle.
Back to the main streets again and more targets.
The Black Bloc eventually joined up with the main march as it passed through Piccadilly Circus. After the brisk pace, and at times, running, this was a much more sedate walk. Across the road we noticed the Black Bloc suddenly shoot off down a side street. We decided that rather than follow this time we should join the procession on what was now a short walk to Hyde Park so we could get photos of the more carnival like atmosphere of the main march. The people around us had now been walking slowly for about four hours, and many looked ready for the pick up that reaching the finish would bring.
Before we reached Hyde Park we saw another section of the Black Bloc heading away, as some were running we decided we should go and have a look what was going on. Walking down a side street we had to jump for cover in a doorway as the police came running through. A young woman with plenty of space around her got knocked one way then the other by police who chose to give her a good shove rather than just run past.
What we found round the corner was “An absolute cordon!”. At a small cross roads the police had formed a cordon, but they they didn’t surround protesters, it actually looked like they were trying to protect a manhole cover, or kettle it. After ten minutes they dispersed. We realised we were in a wealthy area, i think it was Mayfair, so we assumed the police were just trying to separate the Black Bloc. It was later reported a Porsche showroom had been attacked in the area, so that must be why the police ran through and blocked the cross roads.
We started getting reports that UK Uncut were supposed to be gathering, so instead of heading into Hyde Park we wandered back to Oxford Circus. Quite a few people had gathered in the area, and police had a presence outside all the major shops that could be a target of protest. UK Uncut have been organising peaceful sit ins at many of the shops accused of tax avoidance, so we hoped we could tag along somewhere. A model horse had been set up at Oxford Circus. A few placards were set on fire, and we stood back ready to go if anything happened. Suddenly the horse was set alight.
At this point we got a call from a colleague saying it was all kicking off in Piccadilly as Fortnum and Mason had been occupied. This being the shopping place of the mega wealthy, including royalty, then made sense. We’ had chosen the wrong place to wait, and as it was a good walk to get there we realised we’d not get any good footage, so decided to take the opportunity to get food and drink.
I now know the occupation was a peaceful one. Shoppers were safe, the cafe remained open, so noisy but trouble free inside. It’s also now known the police told them they were letting them out and they would be free to go. The disturbance had been outside, so they wanted a sterile area, and they should head left out of the building where they could leave freely. In fact they were led into the a police cordon and were all arrested. That counted for 145 of the 201 arrests on the day.
Later we walked through Piccadilly Circus. Of course, the action had died down so we wandered to Trafalgar Square to see what was happening as there was supposed to be people holding an all night party there. We saw a large group walk into the square, and we noticed it wasn’t just protesters now, but small groups who were drinking and sounding aggressive were tagging along.
After meeting up with a couple of colleagues we headed back to Piccadilly Circus as there was smoke coming from there. It turned out to be just a large pile of placards, and a few road cones. The police were blocking Piccadilly and Regent Street, bit it was trouble free as a group stood around singing protest songs. We took a few last photos, walked back to Trafalgar Square, then decided to head home. It was turning into a party, and the police were never going to allow people to light fires, drink, and party into the night.
We later saw on TV that the police had surrounded those in Trafalgar Square, and then they cleared them out. That’s pretty much what we expected. It was always going to end badly for those remaining.
The day overall was different to planned. We really did want to photograph the main march, and to do it street style rather than see it as a protest. Instead we got caught up with the Black Bloc. This was interesting though. By standing back we could see what it’s like with all the photographers fighting for pole position, and the effect that can have on those being photographed. I also felt very safe amongst the Black Bloc. Much has been said in the news about mindless violence, but there was nothing at all mindless about it. They had they’re targets and they hit them. They never threatened the public, and never had running battles with the police. A few paint bombs aimed at the police, and the odd scuffle, but never any real malice. They want to change the system and choose to make a point by damaging property. People can argue all day about the rights and wrongs of this, but ultimately the damage caused will add a small increase to the insurance premiums of the banks and corporations targeted, but how much damage is done in the world by these banks and corporations. They often support the arms trade, environmental destruction, the loss of wildlife, and often the lives of innocent people in the name of progress. Compared to that damage, a bit of paint and a few broken windows really is nothing.
Whilst not trying to condone the actions of the Anarchists, after spending the day amongst them, and talking to some, i can understand why they choose to protest this way. And despite what the main stream press say, it was definitely not mindless, and they’re certainly not thugs, though it is a shame it overshadows to some degree the main march. The people taking part in that deserve recognition for making the effort to air their views.
Ultimately the present government will ignore both the TUC’s peaceful march, and the Black Bloc’s damage, and will still target the weakest in our country. I see mush disruption ahead, and quite probably serious rioting. The Poll Tax riots brought down Margaret Thatcher. Sadly i think it will take riots do bring about changes again. A government should look after its people, and many many people don’t see this government as doing that.