Tag Archives: Mile End

#May12 and other things, or A Long Weekend

What a weekend last weekend was.

FRIDAY – St Paul’s and Mile End

I arrive in London in time for an Occupy General Assembly in the portico of St Paul’s. Then make my way to the Mile End Nomadic Occupy Camp where I spend the wee hours discussing politics around a fire with a diverse bunch of occupiers – English, Irish, Scottish, Spanish, Jamaican, Congolese, Philippino, Polish, Iranian and Bangladeshi – some street-homeless and unemployed, some unemployable, others working in a range of jobs as varied as their accents and origins. A bicycle-courier-cum-DJ tells me that Occupy needs to focus on getting through to ‘da yoot’, possibly via the medium of an app or computer game. An estate agent laughs as he describes the incredulity of his friends when he updates his facebook status to ‘living in a tent’. Hippies sit beside bikers and debate with builders and musicians who explain the Occupy message to recent immigrants. Ex-soldiers brew up mugs of tea for chefs, kitchen porters and ex-security guards. Many of the Nomads could be described as ‘down on their luck’ but their passion for social change goes further than self-interest and some have deliberately chosen to avoid the rat race in order to achieve a freer, more sustainable existence. These guys want a better world and are prepared to put their all into achieving it. On the whole they are self-policing, self-reliant, respectful and dedicated to both their own fledgling community and the global Occupy movement.

SATURDAY – International Day of Action

12M. A Day of Action across much of Europe and beyond. It dawns warm and sunny – I wake sweating inside my tent after a cold night.

Several Occupy Nomads take the bus to St Paul’s Cathedral. Approximately 800 people assemble to hear rousing speeches by Occupy supporters including a Norwegian student; two local ladies from Leyton Marsh who have been protesting against Olympic land-grabbing; a wheel-chair user fighting for the rights of disabled people; and John Cooper QC, OccupyLSX’s barrister in the St Paul’s eviction court case.

From St Paul’s we set off towards Ludgate Circus. Floating tents, a samba band, silly costumes, wheeled sound systems, sunshine and the chance to catch up with Occupy friends make for a carnival atmosphere. The procession trundles along Fleet Street in high spirits, accompanied by apparently relaxed police. However, on turning into Fetter Lane we’re halted by a line of police across the road. Confusion ensues – are we kettled? Why have we been stopped? Cheers go up as a posse of occupiers appear on the other side of the police line, having taken an alternative route. The police are now kettled – surrounded – by us. We have no interest in fighting them but neither are we inclined to obediently wait for them to decide what to do with us; and so we begin – individuals at first, then the whole crowd – to make our way towards the Bank of England despite the police. They try to stop us but their line is permeable and eventually, bowing to the inevitable, it dissolves.

First activist lesson of the day: we don’t have to blindly accept the demands and restrictions imposed upon us by authority.

Several more times as we march, amble, dance and jog our way along Newgate, the police use tactics variously described as odd, absurd and pointless in half-hearted attempts to hold us back, as these films illustrate:

http://london.indymedia.org/videos/12236 , http://london.indymedia.org/videos/12249.

Some of us make the mistake of rushing ahead to evade containment while others are being held back. This does not demonstrate solidarity and leaves the middle of the procession hollow. It would perhaps be better if everyone who finds themselves forwards of a police line returns to make a cop sandwich.

Second activist lesson of the day: let’s try not to lose cohesion in the face of silly police manoeuvres.

Outside the Royal Exchange, near the Bank of England, after taping off and stickering a few corporate HQs, we assemble again. The Royal Exchange has steps, portico, columns and courtyard very similar to those at St Paul’s so we immediately feel at home. Open mic speeches, music and mingling ensue. Banners are hung, tents pop up and children play amongst them. The atmosphere is ‘first-day-of-summer-let’s-have-a-picnic’, until a crackly tannoy system mounted on a police van announces that we must disperse by 5.45pm or face arrest.

Some Occupy supporters leave during the next hour. Some stay, prepared to risk arrest to defend the right to assemble and to protest. Others do not believe we’ll be arrested for peacefully assembling in a city square on a sunny Saturday afternoon. With the procession over we’re not obstructing traffic. It is not a residential area and few (if any) businesses in the area are open, so we’re not disrupting the life of the community. A proposal to set up an overnight camp receives a cool response; however, many express a desire to stay for another two hours. This seems a reasonable amount of time to allow for more speeches, announcements, a celebration of Los Indignados anniversary, and a discussion of what to do next.

The square is still fairly full when the first phalanx of police sweep in and pounce on a well-known male Occupier. Cries go up to ‘sit down’. Some people are already sitting on the steps of the Royal Exchange and others join them, linking arms. Several times, in an increasingly aggressive manner, peaceful people are dragged from the steps and prostrated on the pavement before being bundled into police vans. Police snatch squads move in tight formation, a leader giving orders while the rest bark “Get back!” and push bystanders away. Much of the time little can be seen of the arrestees because their arrests are shielded from view. Shrieks, yells and chants of “Shame on you!” from protesters suggest that the cops are not being gentle.

A guy in a pop-up tent is almost trampled by police before being dragged away, still in his tent. I am grabbed and shoved out of the immediate vicinity of the steps. Police lines form, isolating those on the steps and separating protesters in the square from supporters who are arriving from elsewhere. Police then begin arresting people who are not seated on the steps, including a reporter for the Occupied News Network and someone standing on a bench in an attempt to obtain a good view. They chase one guy down the street. It seems they want to be rid of anyone they see as a potential ‘leader’.

Third activist lesson:

a) The cops can make and change the rules of the game to suit themselves.

b) We might want to protect certain people from arrest, perhaps by keeping them in the centre of a crowd (say, if they’ve been arrested before and bail conditions/fines are likely to be particularly harsh; or if they’re likely to be making an important contribution to an upcoming action which would be compromised by certain bail conditions).

After an hour or so a hiatus occurs. Some police leave and others arrive. The new cops are fluffier and treat us with a lighter touch. They continue to isolate the ten or so occupiers huddled in the centre of the steps but lose interest in the rest of us. Supporters from Anonymous UK and the Occupy London Environment group arrive with music and supplies; sandwiches are thrown in to the group on the steps and the party begins again in the Royal Exchange courtyard, just feet away from the police. Myself and a few friends occupy the western end of the steps, soon to be joined by many others. We are now just a few feet away from those still under threat of arrest and are doing exactly the same as them – sitting on the steps of the Royal Exchange, chatting and eating sandwiches. Soon we’re dancing to Manu Chao and conversing with the police who seem to want to go home. A battle of wills ensues: Cops want the Steps Ten to give up and come out of the cordon; we want the police to admit that their presence has not stopped the celebration of the Indignados’ anniversary and is utterly pointless at this stage.

We win.

The cordon dissolves, occupiers from east and west sides of the steps reunite and the police drive away, leaving just a few to protect the portico, presumably from graffiti artists. Our celebration is mixed with incredulity at the earlier behaviour of the police: the implementation of a Section 14 when there was no serious disruption occurring or likely to occur; the attempted taking away of our right to protest and to peaceful assembly; the unnecessary nature of the entire police intervention which, if anything, probably lengthened our stay at the Royal Exchange; and mostly, the excessive force and aggression used against entirely peaceful people.

By around midnight most of us were tired enough to stagger ‘home’ to tents at Mile End or Finsbury Square, or to precarious housing in this unaffordable city.

SUNDAY – Mile End to Haggerston Park in Hackney.

On Sunday an Occupier from Little Rock, USA drops by to visit Mile End. We pack up the camp around him, ready to move to a new location in Hackney. A local woman stops to say how sad she is that the Occupy Nomads are leaving: “People used to be scared to walk through the park,” she tells us. “People would get attacked, there were fights… Since the camp’s been here it has been safer. Pensioners have begun to use the park again. The people in the camp have kept the place clean and they’re always polite. They keep the troublemakers away.” She looks away. “Can’t you stay?”

The Nomads have agreed with Tower Hamlets council that they will leave this weekend. They don’t want one of the poorest boroughs in London to have to pay the costs of evicting them and they want to build a reputation for sticking to their word. If they rock up in a park and locals and councillors know they’ll be gone in a month, it’s far more likely that they’ll be accepted. By moving around they hope to avoid some of the deterioration problems of longer term camps; being nomadic will also enable them to connect with and learn from numerous communities while spreading the Occupy message far and wide.

A borrowed van, a wheelbarrow, two shopping trolleys, a suitcase on wheels and a hand-built wooden cart are used to transport the structures and contents of the kitchen and information tent plus the camping equipment and personal belongings of approximately fifteen people to the new site. We convene beside the pond in Haggerston Park in late afternoon sunshine and plan how to set up the new camp.

Top priorities are to avoid upsetting local park-users and to minimise impact on the environment. To this end we decide to pitch the kitchen against a high hedge, where it will not block the view of the pond from the path, and to squeeze the other tents into a half-hidden circle of grass behind the kitchen, again to avoid spoiling the view and to ensure there is still plenty of space around the pond for families to picnic and children to play. We agree that nothing of ours must pollute the pond – no washing up slops and certainly no pee!

It takes the rest of the evening to set up camp. At dusk we’re hanging an ‘Occupy for Social & Economic Justice’ banner. At midnight we’re having a camp assembly around the fire (which is raised off the ground in a metal bucket to avoid scorching the ground). Notes taken at that first meeting are here:

http://occupylondon.org.uk/groups/nomads/docs/nomadic-occupy-at-haggerston-park-camp-assembly-13-5-2012-day-1

MONDAY – from Hackney back to St Paul’s and the Dalai Lama

By 10am the camp has been visited by the local police, park wardens and councillor. We explain ourselves, reassure them, offer them cups of tea. It’s raining.

We eat egg sandwiches then three of us take the bus to St Paul’s. The Dalai Lama arrives to receive a prize for his spiritual contributions. He immediately gives the million pounds to charity. I believe he is a force for good on the world stage; this is a heart-felt thing rather than an intellectual, reasoned or knowledge-based position. He’s only a few metres away and his presence brings tears to my eyes (and down my cheeks). It has the same effect on a rough, tough biker from the Nomad camp.

And then it’s the slow coach back to Yorkshire.

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Walking the Bounds: 6 month anniversary

A message from Ben, who was a fellow tent-dweller at OccupyLSX in St Paul’s Churchyard.
I am now standing in your tent. There are only imaginary batteries.
Now I’m checking in at Tranquility.
The tech tent is very quiet.
There are tourists in the kitchen tent.
Now I’m in my first tent. Near the tree behind meditation.
The library is very quiet.
It is sunny in Tent City Uni and Info. Just met Max in the Geodome.
Now I’m in my tent.
Obi just came to visit me in my tent.
So much passion and energy went into our being there; some of that lingers still. The wide grey open space rustles with ghosts like an old battlefield, a stone circle, a ruined castle.
In our minds and hearts, the tents remain.
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Nomads’ Mistake?

UPDATE: The Occupy Nomads at Shadwell did indeed listen to the community and remove themselves from the King Edward’s Memorial Park (KEMP) which they hope will be saved by the locals’ campaign.

We’re all on the same side…

I heard earlier today that the locals are not happy about the Occupy camp at Shadwell and then Paul commented on my blog.

I believe the occupiers will leave this weekend, or may have already? It’s a shame they landed on a memorial park and have upset people. The Nomad camp would not have been intending to stay permanently and I genuinely don’t believe they meant any harm, quite the opposite, but it does sound as though they made a mistake.

The move to Shadwell was made by these nomadic occupiers in haste due to fears of eviction at Mile End. I’ve heard there are good relations between the local community and occupiers at Mile End and that after talks with the local council there is no imminent eviction order there. Those at Shadwell will probably move temporarily back to Mile End.

At Limehouse the occupiers spent 2 weeks on a small plot of land, caused no trouble, and left voluntarily rather than hanging on and getting evicted. They have learnt from problems that occurred at other Occupy camps – not just in London but around the world – that temporary camps are more healthy and constructive than long-term ones and that strict ground-rules for behaviour in camps (no intoxication) is essential.

I hope the residents of Shadwell will not think too badly of these people who are, in their own way – and without meaning to offend anyone except the elite 1% –  fighting for economic and social justice for us all.

I watched the film that Paul, who commented on my blog, linked to. At least one of the nomads looked like he wanted to engage, to have a conversation with the person filming and perhaps explain their purpose, their plans. I’d have been interested to see what he said, had he been given the chance to speak. I know that man and he is a very honourable and reasonable man.

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Occupy Re-emerges in London

Lots of Occupy happenings around London yesterday.

In the wee hours I received a text:

“Dear Hazel… Nomadic Occupy of London – branch Shadwell/Wapping – would like to welcome you to this new site to support the locals and everyone else. So please send this msg of solidarity around the world. With love and peace.” If I say it was signed by a man in a baseball cap with a good sense of humour and a penchant for rearranging tents, those who spent time at OccupyLSX will know who I mean.

If I could be in London right now I’d be in one of the Nomadic Occupy camps. These Occupiers broke away from the overcrowded and sometimes hostile environment of Finsbury Square just under a month ago. Pulling a hand-built handcart laden with tents, kitchen gear, solar panels and a 12-volt battery, they were stopped by police at gone midnight somewhere along their four mile route. Having inspected the wiring and rear lights the police waved them on their way and they continued to a little patch of grass near Limehouse Station. Here they pitched tents, introduced themselves to the locals, engaged walkers and cyclists on the adjacent heavily-used pedestrian and cycle way, and built their nomadic community. They stayed at Limehouse for two weeks.

On their last day at the Limehouse site the Nomads hosted a Teetotal Tea Party (of the Alice-in-Wonderland rather than American-right variety). Then, overnight, just hours before they were due to be evicted, the Nomads packed up their encampment, loaded the handcart and moved to Mile End, a place of considerable historical significance and a very appropriate location for an Occupy camp.

In 1381 a Peasants’ Revolt was underway. The uprising was instigated by taxes deemed unfair by the peasants. Led by men with names still familiar today – Jack Straw and Wat Tyler – the rebels marched on London. On 12 June, 60,000 rebels camped at Mile End. Two days later the king capitulated and signed their charter. As one Occupy Nomad said: “If only we had 60,ooo activists camping now…”.

Unfortunately – and according to wikipedia – the subsequent behaviour of the rebels caused the king to have the leaders and many rebels executed. I won’t draw any more parallels… suffice to say that having learned lessons at the St Paul’s camp and Finsbury Square, the Nomads of Occupy require all campers to adhere to a code of behaviour that excludes intoxication and aggression.

Nomadic Occupy is currently trying to negotiate a time-limited stay at Mile End with the local authorities. The text received 1.30am on 10th April came from a forward party who have taken another site at Shadwell/Wapping. All or some of the Mile End tent-dwellers may move here if eviction becomes certain at Mile End, or once any negotiated time-limit there is up. Or, perhaps another site will be found. The Nomads are quick on their feet and enjoy exploring new environments. They are also big on linking up with local communities in order to listen to and learn from residents about neighbourhood concerns, as well as being keen to experiment with alternative modes of communal living.

Back at St Paul’s Cathedral, Tammy has reclaimed a little patch of ground where the camp Information Tent used to be. Today, with children in tow and home-baked cakes to share, she began connecting with the streams of tourists and city workers who pass by every day. We’ve been missing them and apparently, they’ve been missing us. Two shook Tammy’s hand, one hugged her and one said something rude. As another former member of the Info crew at camp LSX said: “That’s 75% approval rating! We’re more popular than the government.”

Who knows, soon people might start preparing and sharing food on the pavement beside the cathedral (perhaps in the very spot where our kitchen tent stood). Perhaps workshops and lectures will run in the space formerly known as Tent City University and people will read books in the library, converse in huddles on the cobbles, make art and music in the colonnade, sweep the church steps and breathe life back into the sterile grey swathe of city this has become. Anything could happen, so long as it doesn’t involve ‘sleeping apparatus’.

Less positive news was the eviction and arrests at Leyton Marsh. Local residents, supported by activists previously camping at OccupyLSX, have been protesting against the wrecking of the marsh to serve the Olympic ‘dream’. Not all occupiers were arrested, some moved tents to a nearby patch of verge and may still be able to halt the bulldozers; they will no doubt welcome support and reinforcements.  Poignant pics by @jesshurdphoto and explanatory indymedia article by @indyrikki

Harking back to previous occupation-related arrests, just now progressing through the courts is the case relating to the flash occupation at Trafalgar Square on November 9th during the national Students’ Demo. News of the case has been scant but rumour has it that the prosecution had no evidence of the protesters being in breach of section 12.5 of the Public Order Act, which is what the arrests were based on. Section 12.5 has frequently been used, according to activists, to remove people taking part in protests and demonstrations when no laws are being, or likely to be, broken. The ‘Trafalgar 12’ hope to create a legal precedent that will limit misuse of this power in the future.

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