The big event, organised by a wide-ranging coalition of groups from Women’s Strike Assembly and Momentum to BLM UK and Lesbians & Gays support the Migrants, managed to dwarf the “usual suspects” People’s Assembly demo and official Labour rally, but George F’s view from the street was of a resistance which as yet remains too fluffy to really rock the boat.
Hundreds of people initially gathered in Russell Square on Thursday for the “fck govt fck boris” street festival, forming a procession that marched through the West End to Downing Street chanting “Fuck Boris, fuck the government.”
After an hour, the chanting got a bit weird, as if we were collectively marching down Whitehall ready to drag BJ out and all take turns having sex with him. A double-decker bus had been organised, a nod to the famous Brexit battle-bus proclaiming £350 million for the NHS, though the organisers missed a trick by failing to equip it with a snowplough and flamethrowers in order to force through the police lines at Downing Street.
The shadow chancellor John McDonnell gave a speech from the top of it calling for a general election, and my heart sank to realise that really when this crowd says “fuck government” they mean only this government, not all governments. The police shrewdly kept themselves out of the way so as to give no reason for confrontation until the chanting and marching fizzled out into a picnic and dance competition outside the gates of number 10, some people unsure of what to do with themselves apart from dance and make hilarious signs.
On arrival, a contingent sat down on the grass to drink G&T, or danced to Stormzy from one of many systems, or listened to Awate spit lyrics from the top of the bus. Another dancefloor was started by a firetruck nearby, but as it got later, people began to drift away. As the numbers fell, the police moved in to unobstruct the highway and met a smattering of resistance and obligatory defiance. One woman attempted to rally the crowd to storm the gates, but her infectious rage failed to ignite the mob mentality, though an itinerant breakaway group did march off to piss on MI5 in tribute to fallen comrade Tom Palmer.
Green Anti-Capitalist Front brought a pinata of Boris to Russell Square that was thrashed to pieces in minutes by a raging person with a big stick. Sound systems were out in force, with a steady playlist of grime, punk, and Killdren’s anthem Kill Tory Scum making a regular appearance. There was a strong, fiesty and highly visible queer and trans prescence, as well as a number of people with disabilities. Shout out to the Bisexual Pandas of London who score bonus points for taking 20 minutes to roll up their banner at the close of proceedings whilst surrounded by a gang of frustrated cops.
Conspicuous by their absence were Extinction Rebellion – the megabrand of protesting is usually absolutely everywhere but there was not a single flag or sticker in sight. Instead of climate catastrophe, the crowds homemade banners and signs called for solidarity with people of colour, QUILTBAG and disabled people’s rights – everything XR claims to want to be inclusive of.
Although its always fun to march around London chanting ‘fuck boris’, or ‘fuck whoever’ and have a bit of a street party, but again, all the anger fizzles out into nought. The flurries of ‘fuck the police’ that broke out were belied by the ease with which the police cleared the streets out. Some of GAF were masked up and ready to go, there were smoke bombs and flares in a plenty, but the marketing of the event as a liberal street party means that any potential edge or anger was diffused into impotency. The most interesting clashes came between the mixing of pro-Brexit and pro-European protesters, suddenly united with a common enemy, one man with a giant blue cutout of the UK on his back spotted arguing with a student with a European Union flag, all overseen by a set of anarcho-syndicalists who pithily summarised with: “fuck all states.”
Goldsmiths students were also out calling for solidarity with their occupation, which goes to court on Friday, and respect to organisers who had a solid team of legal observers out and people handing out free water to everyone. Although a solid mixture of unionists, students, anarchists, liberals, and the motley crew of the left were in attendance, the question remains of how bad do things have to get before we are really willing to do more than chant and sing to really fuck the government?
Pics: Guy Smallman