The crowd is the thing. You start with a meeting point and a time.There’s a another meeting going on. The G8 in Cologne. That sets the time. June 18th. The bankers and politicians have had long enough. A series of meetings; the Encuentros for Humanity and Against Neo-Liberalism called by the Zapatistas in Chiapas and in Spain; the meeting of activists from India, Europe, East Asia a few different Americas and enough other places that happened in Switzerland last year build up the way things can get going. The slogan goes “Our Resistance Must be as Global As Capital”, it’s a web site (www.bak.spc.org/j18), its a poster, paper newsletter (also at www.schnews.org.uk), cheap stickers, a line of graffiti, new lines of alliance to be invented. Enough groups round the world trying out new ways of trying it on. Setting up marches is the old way of doing things. Everything in straight lines. Fact is the political slouch through the city is just too slow for nowadays. The shape people want to throw on the streets is a different one.
The way that this gets done is by setting up things simple, but keeping it open. Name a time and a place, get the news moving through any media system going. This is the way the crowd works in information. Keep it spread and feed one into the other. Something slick. Something scrappy, whatever. The web site feeds news of what’s going down in forty other countries on the same day. The URL (www.j18.org) is on the sticker, on the newsletter. Whatever arrives gets pumped out on a cheap FM transmitter stuck top an office block. At the same time though, there’s a thousand mouths shut when it comes to talking to the press. In a few months they’ll be printing photos of rioters. Offering a reward to grasses. A bit of public service on the side.
The way the crowd moves on the streets is a mix. In the eighties there was a short series of demonstrations in the same place called Stop The City. Time of anarcho-punk. (Check AK Press’s excellent ‘Shibboleth, my revolting life’ a new book by Penny Rimbaud of Crass for more). Full on
rage fuelled by immanent nukes and a triumphalist Thatcher spilled out into a choreography of glued-up locks, smashed bank windows, trashed McDonalds, the chant machine gone mobile, it was tasty so they say. This time, things got more variety. Besides, for most governments in Europe we’ve got a generation of ex-social-democrat ex-hippies bent on humanitarian war. Punk routines just can’t express the disgust fully enough. An open format demands that people have the chance to invent what they are going to do.
The Critical Mass device works well in London. Get a bunch of cyclists together, pedal round the city nice and slow. Instant rolling bottleneck. The streets are so dense here it doesn’t take much to change the pace of the whole area. The ability to shift speeds is important. Get a water mains outlet. Knock it open. Block the drains to the forty foot fountain. Instant paddling pool. No business as usual on that street. Aerosols, stickers, a hand covered in green poster paint from a bucket quickly leaves a trail of day-glo gack. Some of the banks get occupied. Part of the two million quid damage, so the Financial Times says the day after, is caused by the expense of clearing up the stench of urine. This is an area where not even the two kids that we came along with can, like granny says, spend a penny outside of some sheet-glass compound.
These streets we’re in have been a financial trading area since before the Templars brought the number zero, a conceptual technology that opened up banking, back from the Crusades. The streets are still patterned in many ways from Medieval times. It suits the way we move. Alleys, multibranched crossroads and plenty of threads from here to there. From the initial meeting point of thousands people split up. Make for wherever. There’s targets to choose from. The bank of England. The Futures Exchange – which had a trading floor disrupted. Every major financial institution has a branch here. People move. It’s Casual Friday. Time for a saunter. Chinos and Ralph Lauren shirts? Nope. A few blokes are dressed up in grotty suits and seriously non-business shoes. Hmmm, smells like subterfuge. There’s smoke flares in their tatty briefcases though.
So it spills out. Some crossroads it’s just a simple sit down. Block the traffic. Hand out leaflets. (There’s thousand of these sloganised bright white and orange micro-flyers, say five by ten millimetres thrown everywhere. Politicise the street-sweeping trucks or something). Keep the traffic turning back. Beer and fags. Stop the couriers shifting them important documents. Have a dance to the pedal
powered sound system. When the cops turn up, move off slowly. Go somewhere else. Or throw your arms and legs against their body armour, batons and shields.
Other places it’s jammed. Someone’s got some way of making music. A Samba band. The people are so thick together the whole block is immobilised. Thousand of copies of a parody of the London Evening standard are given out to passers-by. The sparrow is an endangered species and
George Soros knows a thing or two it says here. Underneath the rhizome, concrete.
The cowd is an intelligent crowd. What that means is that everyone’s on the look out for what goes down next. The little clusters of body-movements or shouts that means a change in movement. Take care of the people around you. Never panic. Think of the next move. Keep an eye on whether streets are being closed off. Check for new ways of moving, new targets.
The way the cops move has to be understood too. They’re some clumsy dancing partner. Limited to ten metre charges by their command structure and the weight of the riot gear you just have to stay nimble and calm. The other way the cop machine moves is more serious though. Broken bones are nothing compared to getting locked into a court system tooled up more and more over the last twenty years to break the heart of ravers, travellers, strikers and protesters. The City of London is the most heavily surveilled area in Europe. Some ways of evading the cameras have to be found. There’s hundreds of masks distributed in different colours. ‘On the signal’, it says printed on the back, ‘follow the colour of mask that you’ve got’. There is no signal. But they stay on peoples’ faces. At least till the summer heat gets going. For now the best way round is to shin up the poles that some of the cameras are on top of and wrap a carrier bag round the thing. Whilst you’re doing this of course the police, or the journalists they can later seize the snaps off of, will be photographing. (The court just blocked their automatic right to do this). A load of people’ll likely get the knock one morning a couple of months down the line. (Forty-three arrested by the end of July). The ten thousand or so in the Carnival create the noise in the database for those who do get pulled – and need to maintain that support months later when they go to trial. Privacy, like public space, only works for those high up enough
behind the plate glass windows.
The way the street’s been turned over to the security forces is something thought over by the Critical Art Ensemble in their book ‘The Electronic Disturbance’ suggesting politicised hacking as a way of putting economic pressure on corporations in order to achieve specific aims. Nothing of the sort was made public – and why would it – during June 18th, but this suggests one way to play things when the street has become a recording device.
At the same time, the shapes thrown by the crowd are just as much to do with making slow, peaceful use of the streets as with direct conflict. Maybe it’s the crumbs of Ecstasy in the bloodstream. Maybe it’s going for something other than the too fetished riot – a direct, open and public working out of what life can be like if you stir things up a bit.
This can look like aimlessness, but from above, from the helicopter, what this looks like is say three or four large clumps of
people each spread out over key intersections. The space emptied of traffic, effectively controlled by this is large. In between are people moving around across each group. When the police come, and they come relatively slowly, once they’ve taken the time to work out where people are, what they do is to contain the situation. Either keep people moving – which sometimes suits us fine – or to contain things. Then they amp it up until there’s a fight and they can get the footage in and justify the overtime. When people attack the police they have to learn that it’s not to be done just to stay static. Once they’ve got a crowd blocked in – as happened at the foot of Southwark Bridge the tables are turned. They will always be slower when responding to the crowd’s initiative – take it.
In the meantime, someone’s sprayed ‘Cops Suck Arse’ on the front of one of their cars. The streets of London are so clean nowadays, so free of the unauthorised, the unpermitted, the unpaid-for. Something like this just makes you smile, teeth and all.
(‘Schnews Survival Handbook’ a compilation of articles, techniques and information sources covering much of this and related areas from the
excellent Brighton-based direct-action newsletter Schnews is available: ISBN 0-9529748-2-7)
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